Moving and Mapping: Exploring Embodied Approaches to Urban Design and Planning

Natalie Garrett Brown | Head of Department for Music, Writing and Performance and Co-Director of Education and Experience, University of East London, UK

Emma Meehan | Assistant Professor in Dance, Centre for Dance Research, Coventry University, UK

In this presentation, we discuss ‘Moving and Mapping’ – a practice research enquiry into dance and urban planning in Coventry city, part of the larger Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded Sensing the City project. In particular, we focus on the methodology developed by the enter&inhabit collective who have spent over 10 years investigating sites of ‘flow and transition’ in and around Coventry city centre. Specific movement practices inform the work including Anna Halprin’s RSVP cycle, Authentic Movement, Body-Mind Centering and Amerta Movement. These were tailored for studio-based body awakening, dwelling in selected places in the city, and creative documentation (photography, writing and drawing). As a ‘situated dance’ (Voris 2018) approach to site dance, enter&inhabit’s practice interrogates the physical, social and cultural factors of inhabiting public sites.

To analyse the work, we draw on concepts of choreography in urban spaces developed by urban geographer Noxolo which address ‘structures of power that condition individual mobility’ (2018: 801). She addresses how the directionality of power shapes urban inhabitants but also their capacity to push against the organisation of the city (2018: 805). We suggest that the enter&inhabit collective find ways to record norms of how the built environment organises human movement; but also highlight alternative pathways relevant to urban planning. At the same time, we reflect on how dance techniques can also be constraining or marginalising, and attend to Akinleye’s (2021: 13) proposal of ‘dance as an interaction with movement, rather than a kind of movement itself.’

We will cover several themes, including situated dance and its relation to other site dance approaches. Through this, we attend to the sensory-perceptual cycle in understanding how people differently perceive and experience space. We introduce the methods of ‘experiential anatomy’ and ‘somatic surveillance’ as forms of tracking experience and witnessing place. Further, we discuss enter&inhabit’s approach to scoring with the emergence of written and visual material over long durations between body and place. We propose that sensing the city through these approaches is a way of tapping into the emergence of what the city wants to become and plan for it.