How can we make walking more pleasurable to people? How do we reveal the benefits of walking to everyone in these times of the smartphone and tablets that appear to consume so much of people’s time in the 21st Century? Many writers and artists in the past and present, [ Thomas Hardy, Samuel Coleridge, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Richard Long, Christopher Jelley, Mike Collier], have shown the benefits of walking – of clearing one’s mind to open up the head space – allowing something new to come forth into the mind, moving beyond the restrictions we place upon ourselves through technologies we have become so accustomed to.
The way we walk can be so easily forgotten about in the everyday, yet each of our walks shift perceptions and change the way we view the world around us, our relationship to the environment, the places we live… yet, when we go someplace new on holiday or a trip to a place, our senses become heightened to the experience of walking and seeing these new environments we find ourselves in.
Nature focuses our attention. We are more conscious in another place about the ways we respond to a thing, an object, a place and our engagement with space. How we engage with others and how we can become aware of times we walk without seeing around ourselves. Yet, walking without purpose can become one of the most important actions we can do in our lives.
How often do we walk in the everyday and are oblivious to the weeds and flowers growing out from the cracks in the pavement, the walls, the pathways we pass on by on our way to work or into the town and city centre? How often do you walk oblivious to ambient sounds surrounding us: traffic, birds, the noise of other beings? Listening to these surroundings can heighten our senses, becoming aware of the colours and sounds of the environment and its effect upon our emotions resulting from them.
A record of time and space is implanted into memories, whether consciously or subconsciously, building an image of our journey and layers of reality contributing to our memory of a journey. Each of these playing its part in the wellbeing of the self, promoting better mental and physical health and an awareness in the value of eco-therapy to you, the community and the wider world.
Street design has a lot to answer for in terms of how we go about our day-to-day. It can shape our behaviour, making important decisions about where we choose to walk, the different way home, rather than the same one taken each day, changing our habits and therefore shifting the plasticity of our brain. As societies change with a growing aging population, it is vital to promote the value of walking and getting out and about to places new – to go on that vigorous 30 minute walk, even if you are only walking around the block. The future of the community lies with councils to re-design towns and spaces, working with artists, designers and architects to create new enjoyable spaces that promotes people over transport.
We can see how towns have changed throughout the years. Seeing the bricked up passages and doorways of the past. It reminds us where those in the past once walked and got around a space. Walking reveals the way someone is thinking – those in the know can witness how another is thinking and their behaviour. Scientific studies have also shown that walking amongst nature in the landscape, a wood, a forest or even looking at a picture of nature can change the chemistry of our brains, promoting greater health and improving brain function and memory.
There is also another side to all of this, something easily forgotten and one that will become vastly important in the future. Many walking areas and places of interest have yet to fully take into consideration those who are physically challenged through some form of disability. We need to consider this more in spaces we create in our towns, villages and cities for the future. We need to become more proactive with inclusivity for those who might be put off from getting out and about on their mobility scooters, wheelchairs and walking aides, without fear of not being to get where they want to go.
We need to re-look at areas and re-evaluate those that need more work to ensure many spaces are safe and promote greater access, encouraging more people to go out in the landscape. We could also set up walking routes so there are things to be seen on a route. Maybe working with the neighbourhood to place objects in windows to exhibit for those who walk in an area. Window decorations, front gardens transformed with flowers and plants, areas of landscaped greenery promoting new plants, colours and animals.
Our familiarity has an effect on the way we interact with an area. Having areas that change with each season will change the area and bring new objects to be experienced. A shared space for all to enjoy. In these times of increasing AI and a future where a lot of the work we do to earn a living will be given over to the computers and algorithms, leaves us with more time on our hands that could be easily filled with other activities dictated by the computer and the television. Let’s ensure these only become enhancements to living, not dictators of our lives.