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Walking to get somewhere

Posted Sep 24 2008 12:05pm
A town near where I live has decided that kids should start walking to school. Houses are close together, there are sidewalks, school crossing guards and now walking (not car) pools. Neighborhood Moms organize themselves into morning and afternoon walkers, taking turns escorting a group of neighborhood children to school. Everyone seems happy. The town officials are gleeful at the money saved by not using buses, the moms are busy telling their offspring how they, the parents, walked miles in blizzards uphill to get to school, and the school nurse is sure the kids will become more fit. And the kids will learn the joys of kicking piles of leaves, stomping through puddles, and throwing snowballs on the way to and from school. What is so interesting about this concept of walking–pooling rather than car–pooling is how eager the mothers are to participate. Many of them, when interviewed, said that they loved walking because there was a purpose to it. “ I am not just walking around my neighborhood to get exercise,” said one. “I am collecting the kids, making sure they stick together and get to school on time. And at the end of the school day, I have the fun of meeting them in the playground, hearing what went on during their day and making sure they all get home.” It is really hard to motivate people to walk on a regular basis if the purpose of the walking is exercise. Regardless of how important physical activity is, and despite how easy it is to go out the door and start moving, there is a lot of resistance to doing so. Many people feel it is a waste of time. Why should they be strolling around and around their neighborhood when they have too much to do and too little time to do it in? Most people walk on a consistent basis when they have to get from point A to point B. Some cities are crowded with walkers; many find it is faster to walk short distances than to drive (and find a place to leave the car), or even wait for public transportation. I live in a city whose ballpark is located in a congested residential, commercial and university area. Driving is impossible on game nights so people take public transportation and walk, sometimes many blocks. In fact, you can always tell when the home team is in town by the hordes of people all over the downtown area walking to the subway or to the ballpark. I imagine that few of these people think walking is a waste of time, much less a boring or useless activity, because it is the only way they are going to get to see the game at the ballpark. Not everyone lives or works in areas that permit destination walking. Office parks located in the middle of nowhere, strip malls on either side of heavily trafficked superhighways, suburbs without sidewalks, and cities that sprawl present formidable obstacles to walking as a way of getting somewhere. One hopes that one effect of the high gasoline prices is the emergence of commercial and recreational centers that can be reached on foot. But until, and if, that happens, one way to make walking relevant is to identify places where walking is the only option for seeing or doing something. Museums, zoos, wildlife sanctuaries, riverwalks, country fairs, shopping malls, and exhibition halls are some of the places in which walking is a necessity. So put on a pair of comfortable shoes, fill up your water bottle and go. Your destination is waiting.
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