At Slate: “The Crisis in American Walking.”


I know, I know. The term “must read” is overused.

But seriously, you need to read this series. Yes, it’s fairly long, so get a beer, or make some tea, and read all four parts. The next time a roaming politician knocks on your door, ask what he or she feels about walking, and what’s being done to make this city more walkable — which is to say, more livable. Be prepared for those glassy, far-away eyes in response, as those accustomed to driving 45 feet to the mailbox try to fathom an active life.

Keep it up. And keep walking. I do, and you should, too.

The Crisis in American Walking: How we got off the pedestrian path, by Tom Vanderbilt (in four parts; Slate)

This question—what is walking for—is one of the many I will be exploring this week. There is a dual pedagogical imperative here: I aim to explore not only how people on foot behave as a class, but also how America lost its knack for walking, only now taking some stumbling steps in the right direction. The newspapers have been filled of late, from coast to coast, from suburban Arizona to the Midwest to rural Mississippi, with a strikingly uniform narrative, couched in words like “sustainability” and “accessibility” but revolving around a simple appeal: Residents asking that their towns be made more walkable. The almost Onion-worthy headline of one story, “Columbus residents see potential benefits of sidewalks,” with that poisonous modifier “potential,” hints at how far off the trail of common sense America has wandered in its headlong pursuit of the automotive life.

Along the way, I will walk the streets of New York City with pedestrian experts, explore the curious patterns of mass pedestrian behavior, travel to the Seattle offices of “Walk Score,” a Web startup that is quantifying “walkability,” and then look at what happened to walking in America—and how we can put our right foot forward.