People used to walk. People used to walk everywhere, and many people still do. Not around me, though. I used to try to look for people who walk around the neighbourhood, all the same time trying to ignore the screeching of cars that hazardously fly right pass me. Yet as people scurry around, I find them to be not so much walking: rather moving themselves around by moving their legs. Walking is not a gait of locomotion. Walking is a state of mind, a cathartic release, a dream, a virtue. Walking is… walking. Walking is a thing of its own.
Upon the cold concrete of the sidewalk, footsteps echo along the streets every day. I used to look down a street and see people jogging in colourful attire, people being walked by their dogs… the housewife carrying a plastic bag as she heads towards her cars, the elderly couple strolling around the neighbourhood. It is tempting to define these actions as walking, but frankly walking concerns them not. Their locomotion merely pushes them forwards towards their goals, as they dream of the day when they no longer need to carry out these tedious tasks. If only I could keep fit without needing to jog. If only my dog did not require daily walks. If only I could flick a switch and have grocery magically appear on my counter.
The ideals of these people have prevailed in the past century, as mankind continues to churn out wonderful contraptions: treadmills, cars, expressways, Amazon. The next step for us all is to breed a dog that does not require walks. Or rather, treadmills for dogs. Walking seems to be a struggling remainder of our bygone past, waiting to be replaced and eradicated by something more complex and advanced. Wouldn’t it be nice to just connect ourselves to an incubator and have robots carry out everything for us? I mean, why not? Is the matrix really such a bad idea? Wouldn’t being released from petty inconveniences like walking be great for our species, as we devote our lives to creativity and enjoyment? Yet this seemingly attractive version of the future is eerie. Blockbuster movies love depicting a future where machines reign over humanity, as does literature, carving out desperate settings full of doom and despair. While we must not be hostile towards change, walking, like many other things that we hope not to do but must, carries something inherently valuable and appealing.
I love travelling. I hope lots of people do as well, so as to not become an outcast. People dream of visiting legendary cities: Paris, London, New York, Rome, Delhi, Tokyo… Instead of joining a tour bus and ticking off a list full of attractions and landmarks, many instead seek to explore hidden alleys, wander around leafy quarters and meander through twisting walkways. The experience is almost therapeutic, as one finally gets released from a mundane, nine-to-five routine. I would even like to categorise road trips as a form of walking, even though it doesn’t quite require moving one’s appendages around. While embarking on road trips, people marvel at the vastness of prairies, the desolation of deserts, the majesty of peaks, the stillness of seas. In these experiences, walking is about escape. It’s about omething different, something new, something extraordinary. Why not, instead of desperately waiting for vacation, seek beauty in our daily lives? Truly, there is always something new to be discovered around us, much like we discover new locales, though perhaps not so obvious.
Escape is no longer necessary when we embrace reality rather than live in a grandiose dream. Walking helps us discover the wonder of our supposedly monotonous lives; there is always excitement lying around the corner, no matter how many times one passes through it during a morning commute. Walking through our lives, rather than rushing across it, helps us appreciate our lives better, and elevates it to something more.
Occasionally, I crave a doughnut, but is it difficult to make one. Most of the time, I just live with the fact that I don’t really need doughnuts to survive. If I were to live in the city, I probably would have just walked across the street from the apartment tower I live in and get a doughnut. Right now, right here, there really isn’t enough demand to justify a new Dunkin’ Donuts store. When people drive to a shopping centre, which is usually a glorified sprawling supermarket, there is very little incentive for businesses to open locations near where people live. Contrast this to a big city, where most people walk. With enough people passing by, businesses thrive, creating a positive feedback loop that encourages the opening of even more businesses. Where cars pass by, grotesque highways dominate the landscape, and it’s really unrealistic for businesses to ask cars to stop and look at their products, which pedestrians happily do.
Some might contend that density is imperative to commercial development. Walking naturally encourages higher density, and higher density encourages walking. Auckland’s inner city suburbs have already reached critical density for walking to overtake driving as the most appealing method of transport over shorter distances. As a result, businesses are beginning to sprout in these areas, with bakeries, cafes, restaurants and galleries opening rapidly everywhere. People really like living in these areas. Just look at the price. Of course, mindless walking, or rather, ambulation, doesn’t quite contribute to the development of desirable features, since people bustling towards their jobs during morning commute aren’t compelled to stop and purchase items. Only when people walk to explore, to enjoy, does anything beneficial happens. As more people walk, economy of scale dominates, attracting retail and commerce. People complain of gentrification, but a waterfront property converted into a Starbucks is still better than a waterfront property with signs saying “Private Property. No Trespassing.”
If everyone wants a doughnut occasionally, and is willing to walk a while to purchase one, I wouldn’t end up baking seven doughnuts, and eventually only eating one, because I can’t make one doughnut. Instead, I might be willing to sell some doughnuts to other people who might want some. Hopefully, somebody will walk pass and actually buy one, rather than leaving behind a trail of dust and dirt as they speed past me in their precious automobiles.
Politicians love building new expressways. I would as well if it wins me a re-election. Unfortunately, automobiles are largely at odds with pedestrians. No pedestrian would want to cross a grade separated ten-lane expressway. Neither would a car desire to cruise through narrow alleyways crowded with people. In order to build lovely interchanges that evoke images of abstract art, politicians argue that New Zealand would collapse without sprawling highways and an endless grid of parking lots right to the horizon. (How pretty.) But automobiles are quite a recent trend. In fact, quite obviously, for the majority of humanity’s history, walking is the dominant form of transport. For long-distance trips, wagons, trains and ships are our dominant method of transportation. Imagine driving a truck from Hong Kong to Auckland just to ship a box of T-shirts: not exactly efficient. Container ships are cheaper, and do not require the building of the world’s longest and most expensive bridge.
However, for most people, there are more obvious benefits. Just Google the benefits of walking. Come on, Google it and read them. They are awesome. Numerous studies throughout the world have shown that walkability is high correlated with happiness, health and income. Local voices cry against improved public transport, especially when it goes through their backyards, which is understandable. After all, no one wants crowds of people passing around their million-dollar mansion. I don’t have a million-dollar mansion though, so I don’t care. And really, as prices rise, I don’t see many of us ever owning mansions. Why not embrace walking and its numerous benefits instead of building more expressways that aren’t really that great? A healthy atmosphere that encourages walking instead of driving, instead of mindless ambulation, leads to an exciting and prosperous community that we will all enjoy.
Must we go on vacation to find relief? Must we suffer traffic just to buy a can of Coke? Must we tolerate monstrous ramps in front of our homes? Right here, right now, walking may be unappealing, in a city dominated by the temptations of convenience. But what we give up for these conveniences is simply a too-high price. Walking is a meditative experience, a necessity for commercial development, a part of the human way life. Abandoning walking is not only senseless, it is selfish. For everyone around you, for yourself, consider walking. Take the bus, take the ferry, ride a bike, for they all contain the essence and spirit of walking. Cars may be appealing, but we will only drive ourselves towards doom if we give into our temptations. Please, for the sake of everyone, consider walking.
Written by Justin Chen. Edited by Saffron Huang.