Cities contain many layers, bearing evidence to many histories. They have always been contested territories in which different parties seek to lay claim to shape the city in their own image. Operating in the Dickensian tradition of showing the shadow side of progress, Laura Oldfield Ford’s Savage Messiah (London: Verso Books, 2011) leads its readers through London to unearth the lost landscapes of the mid-20th century bulldozed over by gentrification. In her walks “Canary Wharf, ghoulish needle, Thatcher’s Britain, gleaming obelisk overseeing dilapidated streets” looms as a symbol of how the city’s traditional neighbourhoods are slowly being erased.
Clare Manifold’s Feminist History of the East End: A Walk (London: Rights of Women, 1979) also seeks to excavate what the city’s mainstream narratives often hide, women and the lives they led on the London streets. These are just two examples of how the act of walking is used to surface another image of the city. The walking guide becomes a way to reclaim one’s territory in a vast metropolis. For the reader who opens these guides, walking literature affords the opportunity to see the city through another’s eyes. We find a city we could not have discovered ourselves.