Pedestrian, the word evokes mundane thoughts. No surprise, as one of its two main meanings is “dull.” The other meaning is a person walking along a road or in a developed area, hardly inspiring either. This is partly because contemporary society views walking as a tedious task, something which we try to cut out of every day life with gadgets and infrastructure such as escalators or moving sidewalks. Most people prefer to take public transit, drive their cars, or ride their bikes (all faster modes of transportation). This is especially true in the United States of America, where we walk less than any other industrialized nation on earth.
Personally, I try to walk whenever possible. I work it into my schedule, trying to walk to the shops and the 30 minutes to work. On that walk I see hundreds of cars, several buses, a couple of bicycles, but only one or two fellow pedestrian commuters. In the words of Tom Vanderbilt, at times walking feels like “An act dwelling in the margins, an almost hidden narrative running beneath the main vehicular text.” Given the above, why would anyone want to walk?
Let me start off by saying this: For me, walking is a privilege. But for many people this is not the case. Many people are forced to walk through circumstances such as a lack of access to adequate public transportation or the inability to afford another form of transportation. On the other side are people who don’t even have the option to walk due to a physical disability or injury, a lack of free time in their day, or other life constraints. I am lucky; I own a car, I can afford public transit, and am able bodied. I am fortunate enough to choose, and I choose to walk.
We live in the “age of instant gratification” where we want everything as quickly as possible, sometimes before we even know we want it (if Amazon has its way). What then, are the benefits of walking? First, as Robert Manning discusses in his article Long Walks, Deep Thoughts, walking not only gives us time to think, but provides our mind with external stimuli, as we pass through environments we might not otherwise interact with. Charles Dickens racked up 20 miles of walking some days in London, informing much of his work. And even when the surrounding environment is dull or boringly familiar, walking gives us the time to think upon things we would not naturally when in the midst of our day to day rigmarole.
The author Will Self, himself an avid walker, sees the act of walking as a political action, fighting against corporate control and the design of 21st century Western conurbations that isolate us from our communities. In this context the act of walking is quite similar to the slow food movement; both actions seek to turn away from globalization and isolation from our communities. It is also an act of environmental conservation, as walking consumes only human energy. While it might not be the most convenient form of transportation, many of us who walk to work, or elsewhere, do so because of an environmentally conscious decision.
At its simplest, walking provides us with a break from everything else in our lives. It gives us both a temporal buffer and a realization of a physical buffer between home and work and all other locations we frequent. When we walk we have time to reflect on who we are, where we have been and where we are going.
You don’t have to walk everywhere, but try replacing, if you can, a drive or commute with a walk sometime. You will feel the effect.
What are some other benefits of walking? Walking is not only good exercise, but has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, raise your self-esteem, reduce depression, and improve childhood education.
Why do you walk? Tell us below…