Saturday, August 2, 2008


I was reading an article recently in the New York Times which gave a definition to the word walkshed, "The area that can be conveniently reached on foot from a given geographic point." Since taking up walking while my trusty, dusty van was in the shop in August, I've been walking a lot more, even parking the van for days. I've begun to really amazed how much we use our cars far more than is really necessary.

During my short, 6-9 mile roundtrip, walks I found people were going somewhere and back in the time I walked maybe 10-15 minutes. But then I'm as guilty as the next person as I will drive places I can walk because it's quick and easy. It's ok if I will buy more stuff than I can carry in my day pack, but sometimes it does make me think if the trip is really worth it or can I skip it or combine it with another trip.

It's interesting why this word took so long to become a word. Geographers have taught this idea for decades. I even taught it an introductory level geography class where I was a graduate teaching assistant in the mid-1970's. I got a bunch of city maps (the city had a population of about 40,000 and the university was on the southern edge of downtown). I handed them out for students to put a line on the routes they took and dots on the places they went for one week.

The following week I had them draw a line around the dots, put their name on them. The outline shows the shape of the world for the week, and if done over weeks, shows the shape of their larger world as they will often go farther and more places. The shape shows them the routes they use and places they go, but equally more important, it shows the places they've overlooked or don't know about which are only a small distance off their routes.

Then I have them hand them to the person next to them. I had them keep moving their maps so everyone saw all of them, and then we made a generalized map where most if not everyone went in terms of places and routes. We then discovered what this was telling us and where it would be useful. It was always interesting to see their views of the world expand outside their own.

And during my travels I like to talk about people's living space in the world, normally where they go by any transportation, but by walking makes interesting maps because it moves with as a layer on your wider map taken by public transportation, car, etc. Like our lives, layers on layers. And we walk using our home as the center of our universe and our car or other transportation as our portable universe.

For example, when I go to downtown Seattle I park in the same parking garage because it's easy to get to and out of downtown and it has the height to handle the van's height (6'4"). From there I simply walk everywhere and back to the van when I want to drop stuff off and go elsewhere downtown. I'll usually end up walking 4-6+ miles up and down the hills and streets. And I can stop at any one of the many cafes for a cup of coffee.

It's the joy of simply being within yourself at your pace.

I wrote this a year ago, and reading it, it's still true except the van is alive and well after being in the shop again this last spring. And the price of gas has gone up about a dollar per gallon. I still walk around where I live, to the local commercial area 2.5-3 miles away and the town 3+ miles away about once a week beside the normal running I do, albeit less as I age which I know is backwards and not smart, but that's changing.

And this last year as taught me the importance of just walking. We evolved to walk and walked throughout most of our history, and only in the last few centuries has walking been replaced with riding, and now driving. I still drive far more than I walk, it's the nature of our landscape, nothing is close anymore and we can't live within our local landscape, at least in the US.

So, after the year of walking more than I used to, it's still a nice pace and exercise.

No comments:

Post a Comment