The lost art of walking (in suburbia)

It all started with a new pair of shoes.

I had an appointment in the south end of town, which means paying for parking. I realized too late that I had nothing in my wallet but a quarter, a dime and two pennies. Drat. I parked on a side street and walked several blocks to my destination.

The walk was nice and not terribly onerous. Unfortunately, I arrived at the office only to discover that they were closed for lunch for another 45 minutes. Double drat. What to do?  I had forgotten my book in the car, so I decided to go for a walk. It was a lovely crisp day, anyway.

I walked along streets lined with houses and through intersections with traffic lights. I walked by construction sites, park benches and people chatting amicably. I made my way to the main street and peeked into shop windows. I began to notice a pain in my left foot where my shoe was rubbing against the back of my ankle. How odd, I thought. And then it dawned on me: I had never walked this far in these shoes.

I know that people all over the world count on walking as their primary source of transportation. I, however, live in a North American suburb. I have a car.

A car is a good idea. It means I can travel to see friends far away. I can quickly reach the hospital in case of emergency. I can lug groceries home in the trunk instead of carrying a dozen heavy bags in my arms.

A car is also a terrible idea. It keeps me from getting the exercise I need. It pollutes the planet. It costs me all kinds of money. It isolates and insulates me from a world full of interesting sights and sounds, adventures and relationships.

As I walked along, I thought about people who walk. As Kanye West noted a few years back, Jesus walked. So do urban professionals. Refugees. Children. Prostitutes. Door to door salesmen. Women carrying their goods to market in baskets balanced on their heads.   

For those people, the world unfolds slowly. They notice the smell outside the bakery and the sound of children playing. They can see the faces of the people who pass by and have enough time to notice whether they are murmuring under their breath or humming a tune. When the temperature drops or it starts to rain, they notice that, too.

I spent some time chastising myself for the obscene way I depend on my car, and lamenting all that I miss when I make my way through the world at 60 kilometers an hour. As the pain in my foot got worse, I also considered the fact that for many who walk the journey is dusty,  hot, lonely or uncomfortable. Not everyone who travels by foot has the privilege of strolling through a leafy suburb on a sunny afternoon.

I made my way back to the office thinking that my car is a luxury, but a complicated one. Not only is it easy to take it for granted, but it can completely separate me from a vibrant world. What have I missed as I drove along so many streets, listening to a recorded sound track behind a pane of glass?

This week an empty wallet, a closed office and a pain in my foot made me think about walking a little differently, and I am glad about that. I really hope it leads me to get out more. Without the car.

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2 Responses to The lost art of walking (in suburbia)

  1. I have a love/hate relationship with my car too, mostly because of how much it costs just to get somewhere. There’s discussion here in the States on making communities more pedestrian friendly, but I’m not sure how far that will get. Since I live in the boondocks, walking isn’t an option.

  2. Yes, we have that trouble here, too. So much of our housing development is made for cars, which means it is either too far or too dangerous to walk much. Still, I was glad to be able to drive to work in the rain this morning!

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