This is part one of a three-part post.
As becomes necessary no matter where I’m residing, the time arose for a walk around my current Tempe, AZ neighborhood.
Weather conditions: sunny with clouds nowhere to be found, warm enough for a T-shirt with capris.
Time: Mid-afternoon on a Saturday.
Accompaniment: “A Way with Words“, an NPR podcast.
Length/duration: No need to record.
Inspiration: Need for mobility and watching back-to-back episodes of the BBC show Stephen Fry in America.
My original intent was to explore the space design, or the architecture, landscape design, density, and infrastructure, whenever I ramble around my current neighborhood. It soon paired with nature– to the extent that of the 38 photos snapped, a majority are of birds and flora.
Soon, however, something invisible began toddling around in my mind. It was like Arnold J. Toynbee wrote: “A city that outdistances man’s walking powers is a trap for man.” Where were the coeds normally seen skateboarding and biking and roller blading and roller skating down these college campus streets? For that matter, where the heck was anyone to be seen simply ambulating?
A comment from a fellow blogger (who penned a kewl post on pedestrians here) and a native to the Phoenix area came to mind: “People aren’t used to WALKING around here,” the native man wrote in a recent email in which he gave me directions to the light rail. An architect who joined me for a coffee yesterday also referred to it: “It’s not really a walkable city, is it?” Creating the New Urbanist tenant of walkability in subdivisions is one high on the list of many American developers today. The connection between it and denizens’ desire for it don’t inherently link. The realities are like those between walking for the joy of ambulatory meditation and doing it for cardio benefits. Consider it in the way Robert Louis Stevenson wrote in his essay, “Walking Tours“: “He will not believe that the flavour is more delicate in the smaller dose.”
“A walking tour should be gone upon alone, because freedom is of the essence; because you should be able to stop and go on, and follow this way or that, as the freak takes you; and because you must have your own pace, and neither trot alongside a champion walker, nor mince in time with a girl. And then you must be open to all impressions and let your thoughts take colour from what you see. You should be as a pipe for any wind to play upon.”
That people seem to have lost the desire merely to get lost in the details of their locale isn’t native to the Phoenix Valley, of course. Over the years, in stages based as much on “walkable” communities vs weather, I’ve noticed myself not walking so much as when I lived in Chicago. It’s easy in Sarasota, FL to forget anything without four wheels, far stranger to see anyone on two legs. Then it was back to lots of walking whilst living in India or China. More recently, the practice was visible occasionally, I noticed, in suburban Dayton, OH, and there I relied on neighborhood walks for a variety of reasons.
On my walk this wasn’t what claimed my mental attention. Instead something to notice was the looks people gave me. Perhaps I don’t look local enough. I also was carrying my shoddy but trusty palm-sized digital camera, snapping away at little details. Two people who pulled up to their abode as I was ambling by clearly took longer to unload their SUV while pondering my purpose.
Another woman, also exiting her SUV in the driveway of her 1950s square, ranch-style cinderblock home, did respond pleasantly to my hello, but her countenance echoed the same: the sight of a person out for a mere stroll is rare around here.
Ah, well, I’ve walked to a cafe, walked half of downtown Phoenix before visiting its art museum, and walked from strip mall to strip mall here in the Valley. I shall continue to walk, as I’m without a bike, a board, blades, or anything else that’s wheeled. I do it to let the mind wonder. In that sense, it’s like writing. By doing each, we come to realize what we’re thinking.