Making it better for walking

It is ever so easy to forget what was there before…..what was that building that is now rubble behind a hoarding and where did that path lead to anyway?  Don’t know about you, but we are feeling that our grasp on place is slipping from our memory.  If you don’t cover the territory very often, it is really tricky to remember the detail.  The opposite is also true, that if you repetitively walk a familiar route, you begin to notice things more often and recognise incremental changes.

Making it better for walking is often all about incremental changes, as only a slight (often modest) change in the built environment can be significant for those on foot.  Listening to Leon Yates, former author of the City of Melbourne Pedestrian Strategy, reveals how much thought is given over to making the street better for walking: reducing obstacles, widening the footway, sharing the roadspace more equitably, prioritising pedestrians at crossings, introducing new trees and street furniture into the ‘streetscape’, working with street trading teams and in improving the overall quality of pedestrian routes.  Since the Commonwealth Games in 2004, Melbourne has been able to draw on and add to a network of pedestrian counters, providing unique data on which are the most popular routes and how new developments can have an impact.  Have a listen to the Talking Walking interview with Leon and be inspired.

Jamie Wallace wanted to live in a relaxed and convivial city and felt one way to make such a thing happen was to encourage more people to walk more often.  A seed of an idea came to him in 2000, and by the time Talking Walking caught up with him, his Walkit wayfinding website app was already proving popular in London and beyond.  Although he foresaw the converging trends in climate change, health and energy security, his personal driver was more psychological, he wanted to be in charge of his own destiny in terms of how and where he chose to travel in London.  Often he found his friends and colleagues over-estimated the time it would take to walk a journey and under-estimated the time it would take to drive or take the tube. His simple solution drew first on switching off one-way streets in a global digital road atlas and in adding pedestrian only routes from aerial photographs.  As the community of Walkit users grew, he also realised how valuable it was to have their ‘eyes on the streets’ and their ‘feet on the ground’, such that the Walkit wayfinding could be enhanced through user-derived data. Nowadays we rather take this for granted but back 2008 this was cutting edge. Listen to Jamie describing how Walkit came about and its applications.

London is a vast built up metropolitan area and it is often quite bewildering when one sees the posters of all the rail and tube interconnections.  During the 1980s, the then Countryside Commission started to envision a network of walking routes that might connect up all the different parks and green spaces throughout London – almost to counter the reliance of Londoners on the tube map.  Their intent was to have a network of strategic walking routes, which would be no more than 2kms or 30 minutes walk form the bulk of the population.  Alexandra Rook became the first Operations Director for the the strategic walking routes managing agency, Walk London, and in our interview 10 years ago, she explained how the routes came about and the plans for a Jubilee Greenway to link up all the venues for the 2012 Olympics. She talks about how for most people they need an excuse to go for a walk, and that for her the delight was as much in serendipity as it was in the route she was taking, so her desire was to create ephemeral temporary artistic interventions along each route. Listen to the Talking Walking interview with Alexandra here.

We also hear from pedestrian champions from both sides of the Atlantic, neither of whom had imagined their career paths would follow such  intriguing routes.

Jacky Kennedy, retired now, but when interviewed in 2008, was riding high on the success of delivering a ‘road show’ across Ontario in which she brought international experts in improving the pedestrian experience to work with local communities, and also delivering a Walk21 conference in Toronto.  Coming to realise that ferrying her children to school by car was contributing to congestion was the lightbulb moment for Jacky to seek alternatives through the creation of Active & Safe Routes to School.  She modestly tells her story, but you quickly realise there is a determination and passion in her voice. Listen here.

Jenny Budd is still today in her role as a healthy walks champion in the borough of Lewisham in south east London.  Before she had children she was an Occupational Therapist and latterly a Psychotherapist, but in spotting a temporary part time job advertised in 2001 by her local primary care trust, in which the requirement was to get more people walking to combat obesity, one of Britain’s longest-serving champions in health walking was recruited.  Back in 2008 she had encouraged hundreds of Lewisham residents to join health walks and had trained dozens of front line medical staff in how to incorporate pedometers into their clinical practice as well as recruiting similar numbers of volunteer health walk leaders.  This from a woman who said she hated walking as a child. Listen to the interview.

Fabulous shadows- A Devine

Two walking artists whose interviews we have listened to in the last week, include Ernie Kroeger, a professor of photography at Thomson Rivers University in Kamaloops in western Canada’s British Columbia and Anne Devine, now living in the Caitskills, who took endurance walking to limits that few of us would even dream.  Ernie Kroeger was the artist who conceived the Walking & Art Residency at the Banff Centre of Arts where both Talking Walking and the Museum of Walking began.  He is fascinated by place and a simple act of taking a detour from his regular walk to work, of about 200 metres in which he walks through an are of sage brush, has proven to be a continuing source of creativity, allowing him to free his mind each morning.  Anne Devine on the other hand has undertaken repetitive endurance walks as well as, adrenalin-rush activities, to create extraordinary walking performances.  She like WalkWalkWalk has found that the ‘cloak of darkness’ provides an alternative dynamic to wthe walking experience.

Viv Corringham takes the everyday walks of strangers and turns them into compilations of song and environmental sound compositions, in what she calls ‘Shadow walks‘, often creating urban ‘song paths’.  Her work brings us back to the resonance of place and memory. She uses binaural microphones that sit like headphones on the ears, and allows her to record both conversations and the ambient sounds as if it were 3D.  Those strangers with whom she walks, often open up in a generous way, forgetting that she is recording their conversation, and she develops a free and easy relationship with them. She then takes the arc of the everyday journey as a score for the composition she will make. Our interview is a fascinating window into the creative process of a sound artist and walker.  It was a joy to listen to it again – you can listen to it here.

If tempted why don’t you join us on the #100daysto challenge or just occasionally dip into the Talking Walking podcast library.

A couple of years ago I won a scholarship to City University and the Cass Business School to undertake a Masters in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership, and  ‘what won it for me’ was something I called ‘Woof Woof Walkies‘.  It was a simple way of bringing dog walkers together with socially isolated people, to try to combat loneliness.  In one form, it won a Student Entrepreneurship prize.  Through a meeting in a bar one evening after a day at a Walk21 conference, led to a proposal for a pilot for Woof Woof Walkies in the Netherlands,with partnerships between City University and a University in Arnhem.  Unfortunately, unlike my scholarship, the funding wasn’t forthcoming, so Woof Woof lay dormant. Tinged half with regret half with excitement, as I hear of Dog Dates,an initiative between the Campaign to End Loneliness and Pedigree – the makers of ‘Chum’ and other dog foods and accessories.

All about walking blog posting is unpredictable – if it’s raining biblical downpours then a blog post is more likely to appear, in most other weather conditions we are out walking and not blogging on a keyboard…..