The Crisis in American Walking…


From TOM VANDERBILT
Slate

[…] For walking is the ultimate “mobile app.” Here are just some of the benefits, physical, cognitive and otherwise, that it bestows: Walking six miles a week was associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s (and I’m not just talking about walking in the “Walk to End Alzheimers”); walking can help improve your child’s academic performance; make you smarter; reduce depression; lower blood pressure; even raise one’s self-esteem.” And, most important, though perhaps least appreciated in the modern age, walking is the only travel mode that gets you from Point A to Point B on your own steam, with no additional equipment or fuel required, from the wobbly threshold of toddlerhood to the wobbly cusp of senility.

Despite these upsides, in an America enraptured by the cultural prosthesis that is the automobile, walking has become a lost mode, perceived as not a legitimate way to travel but a necessary adjunct to one’s car journey, a hobby, or something that people without cars—those pitiable “vulnerable road users,” as they are called with charitable condescension—do. To decry these facts—to examine, as I will in this series, how Americans might start walking more again— may seem like a hopelessly retrograde, romantic exercise: nostalgia for Thoreau’s woodland ambles. But the need is urgent. The decline of walking has become a full-blown public health nightmare…

Walking has become a boutique pastime: There is frantic weekend power-walking (making up for the week’s lack of locomotion); there is the ostentatiously lo-fi commute (observes Geoff Manaugh: “people now think the very act of walking around makes them a kind of psychogeographic avant-garde”); there is walking-centric conceptual art; and there are stylized, idealized, walkable “lifestyle centers” which themselves must be driven to (if you’re lucky, you’ll find one with an indoor “panoramic walking track”), where walking itself is as vaguely antique as the iron lamp-posts and cobble-stones. The writer Will Self, a dedicated walker, well captured the sense that the pedestrian life is one so removed from daily consciousness that to participate in it implies some higher purpose. “Whenever I tell people I’m going to walk somewhere utilitarian—like an airport; or even a long distance walk that seems quite prosaic to me, they always ask: ‘Is it for charity?’ ”…

Complete article here
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