1. I grew up walking, in a suburb so new it was called a village. In a time, when only one person in the family had a car, and that was the Dad, who drove it to work. There was no need for the Mom, and certainly not for the kids to have a car. Wherever we had to go—school, church, the drug store, to visit our friends—we walked. Or took a bus. Or if it was late at night, sometimes the Dad, maybe the Mom, would drive us.
All this was just one generation before not only both parents, but also every 16 year old had to have their own cars. Suburban sprawl and car ownership co-evolved at Malthusian rates, much to the delight of both the developers and car companies.
2. I walk because I love and live in cities, the best of which are walkable (sorry, L.A.). Some neighborhoods I’ve lived in Chicago have virtually everything a person could want—and walk to: libraries, movie theatres, grocery stores, fitness centers, coffeehouses, dog-groomers, parks, restaurants and pubs.
3. I walk because I heard on NPR once—this was in the late ‘80s—how much it cost per year for automobile upkeep. This didn’t include the cost of the car. It was around $5,000 back then. I had to decide if I wanted to support a car or live the life I wanted, especially professionally. I chose the latter.
4. I walk because I like to meet and talk to my neighbors. I was at a community “meet and greet” recently with my new-ish friend, Mary. She’s lived in the neighborhood for over 30 years, I, a little over two. As people came in the door of the restaurant, and we all started schmoozing, Mary whispered to me at one point, “I think you know more people here than I do.”
5. I walk because I like to meet and talk to strangers. I live in a neighborhood filled with such diversity it sometimes takes my breath away: Indians, Mexicans, Orthodox Jews, Irish, East Europeans, Africans—and of all economic classes and religious affiliation. I feel enriched by all of it. It’s also harder to hold onto stereotypes when you strike up a conversation with someone so different from you.
6. I heard at a nature writing conference once that walking is the speed at which we were meant to understand the environment. If nothing else, walking makes me realize how much we’ve crapped it up.
7. I walk because I’m a writer, and in addition to the simple act of paying attention that walking affords, it also is a way to think about things, including my latest writing project. Often when I’m stuck mid-way through a piece, I’ll up and take a walk. Somewhere along my route, without even necessarily focusing on it, the way to get unstuck—a transition phrase, a telling detail—will pop into my head. Walking is like the Heimlich for writers.
8. Finally, though I’m no scientist or evolutionary biologist, I believe human beings were designed to move, and especially to walk. The more of that we do, the more of that we can do.
And so, the following PSA: