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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Why Walking the City is More Rewarding than Walking the Country

Posted by on Tue, Jul 2, 2013 at 9:29 AM

This passage, which is in a book, Green Metropolis, that has a central place in a Hugo House class I begin teaching next week, Writing the City (I will also read something about the urban body during the upcoming Greenwood Lit Crawl), is just music to my ears:

Our daughter, Laura, was born in Manhattan (in a hospital that we walked to from our apartment when Ann went into labor), and when she was very young her favorite activities included being taken for walks in her Snugli. If she was crying at night, a quick hike up and down Second Avenue would almost always either cheer her up or put her to sleep. When she was a little older and could sit up in a backpack, she and I would sometimes accompany Ann on her morning walk to work, in midtown—a round trip of more than three miles. My intention was always to turn around immediately if Laura began to seem bored or unhappy, but she seldom complained, and we not only got all the way to Ann’s building most times but, often, made significant detours on our way home, doing errands en route, with no sign of unhappiness from her. When we moved out of the city, in October 1985, shortly after Laura’s first birthday, I was excited to think about how much more she would enjoy going for walks in the country, which at the time of our move was at the peak of New England’s leaf season. But she didn’t love it at all. The first time we walked to the village green to buy the morning newspaper, on a spectacular autumn morning, she fussed and squirmed in her backpack almost the whole way. As far as she was concerned, there was nothing to look at. The absence of urban commotion along our route made the walk seem long and boring. And it usually has the same effect on me, although I hate to admit it.
Not only is walking in the city more colorful, more entertaining, more everything, it also makes raising a child bearable. Who wants to be stuck in the middle of nowhere (the rural areas) with a bunch of kids? You want the human delights of a city to counteract the boring business of raising of a boy or girl. If you are in the country, all you have are the trees and the natural stupidity of these undeveloped little people. (The belief that children are in anyway interesting or entertaining is a terrible corner that only those in the suburbs and country have talked themselves into.) Happiness is walking down a city street with your baby—both of you are distracted...
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Comments (45) RSS

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Fnarf 1
I couldn't agree more.

One caveat: this city walking has to take place in a proper city environment. Second Avenue in New York? Fantastic. Walking through a forest of concrete overpasses and weedy verges and parking lots and signs reading "Peds Cross Other Side"? Not so much.

Unfortunately Seattle has far more of the latter than the former. We are a collection of villages joined together by cars. The villages are interesting but the connections are usually not, and because of the requirements of cars the distances are absurd. Fremont and Capitol Hill are lovely places to walk around, but walking from one to the other is hell.
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on July 2, 2013 at 10:15 AM · Report this
stirwise 2
I think it depends on what you're trying to get out of the activity. I walk in the city daily, and I love walking in cities, large and small, but I also like to walk in solitude. It's difficult to find solitude in a city, though not impossible, while it is easy to find solitude in the country. An infant will find much to enjoy on a city walk -- so much going on! so many people! -- but an infant has no need for quiet contemplation.
When I lived in Chicago I would take long walks all over the city, and loved stopping in cemeteries along the way. It was the best of both worlds. I could step off a busy sidewalk and into a wide grassy space with few or no people, the sounds of birds and squirrels, even the occasional fox or coyote. I don't need to do that as much in Seattle -- there are fewer people and more quiet spaces -- but it doesn't stop me from craving the occasional visit to the mountains, just to get lost in my thoughts, the sound of the trees and my own breathing. It's bliss.
Posted by stirwise on July 2, 2013 at 10:19 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 3
Nice troll. But I think we're accustomed to your prejudices now, and while points must be awarded for your imaginative combination if pet topics, you're saying nothing that you haven't said multiple times.
Posted by Matt from Denver on July 2, 2013 at 10:43 AM · Report this
Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In 4
Happiness, to me, would be living in a world where everyone isn't always thinking "My personal experience is the only one that matters. All my opinions are right, and anyone who disagrees with me is wrong."

If you have to ask
Who wants to be stuck in the middle of nowhere (the rural areas) with a bunch of kids?
then you're severely lacking in imagination. Humans are capable of an amazing array of feelings, desires, and things that make them happy.
Posted by Some Old Nobodaddy Logged In on July 2, 2013 at 10:45 AM · Report this
Queen of Sleaze 5
I call B.S. My step kids are happy out here in the country. They have acres of forest in which to play and build and daydream. There are all kinds of wild creatures to stalk plus chickens to play with and horses to ride. They can ride their bikes without worry of cars and they can spend plenty of time exploring the world around them without adults hovering and micromanaging. We had a nice life in the city but it's a beautiful and interesting life here every day.
Posted by Queen of Sleaze on July 2, 2013 at 10:47 AM · Report this
seandr 6
Unfortunately, once you get into the elementary school years, very few parents in the city let their kids run around the neighborhood with packs of other kids anymore like I used to do from age 5 on up. For a city kid to have any sort of extracurricular social life, the parents must schedule a "play date" or some other such nonsense.

Kids are generally given more freedom to roam in the cul de sacs of the suburbs.
Posted by seandr on July 2, 2013 at 10:48 AM · Report this
Fnarf 7
@4, it's more a question of "why should we care about people who want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of kids"? Sure, they exist. But they contribute nothing. Life takes place in cities. He's got that part right.
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on July 2, 2013 at 10:52 AM · Report this
keshmeshi 8
And meanwhile walking in the city makes you stupider. I know I first saw this study mentioned on Slog. I think it might have even been Mudede who posted it.
Posted by keshmeshi on July 2, 2013 at 10:58 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 9
@ 7, you talk that way to your farmer?

The quoted author is likely guilty of seeing causation where it is not necessarily to be found. My older girl got squirmy and bored with the stroller around the same age, but we hadn't moved anywhere. She had just learned to walk and wanted her mobility.
Posted by Matt from Denver on July 2, 2013 at 11:03 AM · Report this
McJulie 10
@4: a thousand times this.

If everybody wanted to live in the same place, there wouldn't be room for them all.
Posted by McJulie on July 2, 2013 at 11:03 AM · Report this
11
Yes, @4 nails it. Charles' and Fnarf's apparent and vigorous intellects are routinely derailed by their unfamiliarity with humility.
Posted by LJM on July 2, 2013 at 11:17 AM · Report this
emor 13
Dunno, I certainly like hiking in the mountains. It's generally a lot more fun than walking around Seattle. Not that walking around Seattle is particularly bad or anything.
Posted by emor on July 2, 2013 at 11:23 AM · Report this
treacle 12
"More rewarding"?
Totally subjective.

Humanity spent the vast majority of its existence wandering around in the "rural" areas. And the Number 1 most significant factor in whether or not a person is interested and willing to help ensure the preservation of wild areas, is whether or not they spent free time in the woods as a child.

You want to have urban people, yet also ensure the non-destruction of wilderness? Ensure that children get lots of unsupervised time to run around in the woods.
Posted by treacle on July 2, 2013 at 11:23 AM · Report this
Theodore Gorath 14
I don't know if the management of The Stranger is really dumb, or Mudede is some kind of secret genius, because he has found a way to get paid to write the exact same tired self-centered crap tripe over and over and over.

I know one thing that does not take place in cities that may be important: growing the food that feeds the city. The urban can not support itself without the rural, and it is true the other way around in our society.
Posted by Theodore Gorath on July 2, 2013 at 11:24 AM · Report this
seandr 15
@5: My step kids are happy out here in the country.

Yes. I spent countless enjoyable hours running around my grandparents' farm, which was about 1 hour outside the city where we lived.

And my dad moved us to the country for 2 years, and while winters were unbelievably boring, during the summers I had a blast tearing through meadows and woods on my 80cc Honda dirt bike, swimming/boating in the lake, shooting my BB gun, walking to the store to buy candy and play pinball, and hanging out with the kids who's parents owned the nearby summer cabins.
Posted by seandr on July 2, 2013 at 11:24 AM · Report this
seandr 16
@fnarf: why should we care about people who want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of kids

Because we're educated, worldly, open-minded urbanites rather than ignorant, provincial, solopsistic assholes. I mean, that is what we as city-dwellers are, right?
Posted by seandr on July 2, 2013 at 11:29 AM · Report this
Fnarf 17
@16, and yet we are held hostage by them at the polls every year. There's nothing open-minded about your transit system getting fucked by these woodsy primitives over and over again.
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on July 2, 2013 at 11:36 AM · Report this
18

My friend was born and lived in Manhattan. He loved the city. But at the same time, he knew he had to leave and went to LA.

He used to describe crossing the street there like running bases. You have to look all around, make sure you can go...then tear off and charge into the crowds blocking your safe arrival at the corner!

In the suburbs, you can travel long, long always without deadly crossings. And we do. When we walk and by, we walk by the half miles. Taking an elevator down to the street and walking half a block to sit and have a coffee, and then walking 100 feet to train station and sitting on a train and then getting on an escalator to go to an elevator to walk 100 feet to a cubicle is not walking. It's sitting.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on July 2, 2013 at 11:38 AM · Report this
Bigsfrottin 19
Go to downtown St Louis.... There's more to do in the country. Well, I guess City Park and City Museum are pretty amazing. But in terms of just walking around, not much going on
Posted by Bigsfrottin on July 2, 2013 at 11:42 AM · Report this
Rob in Baltimore 20
Country walking isn't for folks with short attention spans.
Posted by Rob in Baltimore http://www.wishbookweb.com/ on July 2, 2013 at 11:53 AM · Report this
stirwise 21
@18: Most of the suburbs I encounter nowadays don't even have sidewalks, let alone pedestrians. And you're rarely more than a mile or two from a highway and strip malls, and good luck crossing the streets there.
In the cities where I have lived I can get up from my desk and walk home. Granted, sometimes it's a long walk, but it's something I can do. When I lived in suburbs and exurbs it was significantly harder to walk home, because there were fewer sidewalks and fewer places to cross the street.
Also, if I lived in the suburbs now I wouldn't be able to walk home at all, I'd have to sit on a train or a bus. Living in the city I don't have to sit at all, because everything I need is in walking distance.
Posted by stirwise on July 2, 2013 at 11:55 AM · Report this
seandr 22
@fnarf: The solution is country/city exchange programs.
Posted by seandr on July 2, 2013 at 12:14 PM · Report this
23
#21

I see far more people walking on Kent East Hill than I ever did in Seattle.

And for the "density" of Seattle downtown, there aren't that many walkers around.

For goodness sake, most were whining when they took away the RFA because they would jump on a bus to go four blocks!

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on July 2, 2013 at 12:15 PM · Report this
24
I grew up in country becoming suburb, and was bored silly, began reading and dreaming of living in cities at about 8.

Meanwhile, "Oh look, another tree, and another tree, snow again, building a snowman again, etc. boooooring,"

I've lived in cities for over 40 years, I have an ocean 6 blocks away and a vibrant city at it's back, thank God.

When I could drive through the suburbs and country: booooring, walking in cities, always something interesting going on (I prefer walk cities with good public transportation and even L.A. supplies that.)

When I travel, natural wonders are okay for a day, and then: "What, another red mesa?"

That's just me. However, the story of civilization is the story of cities.
Posted by judybrowni on July 2, 2013 at 12:38 PM · Report this
stirwise 25
@23: I walk in the downtown core several times a week, sometimes in the middle of the day, sometimes in the morning or evening. Every sidewalk is crowded. I don't know what your definition of "many" is, but I think it must be very different from mine.
Also, perhaps you see a lot of pedestrians in Kent, but are they running errands? Where and how do they shop? How do they get to and from work? All evidence suggests that people who live outside of urban centers spend far more time in cars, getting from place-to-place. Suburbs and exurbs aren't friendly to pedestrians by design, they are built for people to travel by car. The argument that it's safer to walk because there are fewer busy intersections ignores the busy arterial roads, strip malls and sidewalk-free streets that practically define suburban life.
Posted by stirwise on July 2, 2013 at 12:50 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 26
@25: don't respond it just encourages him
Posted by Max Solomon on July 2, 2013 at 1:28 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 27
I thought urban representative Rodney Tom was your problem.

The problem you have, Fnarf, is with the rural brain drain. Something your attitude helps drive.
Posted by Matt from Denver on July 2, 2013 at 1:29 PM · Report this
Fnarf 28
@12, baloney. Rural people are never environmentalists; rural people crap all over the natural world as a matter of course. It's not city dwellers who drive their cars out onto the beach in Ocean Shores, dig a hole in the sand, and change their oil into it. It's not city dwellers who hunt out of season and fish with sticks of dynamite, it's rural people. Rural people with their gigantic trucks with Ron Paul bumper stickers and 100-pound sacks of pesticide in the barn and tax-welfare lifestyles living off the largesse of the city dwellers who have real economies and pay taxes.

Farmers? I'm supposed to give a shit what Archer Daniels Midland and Monsanto think? The kind of farmer you're imagining, the sun-baked old man in coveralls pausing in his field to wipe the sweat from his brow, doesn't exist anymore. Farming is as corporate and industrial an enterprise as car manufacturing.
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on July 2, 2013 at 1:35 PM · Report this
29
Green Metropolis is not a very deep book, and fails entirely to deal with anything like the supply chain that drives cities or allows cities to function. I love what it has to say about commuter transit, density and a few other things...but it is essentially a book aimed at a world of service sector employees.

I have a hard time understanding how it can be foundational to anything more than a brief lecture aimed at middle-brow people unfamiliar with systems thinking.
Posted by Chris Jury http://www.thebismarck.net on July 2, 2013 at 1:36 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 30
@ 28, the market stalls at Pike Place are staffed by Archers Daniels Midland and Monsanto?
Posted by Matt from Denver on July 2, 2013 at 1:54 PM · Report this
31
@30- small scale agriculture is actually far worse for the environment, and more carbon intensive, than are large scale farms. It is all about economies of scale...and if we're going to place the kinds of values on efficiency that are expounded in Green Metropolis etc, we need to be consistent. And so we should hope that the answer to your question is yes.
Posted by Chris Jury http://www.thebismarck.net on July 2, 2013 at 2:04 PM · Report this
raindrop 32
@1: Yes, a pedestrian only sky bridge from Fremont over Lake Union all the way to Pike & Broadway would be nice.
Posted by raindrop on July 2, 2013 at 2:06 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 34
@ 31, whether that's true or not (and the sheer need monoculture has for pesticides and fertilizer suggests that it is not) that's not the issue here.
Posted by Matt from Denver on July 2, 2013 at 2:11 PM · Report this
ScrawnyKayaker 35
@32 We have one of those: it's called Queen Anne Hill. We used to take urban hikes that way semi-regularly. Admittedly, the part from the Space Needle to I-5 sucks ass.
Posted by ScrawnyKayaker on July 2, 2013 at 2:20 PM · Report this
36
@34- it was in response to your question/statement.

And yes, it is absolutely true. By any measure of inputs and outputs, giant farms are way more efficient than small ones. I do not like this fact. I wish I could feel great about buying from the nice folks at the farmers' market or local coop, that I could vilify factory and corporate farms, etc. But much like the rural/agrarian 'green' myth bebunked in the book the post was about, that is not the reality.
Posted by Chris Jury http://www.thebismarck.net on July 2, 2013 at 2:59 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 37
@ 36, explain that to me, please. Monoculture is giving us things like the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, e. coli outbreaks, and horrible feedlot pollution. Not to mention the giant footprint that producing chemical fertilizers and pesticides leaves.
Posted by Matt from Denver on July 2, 2013 at 3:11 PM · Report this
Fnarf 38
@32, a pedestrian sky bridge from anywhere to anywhere is not "nice", it's a disaster. The exact opposite of a pleasant city milieu. Pedestrian bridges resemble the freeways they climb over, not the kind of streets those freeways supplanted. What would make the walk from Fremont to Cap Hill interesting is about three million people, and a variety of criss-crossing route choices past rows of shops.
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on July 2, 2013 at 4:14 PM · Report this
stirwise 39
@38: You've clearly never been on Frank Gehry's pedestrian bridge:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BP_Pedestri…
Posted by stirwise on July 2, 2013 at 4:32 PM · Report this
40
@37- sure: Monoculture is not what is generating dead zones and e. coli - Nutrient pollution is the culprit. It is mainly a result of untreated animal waste (manure) being spread on fields or held in lagoons that overflow. Manure is used in organic farms and small farms too. And small farms often utilize smaller, more irregular fields closer to water (they are more valuable, and/or often held onto by families after they sell off larger holdings) which ups the amount of runoff.

Unfortunately, most small farms end up using a boatload of energy running small, inefficient tractors and other machinery and use more energy/ton to transport at each step. I can't recall the citation off the top of my head, but one recent audit found that 'locavore' eating actually still involves a larger carbon footprint than standard grocery store eating for this very reason.

Posted by Chris Jury http://www.thebismarck.net on July 2, 2013 at 4:52 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 41
@ 40, if you can find that citation, that would be great. I'm skeptical, but open to good articles showing these things to be true.
Posted by Matt from Denver on July 2, 2013 at 5:00 PM · Report this
Fnarf 42
@39, Frank Gehry is an enemy of humanity. That thing is a horror and a waste of money. And it's named after an oil company.

@40, it takes less energy to fly lamb from New Zealand or flowers from Colombia or Kenya than to produce those items here. American ag is extraordinarily energy- and fertilizer-intensive.
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on July 2, 2013 at 7:02 PM · Report this
Sean Kinney 43
Stupid, stupid people.

So stupid.

[and shitty parents too].
Posted by Sean Kinney http:// on July 2, 2013 at 7:56 PM · Report this
44
here is a good summary article from the fine folks at Freakamonics- a place to start.
http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/11/14/t…

Posted by Chris Jury http://www.thebismarck.net on July 3, 2013 at 1:04 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 45
@ 44, grazie.
Posted by Matt from Denver on July 3, 2013 at 6:12 PM · Report this
mtnlion 46
@4, yes.
@12, yes.
@28, your caricature of how "rural" folks are is pretty stereotypical. There are people who own farmland and care deeply about it, and the rest of the natural world.

It's a shame that without the noise and obvious human busyness, people can't be satisfied by the way nature is, constantly moving and changing, with life and death everywhere. I know how hippie-ish that sounds, but I dare city dwellers to spend a few hours in the wilderness without any other distractions.

And it doesn't matter why anyone "wants" a particular lifestyle. Personal preferences. Sadly those preferences affect all of us. I strongly believe people care more about their planet if they get to spend time in its natural splendor, the way things were for the vast majority of our existence.
Posted by mtnlion http://radicalish.wordpress.com on July 3, 2013 at 6:43 PM · Report this

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