We were overwhelmed with nearly 300 responses to our callout for your experiences of walking in cities – thank you to everyone who got in touch. Here is an edited selection.
‘Walking in southern California taught me so much as a child’
Growing up in southern California in the 1970s, I learned to walk the city from an early age. It taught me many things, about the intimacy of shared experience, the points of the compass, discovering the weirdness in daily life – like the day I spotted a massive tortoise waddling majestically down the street, someone’s escaped pet. And it taught me the concept of Stranger Danger. “No, thank you,” my six-year-old self told the nice lady who wanted to give me a lift home. I can still tell you the license plate number of the dirty brown station wagon that curb-crawled me in third grade.
I now live in Germany, where many cities are eminently walkableYet for the last 40 years, the number of parents driving their children has steadily increased, which is a sad trend. For all the benefits driving seems to offer, parents should realise what they are depriving their children of when they don’t let them walk the city. Ursula Schoenberg, Frankfurt, Germany
‘Rapt by scenery, I was nearly hit by a car in Santo Domingo’
The arches of the ruined San Francisco monastery, in the old quarter of Santo Domingo, loom in the sky like Jurassic limbs as you follow the street towards the Caribbean Sea. Colourful clothes hang from iron balustrades to dry, people sweep their porches and talk to their neighbours from an assembling of turquoise, vermilion and grapefruit-yellow wooden dwellings. Rapt by this bucolic scenery, I was almost hit by a car driven in the typical Dominican manner: without any regard for pedestrians.
People love to see you walking in Santo Domingo – they say “saludos” (greetings) and smile – but will shout at you if you take too long to cross the street. Carlos Guillen, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
‘The world as seen from the streets of Szczecin is not perfect’
My city of Szczecin is not pedestrian-friendly. However, I enjoy my 20-minute workday walk to the bus station. Some people will make a face and ask how it is possible that such a dull walk could be my favourite. But I notice things that I couldn’t from the interior of a car. The pedestrian’s world is not perfect: you will have to brave the uneven pavements; catcalling, if you are a woman; beggars. It is not always comfortable to hear and experience that day-to-day drama, but we should not hide from it, like many politicians do. Maciej G, Szczecin, Poland
‘Bangkok is so much more than its bad reputation’
I have lived in Southeast Asia for much of the past seven years and Bangkok has become one of my favourite places to walk. It gets a bad reputation in the English-language travel and literary world. It’s exoticised through descriptions of gleaming Buddhist temples, always-smiling locals and delicious food. More often, there are complaints of harassment by men selling sex, drugs and tuk-tuk rides in steamy, crowded streets with impossible traffic. Sure, that happens on a few streets in Bangkok. But saying you can’t walk around without being propositioned is like saying you can’t go to New York City without being hounded by costumed characters based on a walk through Times Square. There is so much more to dynamic, creative Bangkok than the industries catering to the demands of mostly Western men. Aileen Thomson, Bangkok, Thailand
‘Visitors to Lisbon complain of their aching calves. I know I’m fit’
Up and down and definitely up again. You quickly understand the meaning of seven colinas (hills), the phrase printed on transport cards in Lisbon. There is no escaping them. On the upside, the views you get as part of your trip to the supermarket, or with your pastel de nata. The other is the delicious reminder of “I’m fit!” when visitors complain of their aching calves. The downsides are literal. The light-reflecting cobbles, slippery when wet or dry, are responsible for one of the highest rates of podiatry problems in Europe. On the steeper inclines it can be preferable to walk in the road. The epidemic of parking wherever the hell you like can also push you into the flow of oncoming traffic. Joanne Stilges, Lisbon, Portugal
‘Walking is as natural as breathing – in Wellington or Berlin’
Walking has always been my primary mode of transportation. I have a healthy fear of driving and prefer my own legs to a bicycle. Growing up in Onehunga, Auckland, I explored factories, graveyards and the more scenic parks. I did not get my driver’s licence until I moved to the sprawling city of Canberra to study. There I looked forward to moving to Berlin for my postdoc, where I wouldn’t have insults – or bottles – thrown at me from cars. Berlin was indeed a dream for walking, though I soon learnt that heels do not work on cobblestones. Walk, S-bahn, walk, U-bahn, walk, there. Walk to the Saturday markets, walk to meet friends, walk home at 5am, a trifle unsteady.
My husband is a walker, too. When we had our daughter, I walked everywhere with her, in the carrier or later the buggy. When we moved back to New Zealand, we rented a house halfway up a killer hill in Island Bay in Wellington. Playcentre mothers would comment of our three-year-old: “She walks all that way?” Yes, she could on a good day, because that was how we got around. Now we live in flatter Upper Hutt and I walk everywhere, though kindly neighbours always ask if I’d like a lift. I walk to enjoy the day, to marvel at the trees and hills, for exercise. I walk because it is as natural as breathing and it makes me feel good. Mary Hayek-Williams, Wellington, New Zealand
‘Fifty years of walking in Chicago have made me resourceful’
I decided not to drive when I was 16. The first Earth Day had just happened and they said driving was causing this new thing called “pollution” and if we didn’t stop the petroleum culture we would all be choking to death in 50 years. I am now 65, and I walk everywhere all the time. I love walking the half-mile from my house to the public transit station because I can greet my neighbours and see what people are doing to their houses or growing in their gardens, and say hello to the dogs and cats and kids along the way. Not driving has caused me quite a bit of inconvenience, but it has kept me from getting fat. It stopped me doing too much each day and thus slowed the pace of life. It made me resourceful about getting places in other ways. It allowed me to make friends while travelling on public transit. In a car I can’t see anything or talk to anyone and the driver is usually mad and yelling at the pedestrians and other cars. How is that a better life? Mary Kay Ryan, Oak Park, Illinois
‘Let’s bring back the dignity of walking in Quezon City’
My favourite place to walk in Quezon City is inside the University of the Philippines. The reason is simple: it’s the only place where there are sidewalks. There are small blocks, shade provided by trees, human-scale buildings and other pedestrians. I get to feel the city, to experience its problems and qualities in a deeper way. The city was made for cars, and the few sidewalks that do exist are taken by street vendors and a jeepney ride is so cheap that people go for it, regardless of the length of the trip. The biggest challenge to walking here is the culture. As I heard once: “let’s bring back the dignity of walking”. Anna Clara Marçall, Quezon City, The Philippines
‘‘Pedestrian friendly’ often means disability unfriendly’
I am very fortunate that I can walk and do not require a wheelchair; however, my disabilities cause me severe pain if I walk long distances. There are millions like me who fall into the zone between able-bodied and wheelchair confined. When I hear the term “pedestrian friendly”, my first thought is “disability unfriendly”. There is a new outdoor mall near me with a pedestrian-friendly town centre design. It is a sprawling, lively place, but I can’t shop there. Walking needs to be encouraged in a way that does not forget about the needs of the disabled. Pamela L Clements, Jacksonville, Illinois
‘Protests put us in control of asphalt’
I moved to Portland 23 years ago to attend the art college. Now, living in North Portland, I come downtown about once a month to buy supplies, meet my wife at work, visit friends and check in at my gallery. For those of us spread across the city’s five quadrants, downtown remains an easy meeting point. We also go downtown for protests and parades. Protests and parades put our bodies in control of asphalt usually held hostage by cars, and – whether permitted or not – it feels like the city belongs to us again. Almost all marches cross Burnside Ave, sometimes taking over its Bridge, sometimes cutting back and forth between NW and SW downtown. Each street corner triggers recall, some of past protests I’ve experienced, others – like the 1991 protests against Bush Sr. – that have been related to me by folks who were there. This picture (above) is from pencil notes of the 2017 inauguration rally, which was hit hard by the Portland police. I’m a marcher, not a face-the-grenade-activist; I left early for the train, watching police trucks begin their flanking motion through the side streets. Gabriel Liston, Portland, Oregon
‘Quiet routes in Sydney make one aware of the noise from cars’
Walks don’t come any nicer in Sydney than at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, on a peninsula in the harbour to Darling Harbour. Passing through the botanical gardens, the old Rocks precinct and arriving at the pedestrianised Piermont bridge, the route has history, culture and meaning. Most notable, however, is the absence of cars along most of the way. The lack of noise pollution makes one aware of all the sounds that would be more easily heard if it not for the constant burning rubber and churning of engines on Sydney’s roadways. Dominic, Sydney, Australia
‘Evening dreaming in Edinburgh helps me shake off my job’
I’ve been living in Edinburgh for over 15 years. The Scottish winter can dishearten the most dedicated of walkers, but on a summer evening I’ll finish work early, jump on the tram then the bus, get home, change and set off straight away for an hour of wandering and evening dreaming. What better and cheaper way than walking to sort my thoughts and keep fit? The families, joggers and dog walkers in Braidburn Valley Park help me shake off the stress and insincerity of my corporate job. I’ll then head towards Hermitage Drive – where I might resent the obvious wealth if I weren’t so chilled out. By the time I make my way to the Blackford Hill and pond, it’s all about nature, fresh air and the massive bag of blackberries I’ll take as my bounty. Marisa Conde, Edinburgh, Scotland
‘In Pune, I have struggled to explain my passion for walking’
In 30 years, I have walked a total 64,200km, which is one-and-a-half times the circumference of Earth. Sixteen months ago I set a target to walk a cumulative distance equal to the length of India, from the north tip to the south. I walk through the city of Pune daily on my way to my office, and follow this practice in cities that I visit all over the world. There was a time when it used to feel very conventional to walk to school, college or work. However, back then most walkers were driven by poverty or the pathetic public transportation system. In one job I used to walk 9km (5.6 miles) to work. I was given a memo stating that my walking did not present the organisation in a good light. I had a hard time explaining my passion. But today it is linked to fitness, with many companies providing incentives for walking to work. Jitendra Date, Pune, India
‘Walking in Johannesburg connects me with my community’
Every morning I wake, groan, pull on my shorts, brush my teeth, and put on my walking shoes. I walk my neighbourhood, Melville, along wide roads lined with beautiful trees and exquisite flowers. The skies are always pretty, too. I greet the paper recyclers pushing their extraordinarily heavy loads, the broom vendors hoping for their first sale of the day, the car guards. Sometimes I tell the guy who sells drugs on my corner to take a hike. And I always cross the road to say hello to the dogs. On 7th Street, the restaurants are usually just setting up. I walk past the window cleaners and the street sweepers, the waiters and the masseurs, the old man who asks if I can “spare some change?” My barista sees me coming and says, “Good morning, Sandra. Flat white?” I drink a lot of coffee, and I always walk to pick it up.
Walking clears my head, gets me into a routine, gives me a sense of community. I love it. I love my ’hood. And I love that, at 56, my legs are still good. Sandra Caganoff, Johannesburg, South Africa
‘The pedestrian experience in Tokyo is a delicate balance’
The trick to walking in Tokyo is never to make eye contact. Two million people use Shinjuku station every day, and the pavements, walkways, subways, malls and passages that feed it are teeming. You don’t look directly into the faces of folk coming your way, and that lack of eye contact signals that you aren’t going to swerve. But they’re not looking at you either, so each party is minutely altering their trajectory with every step. This delicate balance is easily upset. First-timers, gaijin (outsiders), or the rare ruralist who make the mistake of looking indicate to oncoming traffic that they will swerve. Mutual eye contact can be disastrous as you both alter course in the same direction, at the same time. You might offer a whispered, heartfelt “Ah! Sumimasen!” (sorry), but it is too little, too late – you’ve lost face, and they’ve moved on. Rachel Evans, Tokyo, Japan
‘As I lose my sight, I find new routes in snowy Richmond’
I’m gradually losing my vision, and there came a day eight years ago when it felt irresponsible to drive. I took my car key off its ring and dropped it in a kitchen drawer. I’ve been a pedestrian ever since. In my suburb of Richmond, walking is exercise – an optional activity. My neighborhood even has a walking club, a group who walk up and down our cul-de-sac streets. But when they have an errand to accomplish, they use a car. Well, of course they do. Sidewalks are laid here and there and may not connect, making my routes something of an expedition. Sometimes snow removed from the roads is deposited on them in mounds. I know where the uneven sidewalks are, the roads with the well-worn footpath where a sidewalk should be, which streets have no crosswalks. I’ve learned to love the walks anyway. The pace is predictably, inescapably human.
Last winter I found a new route – out my back gate, through the woods and down the greenbelt buffering homes from the shops. In the snow these walks are bliss, silent except for the squeak of the powder under my boots. The snow is brilliant at midday and in the dusk it turns almost blue, as though lit from within. Sometimes in the course of chatting with a neighbour, the fact I don’t drive comes up. The most predictable responses are the wistful sighs. “That sounds so nice,” they say. Yeah, it is. Elizabeth Clark, Richmond, Virginia
‘Walking in Riyadh connects me with an ancient way of life’
Riyadh is not a pedestrian-friendly city – when I began walking here drivers would often stop to ask me if I was lost and needed a lift. While there are elegant boulevards which would not look out of place in Spain or France, what draws me is the dusty scrubland at the city’s fringes. To get there you walk past the fast food joints, coffee franchises and supermarkets, the gyms filled with lycra-clad men on treadmills staring at their phones, and rush from lane to lane across the motorway, dodging speeding SUVs (their drivers also staring at their phones). After all that, it is reassuring to come across the robed tribesmen arguing over the price of the sheep milling all around as they have done for millennia. Ray Mac Uait, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
‘As a new mother, walking in London made me feel of the world’
As a resident of New York and now London, I’m no stranger to walking city streets. But the miles logged were taken to another level when I had my son and began my year-long maternity leave. What could have ben an incredibly isolating period was filled with rich exploration as I put my son in a pram and went walking to keep from going mad from too much time at home. It was good for us both – exposing him to the sights, sounds and smells of a rich street culture, and making me feel part of the human world. Inevitably he would fall asleep and I’d keep walking, listening to podcasts and strolling through the quiet back streets of Soho or Shoreditch like they were old friends.
Exploring a city with a baby makes you aware of things you never had to consider before: how wide are the sidewalks? (No to Soho.) Are there baby-changing toilets along the way? (Bermondsey is impossible.) Are the coffeeshops big enough to fit a buggy? (Don’t even try the City.) One of our go-to routes is the 45-minute walk from our flat next to Burgess Park to reach Borough Market just before it opens – a truly magical moment that very few Londoners experience. This is when I feel most at home. Stephanie Walton, London
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