We here at Madeleine’s love walking cities – whether it’s travelling “in”, “through” or “across” those urban spaces!
In fact, we think meandering one’s way across a city and running the risk of getting lost (whether armed with maps or not) is an art that needs to be recovered and rediscovered!
In this year where “distance” and “travel” have taken on new meanings and where taking long trips seem out of the question, we profess once again our love for walking and for discovering our own cities, our neighbourhoods, or as some may put it, our “backyards” (or, we can always “dream”).
With new eyes, we can rethink how we live in the city, how we travel, how we consume, and our relationship with others and with the spaces we share.
We love the idea of walkable neighbourhoods.
To be more accurate, we love walkable neighbourhoods and like very much the idea and project in creating more walkable neighbourhoods and making more neighbourhoods walkable.
There is nothing that can replace a journey where one feels the ground beneath one’s feet!
In fact, if you are spending time in Paris, we heartily recommend walking the bridges of Paris as a “taster” where you will be skirting a number of different neighbourhoods.
We must reclaim the public and make it inclusive and walkable so that people feel OK to slow down and participate in it even as an active observer.
With all these thoughts in mind, we decided to bring you some of the most convincing ideas about the walkable neighbourhood … all summarized in 8 points …
- Walking in one’s neighbourhood reminds us to enjoy simple pleasures and to pay attention. This has to be a good thing when all the gadgets in our 21st century world are consigning us to a distracted and “thin” experience during our waking hours (even if our experience during our dreaming hours are “rich” and intense!). You really do hone your observation skills and habits of paying attention and being present.
- There’s both discovery and community in walking! You may chance upon a market and find yourself discovering totally unknown lives of your others, whether they are neighbours or fellow city-dwellers – well, we at Madeleine’s chanced upon a flower market on a fine Sunday morning right in the heart of the city of Paris, the Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II, a market that has been there since 1809 (right on the Île de la Cité in the 4e) and renamed for Queen Elizabeth II after a visit in 2014 (as an aside, London just saw its the opening of its first new open-air flower market for 150 years, and in fact in Chiswick that is known to be the birthplace of the landscape movement!). Many people have found things they never knew existed while wandering on foot; the Natural Resources Defense Council, on its part, tells urban designers and planners that “points of interest” promotes street walkability! And then there’s also the possibility of having a real conversation with a friend or a colleague, old or new, while walking; it’s a great way to “do something together” while also being active, almost as if the movement helps a relationship flow more smoothly. Social scientists talk about walking as a way of building community cohesion or “social capital”. Chance upon the Queen Elizabeth II Flower market on a fine Sunday morning.
- Walking will make you feel alive … and connected to the city’s (circuitry of) energies! OK, we’ll quote the flâneur par excellence here, Charles Baudelaire, who describes a “passionate spectator”, part idler, part aesthete, in his 1853 essay, The Painter of Modern Life, who is at ease “in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite”.
- You may even find yourself caught up in the action! No, we don’t mean movie sets (though you definitely run that risk when walking in certain parts of New York, for example). Proof: in GK Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, a poet turned detective wanders on foot through London in his attempts to foil an anarchist terrorist plot. And if you somehow find yourself walking late at night in Hong Kong, you may find yourself witnessing some other action (as relayed by a taxi driver in Hong Kong): a famous lady who often couldn’t sleep but regularly takes taxi rides to cross some parts of the mid-levels in Hong Kong, in her night-gown and a slightly distraught state, reminding us of the character of Amina in the beautiful Italian opera La Somnabula.
- Walking and observing is also an opportunity to learn more about the city and place that we live in, that we often take for granted, and that we can be very ignorant about! This is a nice article on Atlas Obscura about the neighbourhood walks taken by a resident of Brooklyn and how that led her to a search for maps, former residents, and other histories and stories of her “hometown”.
- You will learn about the urban legends of your city. There are the “neighbourhood streets” like Elizabeth Street in Little Italy in New York and its famed butcher Moe Albanese, who essentially “had Elizabeth Street as his family”, or the relatively tiny South Molton Street in London, which the indomitable Mr Brown guarded with his friendly but eagle eyes for many years.
- Then there’s night-walking which has its fair share of frisson, although it might be a specialism of writers: we have the stories of Samuel Johnson and Richard Savage, who spent parts of the 1730s engaged in various “midnight rambles”, or what Johnson’s Dictionary would later define as “noctivagation” (“the act of rambling or wandering in the night”), and William Blake, whose nocturnal wanderings seem to have been designed to discover the limits of the Enlightenment. Amsterdam is the quintessential walkable city – see the first in Madeleine’s Rethinking cities series.
8. Walking is faster than most people think! Once you get into the habit, you can in fact be able to have a better sense of time!
We’ll add the nineth – but recommend not to spend too much time on it – and that is you can find some wonderful photo ops while doing your neighbourhood walking and honing your observation skills! We here at Madeleine’s found these colourful and artistic pumpkins on a walk through the Nottinghill neighbourhood in London, and a photographer friend put together a collage of the historical-style steel folding-doors / folding-gates from walking through some of Hong Kong’s oldest neighbourhoods.
After writing these 7-and-a-half points, we are off to doing more walking!