Let's start with a discussion of what it means to be a flâneur. A simple definition would be "one who strolls aimlessly through urban spaces." Often, being a flâneur is associated with idleness and with the decadent luxury of having enough time to take those meandering strolls.
Though the original use of the term might have applied to folks that were decadent dilettantes with plenty of idle time, several writers, theorists and philosophers have appropriated the term and have used it to refer to a more complex activity. Walter Benjamin, in particular, has done the most to bolster the meaning of the term. Instead of assuming that those who have the time to wander aimlessly through urban landscapes are only engaged in a cursory and leisurely survey of their environment, Benjamin brought attention to the cognitive value and pleasures associated with urban strolling.
A flâneur, under this interpretation, becomes an active sociologist or reader of the environment around him or her. As urban landscapes become more dense and the architecture more complex, opportunities to observe and interpret events and objects have increased in number and complexity. Unfortunately, this has occurred in tandem with accelerated industrialization and the entrechment of the capitalist work-ethic. More often than not, we spend time in our cities commuting to and from our work places; too preoccupied or tired to take note of the visual complexities around us. We rarely have time to pause and admire small details in the architecture or to pursue a reverie caused by some stranger's facial expression. Our workplaces have also become barren environments where, more often than not, visual complexity has been replaced by monotony -- all in the name of economic efficiency (i.e., cubicles).
This lack of engagement is worrisome since we are not exercising our cognitive skills to read our environment. Whether it is the result of the pressures of commuting, of our inane habit of completing errands at break-neck speeds or of simple laziness, our visual intelligence is becoming rusty. Whether it should be deemed an aesthetic and/or political movement, it is time to rekindle our abilities to engage actively with our immediate environment and resist the tendency to let it pass unnoticed as the rythmic swaying of our bus or train lulls us into a stupor.
“The street becomes a dwelling for the flâneur; he is as much at home among the facades of houses as a citizen in his four walls. To him the shiny, enamelled signs of business are at least as good a wall ornament as an oil painting is to a bourgeois in his salon. The walls are the desk against which he presses his notebooks; newsstands are his libraries and the terraces of cafés are the balconies from which he looks down on his household after his work is done.” ––– Walter Benjamin, “The Flâneur”