THE CITY Take a Walk

The benefits of meaningful meandering.

A trendy magazine recently listed what is “in” for the Eighties compared to what is “out,” belonging to the dead decade past, the Seventies: Tennis out, soccer in; orange juice out, grapefruit juice in, and jogging out, walking long distances in. Walking is being urged on us by medical doctors. When it takes a prescription to remind us of walking, then we do indeed live in a strange new world where something basic has been forgotten.

I want to focus now on walking, not as a health measure or a sport, a Sunday hike with special equipment and destination, a means to reduce weight, or for any self-satisfying, self-conscious reasons-but walking in relation to the city. An essential fact of Dallas city life, as of new strip cities and sprawl cities everywhere, is that its inhabitants do not walk.

From archaic times through antiquity and the Renaissance and right into the early 20th century, basic human postures – lying, sitting, standing, and running-have remained the same. Body movements, such as bending, reaching, holding, leaning, and dancing, more or less go on through the ages, differently, but with continuity. Today we may sit more and stand less, or sit more than squat, and kneel. Our beds and couches may alter from historical period to period. But basic human movements have changed radically only in walking. We not only walk less than did our ancestors, we have almost eliminated the need to walk. It has become obsolete. Locomotion has become mechanized, from remote-control devices to, of course, automobiles.

Automobiles do more than locomote us. Dutch psychologist Bernd Jager has observed the differences in facial expressions in the newer western and southern cities, which depend on cars, and the older northern and eastern cities, where there is still jostling in the streets, subways, buses, and sidewalks. We might suppose the more uniform, bland, ad-like faces of white persons in the Sun Belt are due to a more uniform ethnic inheritance -Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, and Germanic, rather than Slavic, Semitic, and Mediterranean. But Jager concludes that the loss of face results from the increased use of the automobile, and the fact that one does not need “to prepare a face to meet the faces that we meet,” as T.S. Eliot says. Our face belongs to others as well as to ourselves, and results from others. How we countenance others, engage them with our expression, open up or close ourselves off-all this shows in the face.

As humans become faceless under their blown-dry hair and cosmetics, cars pick up more distinctive names and fronts, those personalized expressions by which even small children can at once discern the make and model. But the face of the driver within the car is generally vacant, glazed behind the windshield. Strapped in, door locked, listening to a tape, staring ahead, passively registering motions of objects out there or subjective emotions in here, worries and desires, it is not an interpersonal face, but an isolated face-its expression does not matter.

The face of the city block, bazaar, market, and alley is wily, vivid, canny, and as expressive as the gestures and language of those engaged from morning till night with other people. The Greek word for city, polis, originally meant “throng,” crowd, related to poly (many), the Latin pleo (plenty, full), and plebs (crowd, mob, common plebian). A city is a jostling throng of bodies in the street of common people.

So, the absence of meeting § faces by walking among the I crowd absents us from our own S faces; it also absents us from the ” city as it was originally imagined: a congregating crowd of

human faces from all “walks” of life.

Views from designers’ boards and developers’ plans rarely show a crowd. Instead, couples stroll under trees, persons emerge one at a time from cars under canopies. It is as if there were a polyphobia, a fear of the many, facing and being faced by others. I believe that the fear of violence in city streets correlates psychologically with the sense of oneself as a depersonalized, defaced object -a sitting duck or victim- placed in an empty abstract street like a little figure in a designer’s plan.

I have found in my psychological work with people that during periods of acute psychological turmoil, walking is an activity to which one naturally turns. This was of course in Zurich, Switzerland, where I practiced for some 25 years before coming to Dallas. Walking doesn’t come as easily in a North Dallas suburb. In Irving or Piano a person walking up the street stands out more oddly, more suspiciously, than does a winded jogger in red warm-up suit, yellow-striped shoes, and earmuffs. Walking can be meditative therapy -not an idyllic hike by the ocean – but simply around the city for hours in early morning or late at night. Can our city allow this psychological self-cure? Or would we become prowlers or victims in the eyes of our fellows?

Walking calms turmoil. Prisoners circumambulate the yard, animals exercise back and forth in their cages, the anxious pace the floor-waiting for the baby to be born or to hear news from the board room. Heidegger recommended the path through the woods for philosophizing; Aristotle’s school was called “Peripatetic”-thinking and discoursing while walking up and down; monks walk round their closed gardens. Nietzsche said that only thoughts while walking, laufenden thoughts, were of value -thoughts that ran, not sitting thoughts.

One goes for a walk to get the stuck, depressed state of mind or its whirling agitations into an organic rythm, and this organic rhythm of walking takes on symbolic significance as we place one foot after the other, left-right, left-right, in a balanced pace. Pace. Measure. Taking steps. With the soul-calming language of walking, the dartings of the mind begin to form into a direction. As we walk, we are in the world, finding ourselves in a particular space and turning that space by walking within it into a place, a dwelling or territory, a local habitation with a name. The mind becomes contained in its rhythm. If we cannot walk, where will the mind go? Will it not run wild, or stay stuck, only to be moved by the rhythms of pharmaceuticals: uppers and downers, slowers and speeders, calmers and peppers? Is not a city that offers no walking also a city that offers no dwelling for the mind? Simply said: We may be driving, literally driving, ourselves crazy by not attending to the fundamental human need of walking.

There is probably an archetypal cure going on in walking, something profoundly affecting the mythical substrata of our lives. When we are most in the grip of anxiety, as in nightmares, we are often unable to move our legs. There is a long association between fright and motion of the feet – the word for fright in German, for instance, means to leap or jump up. Could it be that the less we move our legs, the more subject we are to anxiety; that by not moving, we are already living an unconscious nightmare?

In ancient Egypt, one of the main hieroglyphic conventions for Ba, the soul, was the calves and feet, the lower limbs extended as if striding forward. The soul walked. When we no longer walk, what happens to the soul?

Walking also brings me in contact with my animal nature. I am as I move: cat-like, nimble and stealthy, bullish, stiff as a stork, waddling like a duck, strutting and prancing like a young buck. There is an animal display in our motion by which we are known. When this animal of our nature is neglected it tends to be compensated for by external accoutrements: cars (cougars, rabbits, eagles), city teams (tigers, birds, lions), hair styles, jewelry, labels on clothing (the fox or alligator now sewn on the shirt). These static emblems are designed for sitting persons in a car, at the conference table, over lunch, where only half the body appears. We watch talking heads or fast-paced motion on TV. Walking does not suit TV: We can see violence, excited jumping up and down, running to each other, escaping from each other, sports, dancing, exercises, but where are the persons ambling along the street? Lying or sitting as we watch TV, its sympathetic magic turns us into talking heads, muppets watching muppets.

Two centuries ago, during that calm and rational period of the 18th-century Enlightenment, there was a good deal of walking in Europe, especially in and around gardens. The art of garden-making reached an apogee. We can learn something from those gardeners. They were the great developers of that time: Whole prospects were raised or leveled, streams diverted, vistas opened, mazes constructed. No sooner did a duke or count imagine a landscape than shoulders and shovels went at it. Those developers then were moved by aesthetic considerations, ours now by economic ones. What they left behind became national treasures for the community; what ours are leaving behind result in personal wealth for individuals. There is a history of property or land development that ought to be part of every developer’s consciousness and conscience. In the art of the garden, it was considered essential that both the eye and the foot be satisfied: the eye to see, the foot to travel through; the eye to encompass the whole and know it, the foot to remain within it and experience it. It was equally essential in this “aesthetics of dissociation,” as Robert Dupree describes it, that the eye and the foot not travel the same path. The poet William Shenstone writes that when a building or other object has once been viewed, the foot should never travel to it by the same path which the eye has traveled over before: “Lose the object [from sight] and draw nigh obliquely.” Further, says Shenstone, the worst design is one that creates a “strait-lined avenue where the foot is to travel over what the eye has done before … to move on continually and find no change of scene attendant on our change of place, must give actual pain to a person of taste

Our landscapes in Dallas -the malls, streets, building complexes – seem built for the eye only. (The Quadrangle is a remarkable exception.) The foot is forced to travel over what the eye has done before, so that walking becomes indeed a pain. In Shen-stone’s scheme, walking is a mode of discovering new prospects. Walking in our layouts is merely a slow and inefficient way of moving us nearer to what the eye has already seen. The foot is slave to the eye, which makes walking boring, a matter of covering distance. When we can maintain the tension between foot and eye, we embark on a more circular, indirect approach. Foot leads eye, eye instructs foot, alternat-ingly. Walking takes on the movement of soul because, as the great philosopher Plotinus said, the soul’s motion is not direct.

The 18th century took care of this need of the soul in a canny manner. Into the walking areas there were constructed what the common people called “ha ha’s”: surprising sunken fences, hidden hedges, boundary ditches which, when come upon suddenly, called forth a “ha ha,” stopping the progress of the walk, forcing the foot to turn and the mind to reflect.

How strange this is to us today: Imagine, while walking from your parked car toward your visual objective, being blocked by an open culvert trench or a chain barrier that you had not previously perceived. Your “ha ha” would be fury-a public complaint, a lawsuit. When we walk today, it is mainly a walking with the eye. We want no mazes, no amazements. We have sacrificed the foot to the eye. Older cities often grew up around the traces of the feet: paths, corners and enclosures, crossings. These cities followed the inherent patterns of the feet rather than the planned designs of the eye.

Clearly, the automobile seems a further development of eye-consciousness rather than foot-consciousness. Despite an old word for the car, “locomobile,” its locomotion is a visual experience. Hence, walking on a highway because the car broke down is a horrifying, depersonalizing experience. Out there is revealed to the foot as burrs, weeds, holes, trash, and roaring leviathans at one’s back. Of course new cities have sidewalk problems since the foot is ignored. The streets soon become criminal regions: roll up the window, lock the door, don’t linger. Street crime begins psychologically in a walkless world; it begins on the drawing board of that planner who sees cities as collections of high-rise buildings and convenience malls, with streets as mere efficient modes of access.

Development-planners have radically affected our notions of cities, leading us to forget that cities spring up from below; they rise from their streets. Cities are streets, avenues of commerce and exchange, the low-country world of physical thronging, a congregation pounding the pavements in curiosity, surprise, and encounter, human life not above the melee but right in it. Cities depend on walking for their vitality.

Let me end with a modern fairy tale and a recommendation. The tale comes from The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. A little boy named Milo comes to a city where people hurry about, eyes to the ground, fixedly knowing exactly where they are going. But there are no buildings and no streets. They have all vanished. Milo is told the reason why: “Many years ago, on this very spot, there was a beautiful city of fine houses and inviting spaces …. The streets were full of wonderful things to see and the people would often stop to look at them.”

“Didn’t they have any place to go?” asks Milo.

“To be sure,” he is told, “but, as you know, the most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what’s in between …”

Then one day someone discovered that you could get faster from one point to another if you looked at nothing and took short cuts. The people became obsessed with getting there, rushing and hurrying, “eyes on their shoes,” as the storyteller says. And because “no one paid any attention to how things looked … everything grew uglier and dirtier, and as everything grew uglier and dirtier they moved faster and faster, and at last a very strange thing began to happen.” The city began to disappear. “Day by day the buildings grew fainter and fainter, and the streets faded away.” They went right on living there just as they always had done, in the houses and buildings and “streets which had vanished, because nobody had noticed a thing.”

Our buildings downtown and to the north are surely not vanishing. More are rising all the time. Although they stand there, gold and silver in the sun, maybe they are fading in another sense. Maybe they are losing their sensate, aesthetic reality, becoming non-buildings that nobody notices, buildings for neither foot nor eye, but simply available office, warehouse, or convention space, abstract numbers transformed mathematically into concrete, metal, and glass, great seamless Mason jars. And this happens principally, I believe, because these buildings are not made for walking. Only emergencies allow us to use the stairways between levels; the atriums are traversed with escalators and elevators; the uniform hallways are shortened to improve intra-office connections. When we minimize walking within a building, we are minimizing interior motion, the life of the soul within the building, thereby diminishing the building’s interior life and the interiority of the lives of all who dwell in the building.

What can we do? May a psychologist question proposals for malls without foot-imagination, and may he raise doubts about underground tunnels for pedestrians, or recommend interesting downtown sidewalks rather than glassed-in walkways? May he propose things that are noticeable to the eye and yet draw the foot into exploration -like complexities, nooks, water courses, levels, shifts of perspectives? It is surely not the psychologist who lays out the span between parking lot and building, for if he did it might be more a mode of encountering faces, with posters and paintings, places for pausing, rather than an eerie cement-gray space to hurry through in fear, where place is remembered neither by eye nor foot but conceptually-a code-lettered stub clutched in the hand. Yes, I suppose the psychologist would build ha ha’s in the paths of progress, wanting every design for a street project to be imagined not only in terms of getting there, but also in terms of being there.

I am not beating the antique drum of romance: a stroll under street lamps and leafy sycamores, across clean-swept pavements toward the ice cream parlor where there is always an empty table; balloon men, vendors …

Rather, I am urging what the city itself has always urged by its very name – crowds walking in the streets, the city as a place of soul because it allows our souls their legs, our heads their faces, and our bodies their animal styles. In all things we think of for the future of our city, let us keep our city on its feet. We dwell not only in rooms behind doors, in chairs at tables, at jobs behind counters. We dwell on earth also in the freedom of the legs that give freedom to the mind.

In the temples once we were blessed for our “coming in and going forth.” The bless ing took into account the human as a mov ing being, a soul with feet, a physical being in the midst of a physical world made to walk in, as Adam and Eve walked in Eden. That garden is the imagination’s primordial place of the nostalgia which recurs un consciously in all Utopian dreams. And that garden was created, you will remember, by a walking God. That image says, there is walking in Paradise; it also says, there is Paradise in walking.


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