Walking Isn’t Boring, Part 5: Exploring Machines and Infrastructure

General note: This series of entries is inspired by the idea that walking in even the most ordinary of places can be interesting.

Recently a bunch of books that had been on my reserve list at the library came all at once, and a number of them relate to walking. One that has really had me thinking about lots of ideas for walking-related projects is Ed Sobey’s A Field Guide to Roadside Technology. The book is set up like a bird or plant field guide, but the content is the infrastructure and machines that one might spot in different place around the country. It describes all sorts of technologies, such as utilities, telephone systems, traffic signals, traffic counters and surveillance counters, bridges, sewer grates, manholes, wires, and antennas. In reading through the descriptions, I found that I learned something new about even familiar machines. Unless you have absolutely no luddite tendencies, I do recommend reading the book in bits and pieces — it can be a bit overwhelming to see just how many different technologies we have in place today.

The author suggests keeping this book with you on your travels so you can look up unknown machines as you go. This is a great idea, and one could also take a photo of an unfamiliar object and look it up later. Almost every location will have some of these technologies, and learning about them would be one way to have interesting walks in otherwise mundane locations. If you were the sort of obsessive, checking-off-lists type of person, you could do as some birdwatchers and try to find everything listed in the book. Or, the book could be used as the basis for an urban scavenger hunt — i.e., find and take photos of as many of the items in the book as possible. Regardless of how the book is used, though, it is an interesting read for any walker. I finally have the answers to some of my questions about various boxes, markers, and wires that I see on my walks. For more ideas, take a look at Walking Fort Bragg — Ron has found all sorts of interesting markings on the street, misaligned manhole covers, utility work, etc.



  1. Joe Reifer said

    The Roadside Technology book is an interesting, compact primer. The granddaddy of this genre is definitely Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape, which I highly recommend.

    p.s. I promise to clean the dust off my camera’s sensor.



  2. Eva Heninwolf said

    Great book recs! On our library list, though I suspect one or both may end up as gifts to ourselves… I’m enjoying he blog tremendously!

  3. Georgia said

    Jen: Have you read any JB Jackson? He writes about the road as cultural landscape element. In A Sense of Place, A Sense of Time he ha a section on raods with a chapter titled “Roads Belong in the Landscape.” Two of his essays on mobility — “The Accessible Landscape” and “The Abstract World of the Hot-Rodder” (great sketch!) — are included in Landscape in Sight. A great guide to looking at the landscape is Close-Up by Grady Clay (I think you know about A. Jacobs Looking at Cities).

  4. Spike said

    That field guide has my geeky heart a-flutter. I feel a trip to Amazon coming on.

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