Psychogeography acknowledges the relationships between people and spaces. How does a particular area or environment come to have meaning? What effect do places have on those who move through them? Upscale neighborhoods give us different feelings from ghettos, all the more so if we happen to live in one or the other. Bustling urban areas affect our energy in entirely other ways from peaceful, rural gardens.

We are all unconsciously psychogeographers. We seed the places we move through with meaning, overlaying our surroundings with associations, perceptions, and reactions. I giggle every time I pass the Millberry Building on the UCSF medical campus near our apartment, where my spouse and I once drunkenly had sex outside, barely concealed by a pillar. The rows of Victorian houses in my neighborhood seem stately and elegant. They remind me to hold myself erect and poised. I go out of my way to avoid the McDonald’s when I walk down to Haight Street.

Practicing psychogeography is about becoming conscious of how your environment affects your emotions, your energy, your behavior. Mindfulness matters in psychogeograpical pursuits. We walk through the city immersed in interior monologues, I need to buy some tomatoes, did I remember to turn the heater off?, I wonder what he meant when he said that. Undertaking a psychogeographical practice entails becoming aware instead of the city around you, and its effects on you. Practicing psychogeography is also about performing actions that change your relationship to your surroundings, to your urban space. Public art, localized political action, spontaneous interaction with the environment: these things can all change how we move in the spaces around us.

Urban Dreamscape: SF is a conscious psychogeographical practice. When I weave my dreams into my environment, I add layers of memory and experience into the city. A stroll to the store brings me back through the narratives of my sleeping psyche, to the deepest parts of my unconscious. The traces I leave on these places in the form of the representations of the dreams done by various artists also affect my relationship to the place, and perhaps also changes how those places affect anyone who sees this site (such as you).

The Situationists—a post-surrealist movement of artist anarchists who helped foment the 1968 uprising in France—engaged in a conscious psychogeographical practice they called the Dérive (French for drift). This constituted a meandering ramble through the city, the “technique of locomotion without a goal.” The walker moves without motivation or destination; she drifts. Whatever the terrain offers determines the experience; attraction or repulsion to features or architecture show the drifter his path or provoke emotions, reactions, and thoughts. Often undertaken by small clusters of people drifting together, the Dérive generated group awareness of urban spaces. Myriad ways that the city influences its citizens were thus made visible. The Dérive reveals the psychic map of an area. Or else it creates that map. Meaning itself is a human construct. It exists because we create it.

We are practicing psychogeography together right now. Because you’ve read this text and perhaps looked at some of my dreams, your view of the city may change. If you’re in San Francisco, and you walk through the Upper Haight, Cole Valley, parts of Golden Gate Park, or the Inner Sunset, you’ll pass through my dreams, layered over top of the architecture. Maybe you’ll notice them. Maybe you’ll add your own layers on top of them, or else seed something else in your neighborhood. The feedback loop between you and your environment creates meaning.

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