Walk: You're designed to
Commentary: Walk: You're designed to
by Gary Howe
A version of this commentary was originally published in the June issue of the Traverse City Business News.
"Apparently, as recently as 20 years ago, the foot was used in a process called ‘walking,’ by which the human body actually propelled itself. Starting sometime in the late 1970s, these crude early feet gradually evolved into their present function of operating the gas and brake pedals on automobiles.”
~ “Human Feet Originally Used For Walking”, The Onion
I love walking, whether I’m strolling along a trail or a sandy beach. However, many of my most memorable walks are more urban and ordinary–walking down an alley, through a bustling market, or to home in the rain–splashing in puddles along the way. The best walks take me somewhere.
Walking is freedom. When walking we’re engaged with the world and in more control of our destiny. We walk at a pace influenced by our own strength, surrounding terrain, and the culture of the place where we’re from. It turns out, different cities breed their own unique walking styles and speeds. For example, Singaporeans top the charts for speed by walking an average of 18 meters every 10.55 seconds. This highlights the point that a culture of walking is partially learned.
The opposite is also true: walking can be unlearned. Albeit satirical, The Onion finely captured that point.
Since the automotive industrial complex took over in the 1930’s, vehicular consideration has dominated the planning, engineering, and budgeting of both private and public development. One result is that we are a nation that has almost forgotten our bipedal nature. In fact, it has necessitated special events to remind us that we can indeed walk. And, that it might even be good for us! One such event happens on the first Wednesday of every April, when the American Heart Association hosts a National Walking Day that encourages everyone to wear walking shoes to work. I say wear whatever shoes you want, it is time to reengage yourself with the human instinct to standup and propel yourself by moving one leg ahead, then the other–and keep going.
The benefits of walking are well documented: lower risk of diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and other health issues, including a reduction in stress & depression. As Gretchen Reynolds, the health and fitness columnist for The New York Times recently wrote, “If people want to be healthier and prolong their life span, all they really need to do is go for a walk. It’s the single easiest thing anyone can do.” Additionally, people who walk more often show improved cognitive performance.
Walking is liberating.
It offers independence for much of the population that can’t drive. It also offers independence from the over $8,000 yearly cost of owning and operating a mid-size sedan. When you walk more than you drive, you seldom take note of the price at the pump even when you do fill your tank.
For the most part, Traverse City is a walkable town. Walking at a comfortable, steady pace from the center, you can reach the edges of the City in 30-40 minutes. There are challenges (especially for those who use wheelchairs)—an incomplete sidewalk network, numerous disconnects at major intersections, and a driving culture that seems to make people on foot targets—but it is improving and will continue to do so as more people choose walking as a means to go from point A to B.
If the City, and regional governments, are serious about bolstering property values, leaders need to better understand how the market favors communities designed for walkability; people want to live where they can safely and comfortably walk to dinner, work, school, and other activities. They understand the value and it is reflected in home values. The free market favors walkability while government policies often subsidize the alternative.
Summer is an excellent time to put feet to pavement.
If you live within the City limits, integrate your closest trips by foot. If you drive, find a central place in town where you can park and walk to multiple destinations. Consider BATA or a cab for one leg of your trip. Do whatever it takes to ignite a mental shift towards walking as your primary mode of transportation—not necessarily measured in miles, but attitude.
The first step is admitting that we are walkers. Walk: You’re designed to.