"How much can you possibly say about walking?” a friend asked jokingly at our Thanksgiving table last weekend.
It turns out, a whole lot!
A few days ago, I landed in Vienna to take part in the Walk21 Conference, an international gathering of architects, planners, writers, media artists, advocates, flaneurs, foodies, and culture-makers who are fascinated by walking: Walking as a way of building community, walking to promote public health, walking as a central focus of even master plans, to ensure beautiful, liveable places.
In my talks, I’ve often referred to walking as an “indicator action” for healthy and connected communities. A walkable city is one that has many more people outside, face-to-face, interacting, exchanging, mixing and enterprising together. Socially active places feel good, they are healthier, they even make more money—if that’s your metric of choice.
Ever the forward-thinking city, Vienna has declared 2015 the Year of Walking, which means they’re running city-wide events challenging citizens to walk creatively (silent disco, anyone?), walk with purpose, and walk for practical transport. Shopping districts, farmers markets, and cultural pavilions are all joining in to get people arriving on foot.
Beyond its own citizens, in a few days, a whole band of urban thinkers will descend on the city to get even deeper into issues around pedestrian safety (which I advocate for with my work on Walk Toronto), walking to school and its positive effects on brain chemistry, walking as a part of reviving local economies, the development of international standards for human-powered ways of getting around, and many other fascinating facets of a thing many of us take for granted.
I’m happy to be in the company of a crop of great Canadian thinkers on the subject of walking, too. Vancouver-based author and “experimentalist" Charles Montgomery, who visited us in Toronto just before his book Happy City was launched back in the fall of 2013, will be sharing insights on the psychology of public space. (Incidentally, our last discussion was over dinner, where he shared his thoughts about whether happiness was too fluffy and pop-science-y a topic, or if its time has come as something to be desired: real quality of mind/quality of life.)
As part of a series of smaller, interactive breakout sessions, Paul Young from Toronto-based Public Space Workshop will be talking about walking audits and ways to suss out whether a neighbourhood measures up, and Kristie Daniels, Director of the Livable Cities Program at the HealthBridge Foundation of Canada, will be part of a panel on active and safe routes to school. (Look up #ASRTS on Twitter for more on the topic.) A pechakucha on the Canadian-built software service RideShark will share how incentives and gamification can accelerate behaviour change, as we experience a cultural shift toward carpooling, bike-partnering and walk-to-work buddy systems.
I’m also pretty jazzed that to kick things off tomorrow, an extraordinary walk advocate and the Jane’s Walk City Organizer for Vienna, Andreas Lindinger, is taking us on a mashup of Viennese Jane’s Walks, front-ended by a discussion about the global movement, the origins of the project, and its upcoming 10th Anniversary.