Bright stroll, big city
July 1, 2015 10:53 PM   Subscribe

Zack Friedman: You’ll Never Walk Alone
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:55 PM on July 1, 2015

I've heard Kingwell speak in person (he gave public lectures at an exbf's university), and he is marvelous.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:49 PM on July 1, 2015

Walking has turned out to improve my quality of life that now it is featured very high up on my list of reasons I prefer to live in Graz over any of the American cities I've lived in the past.

It's sad to me that so much of American residential space is essentially openly hostile to concept of walking, either for the purpose legitimate transit or simply aimless enjoyment.
posted by The Correspondent on the Continent at 12:31 AM on July 2, 2015 [13 favorites]

I enjoyed that essay very much: thanks, tmot&t, for posting it. I do like to walk, which is just as well, as, having a dog, I have to do quite a bit of it. For all the talk of ‘why walking makes us think’, I’m more of the following persuasion:
Even solitary philosophizing may prove less amenable to the stroll than we often imagine. For many people, the walk or hike is less an occasion for thought than a respite from it, sometimes a necessary venting of pent-up energy that precisely (like much exercise) lacks the quality of thought.
And, having had, at times, to do a good deal of joyless walking out of necessity, I appreciated, that Kingswell mentioned the following:
More to the point, sometimes walking is the burden, not the release. Few characters in literature walk more than Thomas Hardy’s Tess, but she must do so from disadvantage, not in the interests of leisure or spiritualism. The suburban exiles who lack cars and live in districts poorly served by public transit, doggedly covering ground to fetch groceries from the nearest strip mall, are her modern descendants.
posted by misteraitch at 1:10 AM on July 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

I liked this a lot. I particularly liked the crack about doing aimlessness wrong.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:30 AM on July 2, 2015

Heidelberg is a great walking city, especially when the Christmas market is on, and couples still stroll through the streets with arms linked.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:59 AM on July 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Philadelphia is a wonderful walking city. It's a big part of why I moved from the wonderful suburb where I could walk everywhere when I was growing up--various commercial encroachments and community car habits having changed everything. In Philly, I just head out my door and start walking. Within walking distance are many different kinds of residential neighborhoods (you can change nations, ethnicities, incomes, and styles from block to block), shopping districts, waterfronts, museums, fountains, statues, people of every description and costume, and incarnations of our sprawling and ubiquitous Fairmount Park. And when I get tired of walking I hop on a bus and get an even more wonderful view of society. People in the suburb where I work ask me what I plan do on vacation. "I'm going to go out and walk a lot," I say, and don't try to explain, even though it is clearly not an adequate explanation.
posted by Peach at 3:46 AM on July 2, 2015 [9 favorites]

I love walking through the city and am often amazed at the short distances people will drive. I lived in a suburb for nine years and was constantly frustrated by the fact that you couldn't walk at all there. There were no sidewalks and the roads were all very narrow and twisty with no shoulders which made it so that I had to drive even the 1/4 mile to the supermarket for fear of getting mowed down by a minivan.
posted by octothorpe at 4:18 AM on July 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

When people come to Chicago to visit me I often accidentally break them because I find the spaces between places fascinating and think nothing of walking 10 miles in a day.
posted by srboisvert at 5:04 AM on July 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Here this dude is walking down Bathurst Street and there's not a word about Toronto's amazing street art. The huge collab by Elicser and Troy Lovegates at Scadding Court is just the beginning.

I walk all the time in Toronto. I walk to work, I walk to the market, we go for meandering Sunday walks for 3 hours or more at a time. We wander from the downtown into neighbourhoods where every shopkeeper asks us "Do you live around here?" (a question that is never asked downtown). "No," we say, "we're just out for a walk. We live downtown." Just a walk from University to Woodbine on a sunny spring day.

We switch back into art-filled alleys that rival any gallery in town, except that these galleries are free and always changing. There's a new installation every week. Here the AGO is trying to diversify itself, with its Basquiat and First Nations exhibits — and more power to them — while Elicser has been documenting all of Toronto's peoples and the fondness between them for years, the women with haloes and power.

Who tells the story of this city's character, its sense of humour and beauty? Is it not LoveBot? Is it not Jarus? Is it not Shalak Attack and Bruno Smoky? And Uber 5000? And Birdo? And how can you know this story without walking the city, without looking around that corner?
posted by heatherann at 5:26 AM on July 2, 2015 [7 favorites]

Heatherann, these links are fantastic! Make a FPP, please, with more.
posted by growabrain at 5:53 AM on July 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

Walking is one of the reasons I love working in NY, and I turn into quite the flâneur when I am there.

A typical weekend involves a walk from 43rd (and 9th, obviously) down to SoHo or Tribeca and back. Or get a wonderfully cheap(*) subway ride to somewhere and just walk round a neighborhood or three.

I'd love to walk a bit more when I'm in Montreal, but I always seem to be there in early February, when it is minus infinity degrees outside, and that rather dampens my enthusiasm.

* compared to London, anyhow
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 6:16 AM on July 2, 2015

Walking is great if you live in a city that is built for and encourages walking, and all the cities that this academic names are walkable -- mostly. I'd like to see someone write a paean to those who walk even in cities that actively discourage it, because people walk there, too -- believe it or not. Walking isn't really a "confession" or a "solitary pleasure" when you're trying to dodge crazy inattentive drivers and the fumes from tractor-trailers, or trying to keep your eyes peeled to ward off getting creamed, or trying to avoid neighborhoods where you might get unwanted attention for walking because nobody ever walks there. Other than the self-righteously finger-wagging and pedantic "We North Americans should always remember that the encroachment on walking opportunities by the postwar expansion of car-centric urban design is one of the signal failures of human vision in the 20th century," we who live in anti-walking cities get nothing.
posted by blucevalo at 6:21 AM on July 2, 2015 [6 favorites]

I married a walker and in so doing, have become one myself. We ditched our car last year because we live in a small walkable city--well, walkable if you live downtown--and it seemed insane to keep it when it was getting less and less use. We like traveling to anyplace that allows us to walk where we need or want to go. It's when I go back to where my parents live where it's insane to see suburbs and major roads that have no sidewalks. I have gotten so used to being able to walk where I need to be that to not provide that for folks who don't have cars seems the height of car-based hubris.

(I walk or bike to work every day and for some reason my co-workers think this is a crazy or fantastic feat.)
posted by Kitteh at 6:38 AM on July 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

When I was a more consciously (self-consciously?) practicing Surrealist, I would coin-toss (by looking at my wristwatch's second hand) at each corner while walking through Chicago, which I always thought of as Surrealism's American home town. (It wasn't just because of Franklin and Penelope Rosemont; it was also because of the things that happened to me there.) This always produced wonderful results.

Then there is the walking of the traveler, which I will be practicing in a week or two when I visit the cities of central Europe: walking, walking, getting lost, walking, walking, finding my way back to my hotel.

Many parts of American cities are virtually unwalkable, as bluceavalo notes above, but walking in one's home town can be revelatory sometimes, especially if one is used to driving.

Then there is bicycling. When done casually (without the head-down intensity of serious cyclists), it is like walking, but faster. One can enjoy other people's gardens, for example, and the trees and the sky, enjoyments not available to the motorist.

Great essay. I don't think I'd have the same reservations about Gros that Kingwell has--especially about the selflessness that walking can help engender.
posted by kozad at 7:04 AM on July 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

When I was a teenager, I attended a summer workshop that routinely ended an hour earlier than scheduled, and I never called my parents for an early pickup. I just took the opportunity to wander and see how much I could explore of this small suburban village before my folks came to fetch me. I had spent a great amount of my early childhood living in places hostile to walking so this freedom to wander was just one of those magical parts of growing up.

In my early 20's, I lived in an apartment in Boston's Fenway, and I met another young man with whom I got along, and one weekend he rang my doorbell and asked me if I'd like to go for a walk, and we just spent the entire day ranging across the city, doing nothing but talking, strolling, taking detours and finding ourselves back in our apartments again. It's been 20 years, and we live in different cities now, but whenever we have the rare pleasure of spending a Saturday or Sunday in the same place, we always go for a stroll. Always
posted by bl1nk at 7:21 AM on July 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

Another view from Baudelaire on being outside rather than in. (OK, yes, it's a poem, so it's not really about being outside physically but it works that way too.)
posted by maryr at 7:57 AM on July 2, 2015

Suburbs and sprawl are one thing, but it's the small cities that always blow my mind. I've been to so many places that were perfectly walkable, safe, clean, etc., yet I was the only one out walking. I was in Louisville for a week-long training for work once and it was at a hotel downtown, less than a ten minute walk from a little restaurant district. Every day, all of us from the Chicago office would walk over there for lunch, because, obviously. But everybody else at the training was like, oh my god, how did you guys get there? Did you take the hotel shuttle? Did you take a cab? I'm driving over, do you want a ride? It was the strangest thing.
posted by gueneverey at 8:25 AM on July 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm thinking of how much of this is walking from a position of white male privilege. I mean sure, it's a wonderful restful thing for him to do. But then he isnt getting stopped by the cops for being in the wrong neighborhood, and he's not continuously being told by guys "smile baby".
posted by happyroach at 8:48 AM on July 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Urban walking with no aim but sensation—the solitary pleasures of the flâneur—is of course a recent phenomenon, a legacy of modernity.

I wonder how true that is. I think it's true that writing about this kind of walking is a "legacy of modernity" but I'll bet there were people who loved diving into ancient Rome's streets and alleyways and just seeing what turned up.

It's certainly true that just walking around a real city is one of the great "unpriced pleasures." One of the greatest things for my wife and I when we get to visit real cities like San Francisco or New York or Chicago or London or Berlin or Barcelona or what have you is just walking around. We tend to walk rather than take public transport unless we're really pushed for time, because it's just such a pleasure moving through such a richly palimpsestic space. Where we live there's certainly plenty of walking opportunities, but it's suburban, the architecture is pretty undistinguished, and it's three or four decades old at the most. What's so delightful in a real city is just to see layers and layers of architectural styles, of ideas of what constitutes the "urban"--and, of course, to see so many different ways that people have of adapting themselves to that richly complex built environment.

I'm thinking of how much of this is walking from a position of white male privilege.

Well, sure--but what are you going to do, exactly? Refuse to walk until everybody in the world is free to walk without fear of race-or-gender-based harassment? Do we also refuse to partake in every other potential pleasure because for various reasons they are not all equally available to all people?
posted by yoink at 9:29 AM on July 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

uh, whoops:
Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation
Through a controlled experiment, we investigated whether nature experience would influence rumination (repetitive thought focused on negative aspects of the self), a known risk factor for mental illness. Participants who went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment. These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world.
via KurzweilAI
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:34 AM on July 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Walking around a bustling city is my favorite thing to do when I can. I live in a pedestrian-hostile area 😰 and I actually teared up reading this.
posted by Monochrome at 12:19 PM on July 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

and he's not continuously being told by guys "smile baby".

Paris is surprisingly good for this. Nice, much less so. But Paris? As long as you've got your "none of you actually exist" face on, you're pretty much left scot free. If you don't want to be left scot free, all you need to do is start smiling.

There is nothing I love more than random walking in Paris. You can find yourself on the opposite side of the city before you even know it, and not have been bored a single minute. (Granted, I don't blink at 3-4-hour walks.)
posted by fraula at 2:45 PM on July 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Walking can be lovely but today I had to run an errand in SoHo and it turned me into this nasty, furious ball of OMG IDIOTS GET OUT OF MY WAAAAAY pedestrian rage, so...
posted by naoko at 4:38 PM on July 2, 2015

I love walking in cities, and for about 8 months of the year, my city is quite walkable.
A friend and I do long walks a couple of times a year, setting an arbitrary goal--start at Lake Calhoun, all the way down Lake, across the Mississippi, all the way down Marshall, then Grand, then Randolph--to the Mississippi again (it curves). Or, "Four Towers"--the Foshai to the Witches Hat, to the Space Tower, to the water tower in Highland Park. About ten miles is very doable.
The best part was, 8 miles in, a woman stopped to ask us for directions and asked "is it within walking distance?"
"You might be asking the wrong people..."
posted by librosegretti at 4:49 PM on July 2, 2015

rumination (repetitive thought focused on negative aspects of the self), a known risk factor for mental illness

Wow, now I feel even sorrier for cows than I did before.

Is this an actual mental health thing? I had never sensed a negative connotation for rumination before.
posted by skyscraper at 6:57 PM on July 2, 2015

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