Review of In Motion: The Experience of Travel, by Tony Hiss: Places: Design Observer

Places: Design Observer has a

Review of In Motion: The Experience of Travel, by Tony Hiss. I haven’t read the book yet, though I read his earlier The Experience of Place many years ago … Experience is one of the key evaluative criteria we identify in Planning for Place and Plexus (Chapter 10), along with Efficiency, Equity, and Environment, and it is the one given least attention in planning circles, in part because it is the hardest to pin down.

“In his latest book, In Motion: The Experience of Travel, Tony Hiss poses a provocative challenge: Can we rethink the value we put on all the accumulated years of our lives we spend in transit, all the “wasted” time spent in-between the places we live and work and visit? As he did in his ground-breaking The Experience of Place, published two decades ago, Hiss weaves a strong web of personal narrative, literary reference and human-awareness research, all in the service of the modest goal of changing the world. To get us going, he wants us look afresh at the hours we spend in motion, whether on a daily car commute, transcontinental flight, or adrift, wet and supine, on the “lazy river” behind the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. He posits that in these experiences there is, or could be, a special type of awareness — neither concentration nor daydreaming, fight nor flight — that is richly human, indeed at the core of our evolutionary identity as walking, watchful beings.

Hiss calls such experience “deep travel,” and he prods us to recollect memorable travel experiences — the kind of train rides, for instance, when to our surprise we find ourselves open to the wonder of the racing suburban landscape, a sensation especially intense during, say, the first 48 hours in a new country, when every sight and sound is distinct information, impressed onto a mind alert for risk and opportunity. It’s an evocative premise, hard to read without thinking, as with his earlier book: Of course, why hasn’t this been written about before? Hiss is a great synthesizer, and he’s not shy of poetry, whether quoting the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi, or describing his own deep travel as resembling “sunlight after rain — details stand out,” and moonlight, too, because it “changes your sense of what has become possible and of what might happen next.” ”