Walking on the 4th of July: Reflections on a walkers paradise, lost.
Day 139 / 838 Miles
This week allowed me to shorten my walking demand in order to do my patriotic duty, like: walking freely on a beach, floating in the salt water, paddling around the wild bird sanctuary in the Apalachicola Bay, watching a parade while grilling a hotdog, and enjoying the fascination & awe of city fireworks on a warm summer night (an experience of which I’ll never bore).
The break allows time to reflect, patriotically, on the track of America from its founding to our current political autoimmune disorder. For todays post however, I’ll stick to reflecting on changes in our cities (and cow towns) over that same period. The evolution of transportation has necessitated an urban planning that, like a bad diet, has had a sclerotic effect, and rendered much of the the urban hearts (the soul) of our communities inert. Lots of the books I’ve read on walking touch on the common point of how we, (America) are now utterly car-centric. While Valdosta ain’t exactly one of the nations urban population centers, a commensurate amount of that modern centricity impacts us “right here in River City” just like it does in urban jungles. Cars are little different from all the other time saving devices that’ve made us slave to them. They’re indispensable yes, but so much so that the term Urban Planning really means how do we plan for cars, not pedestrians. The mind set converts simple pleasures (like walking or just being outside) into inconveniences that should be minimized. What makes any town center exhilarating is the feel of being out on the street with every one, of every stripe (as opposed to the air-conditioned comfort of the mall).
Rebecca Solnit (Wanderlust, A history of walking) sums it best: “The very word street has a rough, dirty magic to it, summoning up the low, the common, the erotic, the dangerous, the revolutionary. A man of the streets is only a populist, but a woman of the streets is, like a streetwalker, a seller of her sexuality. Street kids are urchins, beggars and runaways, and the new term street person describes those who have no other home. Street-Smart means someone wise in the ways of the city and able to survive in it, while “to the streets” is the classic cry of urban revolution, for the streets are where people become the public and where power resides. The street means life in the heady currents of the urban river in which everyone and every thing thing can mingle. It is exactly this social mobility, this lack of compartments and distinctions, that gives the street its danger and its magic, the danger and magic of water in which everything runs together.”
So, how to acquire that kind of danger and magic in the VALLE DAOSTA (or any town USA)? Whenever traveling, the portions of cities and towns I remember best are those where auto traffic is limited (or eliminated for periods) and given over to foot traffic only. So, in central areas of commerce, start by putting the pedestrian at the center and cars on the periphery. When the roar of engines and sirens are eliminated, an ambiance is created where there was none. Restoring architecture and street surfaces to their original materials and design gives a tactile DNA that makes people intuit they’ve found the town’s wellspring. Valdosta has made steps in this direction, such as developing open-air music venues, adding more public art & artsy touches, and facilitating new business. But, I wish our leaders would experience the ultimate revelation that the lifeblood of downtown is not the people in cars passing through, but the people walking in and around it. That lifeblood needs to flow unimpeded by loud fast-moving vehicles.
But until that happens, the Wandering Gentile will avoid J-walking as he continues his pilgrimage.
Lets go for a walk.