Walking as Privilege
August 19, 2017 9:44 AM   Subscribe

Discussing a new divide: those who walk because they can and those who walk because they must. Why people walk now and where they walk illustrates a cultural chasm. At the end of this article is a corollary article "The Walking Poor" you can click on to get the other side of the chasm.
posted by MovableBookLady (39 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
Bikes, too. The Cannondale spandex stereotype is the exception. Most adult bikers do so because they can't drive, either due to cost or DUI.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:14 AM on August 19, 2017 [11 favorites]


As a non-driver by necessity and as someone who also happens to believe that life in the US would generally be better if more people drove less, this article touched on a lot of stuff I think about on a regular basis. For medical reasons, I haven't been able to walk like I used to before nearly a year, depending on friends and family to get me around. In many ways it's made my life easier, but I feel like a big part of myself is missing.

And any article that invokes Famed Naturalist John Muir® right out of the gate is okay by me!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:24 AM on August 19, 2017 [5 favorites]


From “The Walking Poor:”
Through GoFundMe, Robertson raised $360,000 and was able to buy a 2015 Ford Taurus.
While his story might seem like a parable of the overwhelming generosity of the American people, the apathy of strangers was actually part of the problem. Robertson took buses, but he had to fill in the gaps by walking because his job was located in “the no-bus land of rolling Rochester Hills,” the Free-Press wrote, one of the many communities where voters opted not to pay for the regional bus system. “So it has no fixed-route bus service.”
See, this is one of the things that really Burns me up. Charity can never take the place of tax-funded infrastructure that's available to all. Bad enough that it's demeaning and lets who even knows how many people slip through the cracks, but it's also just plain inefficient. But for so long Americans have been indoctrinated with the propaganda that any tax is automatically bad and should be gotten rid of no matter what the long-term cost.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:35 AM on August 19, 2017 [52 favorites]


We'll never get rid of voluntary inconvenience as a signal of the leisure class.

The more we embrace the romanticism of thinness, the more we seem to look down on those who are skinny because they don't have enough to eat.
The more we embrace the romanticism of being tan, the more we seem to look down on those whose skin darkens because they have to work long hours outside.
The more we embrace the romanticism of shabby chic, the more we seem to look down on those whose clothes are worn because they depend on hand-me-downs.

It's a moving target. I mostly don't care how others get their rocks off.

But this country's central myth of self-sufficiency is a real barrier to acknowledging unacceptable, involuntary suffering and inequity. Could something like the bike culture in the Netherlands ever arise in the US?
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 10:52 AM on August 19, 2017 [11 favorites]


Cars are even heading this way in some cities, especially NYC and SF. Forget about having a car because you love the freedom of the open road: People have them because they're the only practical way to get to work and other responsibilities, and they're a constant source of unpredictable costs (repairs, tickets, insurance, fuel), anxieties and frustrations (traffic, bad drivers, police harassment, check engine lights, weird noises under the hood, waiting on your relative who borrowed your car to get it home so you can get stuff for dinner). It's also incredible how much wasted time, stress and conflict in the US is caused by negotiating rides or the use of other people's cars, waiting for rides, waiting for other people to get rides to you, etc.

Meanwhile, wealthy people live in fast public transit or safe walking and cycling zones, and use Uber and Zipcar when they need "a car." And poor people live in more dangerous areas to walk, cycle and bus but have to do it anyway.
posted by smelendez at 10:52 AM on August 19, 2017 [18 favorites]


And then there's disabled people like me, who can't walk even if they desperately need to. I appreciate the point of this article, but the tone just... makes me sad, I guess. There's a lot of glorification of walking, which like, isn't a bad thing, but it definitely reminds me of what I'm missing out on. Not that that means there's anything wrong with the article, though.

I definitely see this divide, though. City friends who are richer/generally well off will talk about how scenic their route to work/school is and what great exercise they're getting. Those who are working minimum wage talk about how dead tired they are at the end of their shift, and how they want nothing more to be home already. It's not fun, it's not glorious, and the health benefits are probably cancelled out by the strain and damage of the 8-hour shift they already just worked on their feet. I'm always offering people rides, because of this. Sometimes I forget people actually LIKE to walk, and that they aren't just trying to get from point A to point B with the least amount of exhaustion possible.

Also, those little wibbly quote dividers super bother me.
posted by brook horse at 10:53 AM on August 19, 2017 [29 favorites]


Bikes, too. The Cannondale spandex stereotype is the exception. Most adult bikers do so because they can't drive, either due to cost or DUI.

It's maybe just where I live, but the bicyclists I see seem to fall almost entirely into that binary -- either commuters and sport riders on expensive bikes with lots of gear, or people who are clearly on a bike because they can't drive or can't afford to drive. Pedestrians seem to fall on much more of a spectrum (and it's harder to guess, since you don't have the easy signifiers of lycra and carbon fiber bikes).
posted by Dip Flash at 11:05 AM on August 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


This is in the US, where ordinary people (who aren't affluent, demonstratively competitive types or the poor) don't cycle, right? In London, people from all walks of life seem to use bicycles to get around, usually not attired in specialist clothing; you see a few high-visibility jackets, and a minority of cyclists wear helmets, but generally people cycle in everyday clothing.
posted by acb at 11:22 AM on August 19, 2017 [8 favorites]


It might be just where you live, or at least it's not where I live. Where I live (Madison WI) you might see spandex-clad people on an actual long ride, but most of the bike traffic is people in regular clothes on their way to work, or students on their way to class. Same goes for pedestrians. You don't need Netherlands-level bike culture for this to be the case; you just need bike use to be prevalent enough that it's not a total outlier. In Madison, 5% of commutes are by bike. That's enough to make it normal.

That said, Madison is in the top 20 municipalities on that list and is #10 for most pedestrian commuters so I'll admit it's atypical from this point of view. But you don't need massive abandonment of cars to address the issues raised by the article. 15% of commutes by walkers/bikers is plenty.
posted by escabeche at 11:25 AM on August 19, 2017 [3 favorites]


Bad enough that it's demeaning and lets who even knows how many people slip through the cracks, but it's also just plain inefficient.

Inefficient as it is, I still avoid stepping on them even though my mom is long gone and her back safe forever.

Seriously, I walk because I don't drive and my bike was stolen. But arthritis has crept into my right hip and walking is now a chore. Time for a new bike.

And, luckily, Seattle has Metro Transit, a great bus system. Such is my privilege.
posted by y2karl at 11:33 AM on August 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


When we lived in rural France in the mid-eighties, my wife and me would sometimes walk twenty miles in a day, come home laden with chestnuts, berries and mushrooms. Nadine, with her great knowledge of plant life, would point out to me this or that vine or shrub and tell me about its edibility and medicinal properties. I received quite an education then. We seldom encountered another person during these trips. Our itinerary would be something like, "Well, beyond this hill, and that one, there's a very old forest of chestnuts, and there are oaks too, beneath which can be found these mushrooms."

Fool that I am, I didn't realize just what a unique experience this was; not until we had to leave (because I had outstayed my visa by a few years.) Being back in the US was like awakening from a beautiful dream into a nasty, unfriendly reality. Still feels that way.

We're still kind of poor, relatively speaking. We still walk. But the experience is so very different here in the US. And by different, I mean "inferior."

I know that people walk vs drive here for a variety of reasons. Politically-loaded socioeconomic reasons. I'm just thankful that I had the opportunity to experience something other that what is available to us in this place today, where you're basically nothing, or worse than nothing, without a car.
posted by metagnathous at 11:37 AM on August 19, 2017 [14 favorites]


I'm with brook horse. 'Walking as Privilege' means something completely different to the disabled.
posted by happyturtle at 11:43 AM on August 19, 2017 [16 favorites]


And, luckily, Seattle has Metro Transit, a great bus system. Such is my privilege.

Yeah, that's another thing. My rent is a much higher portion of my budget than it should be because I need to live near public transit and in a neighborhood that's convenient to the places I need to go and the people who take me there.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:52 AM on August 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


I found that article unsatisfactory because so much of it was about how rich walkers feel rather than what rich walkers do. (No bus service in a rolling ruburb is probably not a walker's vote.) When does fashionable pedestrianism make life better for the average person? For the poor or mobility-challenged person? When does a pedestrianism as a rich thing make life *worse* for the non-rich? How do we get more of the former and less of the latter?

(Possible answers; zoning/design laws that require joined-up sidewalks and safe road crossings everywhere; ditto for curb cuts, transit, enforcing traffic laws against dangerous drivers; vs skyrocketing real estate prices in a few fashionable walkable cities and no jobs anywhere else; politics, same as in town.)
posted by clew at 12:10 PM on August 19, 2017 [10 favorites]


Because I'm pissed off at it but it isn't quite a post: a new transit center a couple counties away from Seattle, but juuuuust within possible terrible commute range. And that's what the transit center is: a pretty park-and-ride for buses to the city. It's surrounded by an asphalt "walking trail" through the native plant landscaping. Ticks some ticky-boxes for TOD.

But the sidewalks don't connect to anything -- you can't walk off that lot except on the shoulder of a fast road. And I don't think you can legally walk from there to *either* of the business developments within a mile, including the one with a college branch in it, because it's the wrong side of big intersections. As a bus service depot, fine, that was the affordable land; as a park and ride, it makes long commutes a bit nicer (for everyone else on the crowded roads, too, granted); but putting the bus station somewhere you can only drive to is just injury and insult to everyone who works and shops and studies in the actual developments.
posted by clew at 12:20 PM on August 19, 2017 [17 favorites]


I am privileged because I never learned how to drive and have been able to live in places, for the most part, with pretty good public transport. Now that I have back problems, it's even more important that I walk a lot (but not too *much*, sigh). I'm middle class, so will be privileged whether I drive or not. But I like to think that in this case my privilege helps the greater good, because it makes me advocate for bike lanes, other bike initiatives (e.g. affordable bikes available in proper neeghborhoods), lowers air and ground pollution, and saves me money I use for social justice activities/actions. My driving wouldn't necessarily make things better. I'm too chicken to bike, although if I had no other choice, I guess I'd brush up and be brave.
posted by mollymillions at 12:25 PM on August 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure to which camp I belong. I've never driven. When I was young I didn't drive due a combination of not needing, not wanting and not being able to afford a car. I had used public transit my entire life and I walked a great deal, every day, everywhere - much more than was necessary because I enjoyed it so much (and still do).

But, then, less than ten years ago, my boyfriend and I moved to the suburbs, thankfully still within the radius of available public transit. And I noticed right away not nearly as many people walking. And when they did, they were either the 'walking poor', as described in the article, or wearing very fancy, official walking gear (sometimes armed with walking poles). And I noticed that people here treat walking as a separate activity; as exercise, as an event divided from normal life. People here don't walk to run their errands or to get to and from work–unless, of course, they are unable to afford a car.

So, while there was a time when all of this walking was a choice for me, where I could probably afford a car, that's no longer the case. I can't afford a car. That said, I don't actually want to drive and still have no desire to own a car, though I do feel pressured to from some people. People comment on my walking in a way that is supposed to make me feel silly or ashamed for walking. Sometimes I think it is simply to tease out just exactly what is wrong with me (DUI? Poor? Traumatized?). But I say nothing. All I think is that they are missing out on one of the most obvious joys in life. I feel free that I can walk the way I do. My mother can't walk around the block anymore. I think about that a lot.

Sometimes I see older people struggling down the street and wonder if I haven't painted myself into a corner. Maybe if I had driven this entire time I would somehow magically have a car right now. And have the option to drive. Then I realize I'm pretending to have the luxury of choices, as, no matter how I slice it, I can't currently afford a car. And who knows if I ever will be able to afford a car or ever want to drive. How will all of this play out as I get older and poorer? I have no idea, but I like to imagine that all of the walking has made me stronger.
posted by marimeko at 12:39 PM on August 19, 2017 [16 favorites]


I'm not a huge fan of this sort of free-association cultural critique.

"Rich people wear fitbits, but when I went to Africa I saw that poor people there have to walk a lot and it's definitely not fun for them, and in Paris it's nice to walk, but did you know there are banlieues where poor people live where it's not nice to walk at all? Also, zombies walk weird."

I like another commenter above was hoping this was going to go into more specifics regarding e.g. zoning laws that tend to make poorer areas less walkable, or particular details about why cities lack the political will to provide adequate public transportation, and not just tell me something sort of self-evident.
posted by loquacious crouton at 12:46 PM on August 19, 2017 [47 favorites]


I didn't feel like it was necessarily a critique, just a stream of observations and meditations. I think maybe we're conditioned to expect every written word to score a hit.

I used to walk endlessly because there was nothing else to do, or no other way to do it. When I was courting my partner, I'd walk home each night or morning, an hour or two one way. Now, I don't have to walk, but I do, because it's good for me (while my hips last), it's cheap (I'm poor-ish again) and it's the right thing to do.

My neighbourhood, though, is full of people who drive two blocks to the grocery store, wait five minutes for parking with the engine running, buy a bag of cherries and drive home. (I know this because I see it -- it takes me less time to walk than it does for them to drive.) Or they drive the two blocks to the beach to walk for an hour. The line-up of running cars outside the YMCA gym always struck me as ironic.

It's interesting to think about all the different reasons why people do or do not walk, or the challenges they face in walking or not walking, but it's frustrating to think that, in a place as safe, beautiful and walkable as my current home, so many people who easily could, don't.
posted by klanawa at 1:04 PM on August 19, 2017 [4 favorites]


On the other hand, the author is wrong about humans and walking. It's what we were designed for. We're beautiful when we do it.
posted by klanawa at 1:05 PM on August 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


Interesting observations, but I felt the article needed at least a nod at the policy implications. The author is quite right that rich walkers and cyclists are privileged in terms of their travel environment, but there are two ways you could go from there. Do you try to equalize downwards (make walking and cycling more unpleasant for the rich) or upwards (more pleasant for the poor)? The appropriate policy response isn't obvious to everyone: for example, proposals to build cycle infrastructure in the UK are often objected to on the grounds that cycling in the UK is a largely white, male, middle-class activity. Here's a 2014 example from Birmingham (but this is just one of many similar objections to other infrastructure proposals):
You might think that a £23 million scheme designed to herald a cycling revolution in Britain’s second city would be met with great delight by local politicians, but councillors in Birmingham have branded the scheme “discriminatory” for only benefiting “white, young men". [...] Leading the charge is Conservative District Councillor Deirdre Alden, who told a council meeting on Monday that “the vast majority of cyclists on our roads are young, white men. Most elderly people are not going to cycle, and it would be dangerous for them to start on our streets now".
Here, the observation that the current cycling population is privileged is used as a reason to avoid improvements to the cycling environment that would benefit unprivileged cyclists too.
posted by cyanistes at 1:37 PM on August 19, 2017 [8 favorites]


I don't think it is possible to write a cogent and powerful piece about the privileges of walking without addressing the gendered politics of mobility. The urban street is not equally available to men and women. Ignoring this seems sloppy at best, disingenuous at worst. See: catcalling, or literatures on the flaneur and the problems of imagining the flaneuse; or the gendered morality of nocturnal mobility, or the spatial politics of public restroom access. Gender shapes the valences and practices of mobility everywhere -- across the globe. I can think of scholarship from western Europe, India, South Africa, Iran, Saudi, South America, and the USA, off the top of my head, that all insist that our imagination of the street as a masculine space profoundly shapes how, when, and where women feel able to walk.

This is one subject where intersectionality is CRUCIAL when analyzing who gets to walk in ways that consolidate social capital. Class alone does not capture it.
posted by mylittlepoppet at 1:37 PM on August 19, 2017 [38 favorites]


Thank you, mylittlepoppet--I think that is an excellent point. I would add race to this as well; my First Nations students tell me they are frequently stopped by police while they are walking to school and subjected to searches. I am a woman of colour, and I have felt unsafe while walking, but have never been stopped and searched by police.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:45 PM on August 19, 2017 [8 favorites]


(Without looking into the plan in question, cyanistes, there are definitely bicycling-encouraging schemes that are good for aggressive fast cyclists and bad for all the rest of us, and criticizing them on the grounds of being discriminatory seems fair to me. Saying that current cyclists are mostly fast and aggressive isn't a good argument in that direction though as that's what sharing with drivers enforces.)
posted by clew at 1:47 PM on August 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


Rich people wear fitbits, but when I went to Africa I saw that poor people there have to walk a lot

I'm as weary of Tom Friedmanesque navel-gazing as the next person mefite, but this doesn't have to be that. In the hillside neighborhood I grew up in there was no transit access and there was an obvious comparison to be made between the homemakers who lauded themselves for rising before daylight to walk five miles a morning for fitness, and their domestic employees who walked the hill twice day because they had to catch a bus.
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:02 PM on August 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


the more we seem to look down on those who are skinny because they don't have enough to eat.

I'm sorry, what?
posted by Automocar at 2:47 PM on August 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, what?

I was also confused by that poem.
posted by Construction Concern at 5:28 PM on August 19, 2017


I'm sorry, what?

I was just riffing on the article's subtitle: "The more we embrace the romanticism of walking, the more we seem to look down on those who walk because they have to." Wasn't meant to be poetic.
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 8:24 PM on August 19, 2017


My rent is a much higher portion of my budget than it should be because I need to live near public transit and in a neighborhood that's convenient to the places I need to go and the people who take me there.

But how does that increased cost compare with the cost of buying and maintaining and parking a car? For me, even living in a city with some of the most expensive real estate in the world, I think I still come out on top. It boggles me how much people have to budget monthly for driving.

Have to side with the people who find the original article a not terribly useful series of semi-free associations. And a sentence like this:

what if walking, far from being benign and noble, instead represents just another conflict of our ongoing culture wars, where the forces of progress have whitewashed the past to reach the present?

just reminds me again of how oversaturated I am with everybody's need to find something to have a hot take on.
posted by praemunire at 8:53 PM on August 19, 2017 [10 favorites]


Yeah it reminds me of Truman Capote's assessment of Kerouac's On The Road - "That's not writing, that's typing."
posted by Rash at 9:17 PM on August 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


But how does that increased cost compare with the cost of buying and maintaining and parking a car?

I really couldn't say. Driving isn't an option for me because of my eyesight so I've never done the research for myself. But I do know I've had friends making around the same as I did, living out in the country, the suburbs, or the surrounding small towns, driving older cars and living in homes several times larger than mine for a smaller rent or mortgage.

I'm not complaining. It's a choice I'm happy to make and I know nobody gets to have everything. There are people who criticize me for paying so much for a small apartment, and I have to point it out to them that I'm also paying to be able to get around by myself.

The city bus used to go right from my apartment building to Target, but they stopped letting the bus stop there, saying it put too much stress on the pavement of their parking lot. Better off customers are welcome to wear out the pavement with their vans and SUV's, but those embarrassing poor people can walk from the nearest stop.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:59 PM on August 19, 2017 [3 favorites]


One of my FB friends just posted a video clip from Tokyo, where millions of middle class and even rich people walk every day not for instagramming but for convenience . They also use public transportation, obviously.
Even with all the references to international experiences, the author of the first article comes across as someone very privileged and very US-centric. Oh, so they have done safaris in Africa and strolled in Paris so now they know everything about the privilege of walking. As someone not from the US, I can't really make sense of it all. I have several well-off friends who don't have a drivers license and also no reason to get one. They don't walk because it is trendy, but because its how they get around. And I'm sorry, but the public transportation system in Paris covers the banlieues just fine and in Europe car ownership is not a defining status symbol. There are huge problems all over Europe with social housing projects that are socially isolated, but walking or access to cars has very little to do with it. Where I live, in an urban area dense with social housing and right now in the middle of a major gang conflict with shootings every day and police helicopters everywhere, an expensive car is a sign you are a drug dealer still living with your parents. If you are middle class and well educated, you own your own home and a bike.
IMO, the second story is another of many of how the US defeats itself. In most countries, conservatives get that it is a good thing if workers can get to work, using efficient public infrastructure. You don't have to be a socialist to get that it is smart that people can arrive safely at your factory in time. Instead of trade wars with other countries, it would make sense to work together to make the US competitive.
posted by mumimor at 5:18 AM on August 20, 2017 [7 favorites]


But I do know I've had friends making around the same as I did, living out in the country, the suburbs, or the surrounding small towns, driving older cars and living in homes several times larger than mine for a smaller rent or mortgage.

This is not just about availability of public transport though. There are complex variables around preferences and need for (green, outdoor & indoor) space, time one has/is willing to spend on daily commute, access to a range of services and amenities etc. And I say that as somebody who lives centrally in Zurich, Switzerland - a country where public transit is excellent everywhere, including poorer parts and where many people don't own cars. But even here, where in theory everybody can get around easily using public transport there is a clear trade off - I pay higher rent to live in walking distance of my office, the main station and a very short way from the airport. And because I am time poor I finally gave in and bought a car last autumn after years without because my job requires a degree of geographic mobility and a car allows me to commute to various places a lot faster. And having a car is definitely a significant extra expense - in addition to running costs I have to pay for parking everywhere I go, including my parking space under my building and the shopping centre.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:54 AM on August 20, 2017


I have thought about this topic a lot, mostly because I walk a lot, and you've got to think about something while you're walking.

I think there's both a kernel of truth in this and a lot of bullshit. The truth, I think, is that there are a lot of areas in the US where it isn't safe or easy to walk, and many working-class neighborhoods fall into that category. There are lots of other reasons that it is tough or impossible for some people to walk. And it's easy to get sanctimonious about the joys of walking without thinking about the various privileges that allow one to walk. So I think it's good to have a reminder about that, although I also think it should come with a call to action to work on making walking more accessible. Rather than saying "walking is a privilege" maybe you could say "do you know which neighborhoods in your area don't have sidewalks? Is anyone advocating to instal them? Are there people who are walking long distances because they don't have other options, and what can we do to improve that situation?"

But I also think there's a whole discussion in the US about walking as an elite activity, and I think it's kind of bullshit. I hear that from people who honestly are not any more elite than I am. I heard that when I was walking to work from my shitty apartment next to a trailer park in one of the poorer neighborhoods in my town. What people mean when they say that is that walking is *culturally* elite: that it is one of those things like lattes and arugula and the New York Times that is associated with fancy people in big cities who supposedly think they're better than you. And that discourse allows people to argue that infrastructure should favor cars over pedestrians, because people in cars are ordinary, real, non-elite people, and pedestrians are elites who are demanding special treatment or poor people who are only ever cast as freeloaders. And that's why all the intersections with traffic lights in my town have a fucking button that you have to push to get a walk signal, and I have to decide whether to jaywalk or to wait a full light cycle to be able to cross legally. That's why, whenever there's road work, they keep the roads open and shut down the sidewalks and divert pedestrians several blocks out of their way. And I live in a town that pretends to be pedestrian-friendly. It must be even worse in other places!
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:57 AM on August 20, 2017 [12 favorites]


I wish that discourse around privilege and disability in this area took more notice of the fact that disabilities restricting mobility come in many varieties and do not all work in the same direction or towards the same mode of transportation. There are types of back injuries, for example, that make it dangerous, impossible, or just extremely unwise to sit down; the years I was walking eight to ten miles a day every day were the same years I got rid of my couch because sitting was not physically possible and cars were the very worst of all sitting possibilities. not only couldn't I have driven if I'd wanted to, I couldn't take a ride in anybody else's car either. now that I'm physically able to laze and lounge around again, I still have a certain sub-clinical semi-claustrophobic response to being trapped in a tiny box I can't get out of and can't move within -- it is an exaggeration to say I can't be in cars but it was once completely true and even now it is sort of true. It works out to be moderately good for me, but it is no privilege and never was.

again regarding privilege, the alleged hostility of the urban street to women is a strange thing to consider, considering how many women live in cities and do not remain cloistered in their homes, not even at night. If you're a woman who has a job and no car, you don't decide whether you can handle walking down the street, you just do it. you pay the social tax of harassment and abuse and the potential of assault whenever you're somewhere people think you shouldn't be, absolutely, though to widely varying degrees. but this doesn't make Outside unavailable to you. and there is plenty of abuse and harassment and assault to be had Inside as well, even Inside one's own home sometimes, as I think everyone is aware.

but I see less writing about how the Home is a hostile and unsafe place for women to be, compared to walking down the urban or suburban street. but it would be entirely warranted if someone were to start a series of trend pieces about that.

and as someone who now lives in a major city but lived for a year in fuckeverything, Indiana, I say every chance I get that walking down semisuburban streets, the kind with no sidewalks and often no shoulders, is worse than any urban flaneusing I've ever done or ever heard of, in terms of being a woman. not just because you get hit by cars more, either. the random abuse screamed from men in cars is really something.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:31 AM on August 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


But I also think there's a whole discussion in the US about walking as an elite activity, and I think it's kind of bullshit. I hear that from people who honestly are not any more elite than I am. I heard that when I was walking to work from my shitty apartment next to a trailer park in one of the poorer neighborhoods in my town. What people mean when they say that is that walking is *culturally* elite: that it is one of those things like lattes and arugula and the New York Times that is associated with fancy people in big cities who supposedly think they're better than you. And that discourse allows people to argue that infrastructure should favor cars over pedestrians, because people in cars are ordinary, real, non-elite people, and pedestrians are elites who are demanding special treatment or poor people who are only ever cast as freeloaders.

Thank you, ArbitraryandCapricious. I think you have gotten at what was bothering me most about the article. It reminds me of a message board discussion I saw (not here) about a woman whose activity group met at a Whole Foods Cafe and she wished they wouldn't because she couldn't afford to eat there and she wished they'd meet somewhere less expensive. This turned into a discussion about how Whole Foods was expensive and could make people feel excluded. But that turned into a discussion of the type of food WF sells--fresh produce, unprocessed stuff, vegan food, organic food--as being the purview of the elite fancy snobby people, while the food of the ordinary non-elite real people was things like Little Debbie snack cakes (specific example I remember) and fast food. People got angry and it was very heated.

I have seen more nuanced conversations here that have focused on food deserts, capacity, and time poverty, ie that eating unprocessed food you cook from scratch requires access to fresh ingredients and the space, ability and time to prepare it. But this message board discussion was not that. It had devolved into "this thing that is good for you is for elites, and this other thing that is unhealthy for you is for poor people, and to say we'd be better off if everyone could eat healthy, less processed food is elitist." Not "let's look at the structural inequalities that prevent poor people from accessing what everyone should have easy access to."

I feel like this article does the same sort of thing, only about cars. The problem isn't solved by saying walking is only for either the rich elite or those who have no other choice, who are then looked down on for the same activity. We'd be better off talking about how to make walking and good public transportation and living close to where you work more accessible to everyone.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:00 AM on August 20, 2017 [3 favorites]


Interesting article.

The other day I was with one of my sons and we watched people arrive at a National Park for a walking event. We watched people taking huge amounts of effort to park their cars as close as possible to the walking event start point, only to then go on a long walk. I'm not sure that this is similar to the divide of walking because we can or have to... but it struck us both as yet another weird aspect of modern life.
posted by greenhornet at 10:14 AM on August 20, 2017 [3 favorites]


I used to work in a new, very expensive planned community in Los Angeles, where there were ads for the development itself that said "yes, you can walk to that" and showed a model sauntering along the sidewalk. It always struck me as weird that having sidewalks was now considered aspirational, and meant that you lived somewhere expensive. This is definitely an American thing, and particularly bad in LA which is such a car-focused city.
posted by Joh at 10:06 PM on August 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


the alleged hostility of the urban street to women is a strange thing to consider, considering how many women live in cities and do not remain cloistered in their homes, not even at night. If you're a woman who has a job and no car, you don't decide whether you can handle walking down the street, you just do it.

Just because women are able to do what needs to be done despite the danger and hostility around them doesn't mean that the danger and hostility don't really exist.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:47 AM on August 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


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