This morning, I was running some errands and had to walk between the two banks on Central, just north of Thomas, you know – the Wells Fargo and Bank of America there. It didn’t make sense to get into my car, drive for 5 seconds, park and go to the next door bank, so I walked.
As I walked out onto the sidewalk (thankfully it was in the shade on this 109° summer day) I was struck by the smell of the city, the growl of the cars as they whizzed by and the sight of people waiting for the light rail. There’s something unique to the experience of walking in the city, even our city that isn’t particularly dense or active on a pedestrian level.
This morning, on my short 2 minute walk, I was reminded of the walks I’ve taken in other cities like Paris, London, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Mumbai, Barcelona and Johannesburg. I’ve always felt a thrill walking in these great urban centers, all my senses engaged in the activity around me. There’s something very invigorating about being in the middle of the hustle and bustle of city life.
In contrast to the exciting energy of walking in the city, I noticed this morning how isolated I felt in my car. I was in the very same spot as when I was walking, but my experience of the city was completley different. In fact, I hardly experienced the city at all, other than the necessary awareness of my surroundings required to drive safely. The sounds of the city were completely silenced within my sealed, air-conditioned vehicle. I could not smell the city smells or hear the sounds of cars outside. It felt as if I were in a bubble, as if I were by myself, when in fact I was sharing the road with many other people, who I’m sure, also felt as if they were alone.
This is the kind of experiential deficit that happens in Phoenix because we are such a car-centric city. The visceral experience of walking in the city is a world that seems unavailable to us Phoenicians as we’ve become so addicted to the convenience of cars. Today, such a hot summer day, may not be the best day for a post like this. But the heat is just an excuse that we use to forgo the connective experience of city walking in order to lead convenient, easy, anonymous lives in our cars.
I had coffee with an up and coming architect named Moazam Khan of MoD Architecture and Planning at Giant today (as you can tell, it’s become a favorite afternoon coffee spot) and we talked about walkable cities and what they mean. We also talked about what an urban walking experience ISN’T. An urban walking experience ISN’T driving to Tempe Marketplace or Desert Ridge or Kierland Commons and shopping. That is a consumer experience, one designed to manipulate people into buying stuff. Although it may act as a public space, especially where there are fountains for kids to play and chairs and tables for people to relax in, these spaces are not truly public. They’re designed to gather people in order for them to shop at stores.
The urban implications of outdoor malls could fill many posts, probably a whole book, so let’s get back to the point of today’s post – the experience of walking in the city. I invite you to do three things:
1. Take note of how often you walk in the city. Is it a few times a day, a week, a month, a year or less than that?
2. If you haven’t already, try walking and spending time outside of your car in the urban core of a Valley city. You might want to wait until it cools down a bit, or try the evenings.
3. Take note of what’s missing. If there were more pedestrian-oriented shops, restaurants and amenities, would you walk more? This kind of awareness will, I hope, lead to a demand for more walkable spaces.
Let me know what you find out and we can discuss it here on the Blooming Rock blog!Tags: blooming rock, car-centric, Moazam Khan, MoD Architecture and Planning, phoenix, taz loomans, walkable cities, walking