Walk the Walk


Walk the Walk

I like to go on walks and I often listen to podcasts while I walk. That might be the nerdiest lead sentence ever written. I recently achieved super-geek status by listening to a podcast about going on walks while I was on a walk. 

I happened upon a podcast series called City Dweller and a particular episode called “A Dubliner’s Perspective of the Joys of Exploring the City on Foot.” Who could resist?

The interview subject was Shane O’Mara, a professor of experimental brain research at Trinity College in Dublin. He studies memory, stress and depression, among other things. And he’s the author of a book called “In Praise of Walking.” (He’s also the author of “Why Torture Doesn’t Work.” I have questions.)

I’d say I was enchanted by Mr. O’Mara, but that sounds silly. But how can you not love a guy who says he started walking as a hobby because he was “not very sporting” when he was in school; and he pronounces a well-known website “Weeekeeepeeedia.”

I thought I was in for a leisurely narration of a walk similar to the one I was taking myself, but the guy had quite a few good points to make about how the walkability of a city creates the tone and health of that city. He is a neuroscientist, after all.

Then I heard the host say O’Mara’s book “puts the car in its place” and I knew Parking Today people should hear the whole story. I was also asking myself why I don’t write a book on something like clipping my toenails and make a million dollars.

O’Mara discussed why the human body walks, how walking affects us emotionally, mentally, physically and socially, and how most people don’t think of walking as a past time.

He mentioned his favorite cities for walking including Paris, Florence, Madrid, Chicago, San Francisco, and Rome.

Actually, what he said about Rome was:

“Rome is a fabulous city to walk around, although it’s very dangerous if you’re a pedestrian because Roman drivers are crazy. They take your presence on the road as an invitation to be run over, so you really do take your life into your hands.”

So, there I was walking alone and laughing out loud.

O’Mara also mentioned how city design codes show attitudes towards those with mobility impairments. How hyper mobility requires leveling every surface for cars – and then the city is just full of cars. 

Shots fired, parking industry.

There was also mention of a phenomenon called the Glasgow Effect. I’ve heard of it, but never taken a deep dive. Turns out a shallow dive was enough for me to see that there are many reasons for poverty and high mortality rates, but lack of community caused by brutalist architecture and unfriendly city planning can be said to have contributed to the people of Glasgow’s early death rates.

O’Mara actually said that building tower blocks of apartments along freeways is what caused Glasgow’s deadly cultural and economic poverty. He blamed public housing and Le Corbusier (a famous architect who designed in concrete and who famously said: “a house is a machine to live in”). 

“One conclusion is that the destruction of the social fabric when the planned city was built has contributed to generations of social inequalities that lead to early death,” O’Mara says.

Fighting words spoken in an adorable accent.

I’m going to venture that O’Mara is not the type who wants to do away with cars. He seems like the last guy who’d want to duke it out with a parking pro about where the car fits into the city, or how people need a reason to walk so they make friends and feel healthy. Especially considering he already admitted he’s not very sporting.

I wish somebody in parking would meet up with O’Mara to exchange notes. They could put their heads together and find a way to encourage walking, and support the creation of communities, while still supplying good roads and adequate parking.

He’s on the ground, and he’s already thinking about handicapped access, mobility, sidewalks, cars, roads, and the kind of city we all want to live in.

I finished the podcast and the walk. Went home and ordered O’Mara’s book.

So far, some of it is boring: “Human bipedality differs from the few other species that are occasionally bipedal, because quickly and early, humans develop bipedalism from a crawling stance.”

And, some of it makes me feel understood:

“I love walking for all sorts of reasons – but near the top of the list is that I find it the best way to clear the clamour of the day from my head.”

Article contributed by:
Melissa Bean Sterzick
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