Life Between Buildings, Life Between Clubhouses

Why is Paris one of the most beloved cities in the world? One of the most romantic?

Jan Gehl would say: we love Paris, because it is one of the most walkable cities in the world.

In his seminal book, Life Between Buildings, he studies pedestrian traffic. He shows us that what makes a place “livable” is whether people can linger in the spaces in between buildings.

In an ideal world, human existence isn’t confined to nodes, navigating life in a linear fashion, from A to B. Home to work, work to grocery, grocery to home. That’s the suburban model. You have a car, you go where you need to, and nothing more.

But in Paris, it is said, you can stroll past a boulangerie, a bike shop, a plant shop, run into friends, say hi to a puppy, observe strangers from a bench, chill in the sun, or play chess in the park. This model of living is more fluid. There are more options for moving about, for engaging your senses. There’s simply more stimuli. You end up doing or seeing something you didn’t plan for.

In many places, walkability is now mostly on pause. The physical world no longer offers as much opportunity for exploration.

Where is, then, the Paris of the digital world? And if that exists, how does it match up to the Paris of the physical world?

You might be thinking: Clubhouse. An app that lets you drop in and out of live audio-only chats. A place to hang out, or learn something new like venture capital, from real people. Our social instinct is on full drive here. We want to find belonging, yet we want to eavesdrop. The artifact is the sound of other people, or maybe music.

You can get a kick out of hopping from Clubhouse to Clubhouse. Subjects that you might have never thought about before pop up, with enticing emojis. As Fei L said to me “The world never felt so small.”

But in between rooms, where is the park bench, the pigeon alighting on the bistro awning, the old couple laughing by the fountain? The stuff that engages our senses, but has no transactional utility?

So far in this experiment, that liminal space is less prominent on Clubhouse. Here’s how this might flow in our minds: if we could just join one more clubhouse, and hear one more conversation, just one more stranger’s voice, then it will seem that we’ve injected some life into our digital existence. After leaving a room, however, we don’t explore life between the rooms.

The silos still seem to persist.

The Paris of the digital world may be possible. Is it, however, a bit too much to ask for?

Observations on living and working 🔅 Senior Motion Designer at Planned Parenthood // bytanchan.com