Walking as an Act of Citizenship


A nice pair of oxfords for walking

I love the fact that smart phones now have built-in pedometers. Knowing I can count my steps has encouraged me to find opportunities to walk around the places I live and work each day. In the process I’ve become much more familiar with the Foggy Bottom Historic District (near the Watergate where I work) and Silver Spring (near my home).  In snowy weather, as we’ve seen this weekend on the east coast, walking is sometimes our only reliable means of transportation.

Fred Kent, the founder of the Project for Public Spaces, has noted that “If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.”

Walking doesn’t have to be for any great purpose.  The BBC News Magazine had a recent article that highlighted the “just to walk” stroll – titled appropriately The Slow Death of Purposeless Walking.

But the same study found that a mere 17% of trips were “just to walk”. And that included dog-walking.

It is that “just to walk” category that is so beloved of creative thinkers.

“There is something about the pace of walking and the pace of thinking that goes together. Walking requires a certain amount of attention but it leaves great parts of the time open to thinking. I do believe once you get the blood flowing through the brain it does start working more creatively,” says Geoff Nicholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking.

“Your senses are sharpened. As a writer, I also use it as a form of problem solving. I’m far more likely to find a solution by going for a walk than sitting at my desk and ‘thinking’.”

A few years ago I read a wonderful book by Rebecca Solnit entitled Wanderlust: A History of Walking. In it, Solnit wrote:

Walking is only the beginning of citizenship, but through it the citizen knows his or her city and fellow citizens and truly inhabits the city rather than a small privatized part thereof. Walking the streets is what links up reading the map with living one’s life, the personal microcosm with the public macrocosm; it makes sense of the maze all around….Walking maintains the publicness and viability of public space.

Wherever you are going, enjoy your stroll today.

More to come…


5 Responses

  1. So, so, so, so, so, so TRUE!!! Thanks for this post, David. As you can probably guess, I love walking. And indeed it often helps me solve problems. Writing problems and other kinds of problems too. 🙂

  2. Many thanks, Janet. I sent a modified version of this around to my staff at the office, and I had a number of people tell me that it really resonated. Hope we can see you soon. DJB

  3. […] deal…but I guess I didn’t really believe it until we arrived and started walking.  And believe me, I love to walk. Rome is a wonderful city to see from the sidewalk (or the middle of the street, where a great deal […]

  4. […] Observations from the Road: (“The Pedometer is Getting a Workout” Edition | More to Come… on Walking as an Act of Citizenship […]

  5. […] “wander.”  One of my favorite writers, Rebecca Solnit, has a book on walking entitled Wanderlust: A History of Walking.  When Claire and I took a cross-country trip to Southern California that took us within 15 miles […]

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