I came across this statistic in Harper's Magazine today:
2/5 of Americans don't walk at least 10 continuous minutes at any point in an average week.
Hey, America, we need to talk. This is absurd. And yet, not absurd enough to be untrue. While contemplating this statistic, I found this fascinating article on slate.com, examining the question of why we don't walk. There are endless excellent points in this article, I recommend reading the whole thing.
Atlanta has given me ample opportunity to consider this question. Here, in the middle of Midtown, there is an astonishing lack of pedestrians. I think it's safe to say that about 50% of the people on the streets outside are homeless. Walking around office buildings at lunchtime has a "ghost-town" feel to it... where is everybody? I can only presume that they drive to their parking garages, work, eat lunch at their desks, and go back to their parking garages at the end of the day. It's a bit spooky.
Regardless, my kids and I walk everywhere. The nearest playground is about a mile away. On lazy days, we might take a bus or metro for part of the distance. On adventurous days we'll ride our bikes. But quite often, we walk. They are used to this. And though there is plenty of squabbling and complaining en route, it's really not more than the squabbling and complaining they'd do sitting at home.
I feel like the best conversations I have with my kids happen while we're walking. Away from the distractions of books and computers, we'll end up talking about what things were like when I was a kid, or about how the world works. They'll ask me (unknowingly) huge questions about illness and violence, and I'll take opportunities to tell them how to have a good work ethic and how to deal with mean kids. We talk about religion and politics, holidays and cultures, we compare notes on our favorite places and scheme up future plans.
And in the meantime, our feet take us where we need to go. There is no burning of fossil fuels, no couch-potato syndrome. This is how we get around, and this is how we experience the world first-hand, instead of through the windows of a car.
The other day, the kids and I raced across a nearby road to make the "walk" signal, which was rapidly counting down 10, 9, 8.... A car took a zooming turn onto our street and had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting us. The driver rolled out his window and started cursing at me, specifically for crossing the road this way with my children. At first I felt angry and defensive. I had a "walk" signal! The kids were fully within the crosswalk and within arm's reach of me! ...later, though, I felt simply sad. A family crossing a street is a foreign, and scary sight to this man, who is used to his car zipping around unimpeded. He didn't want to hit us. He was simply unprepared for pedestrians, and turned his panic into anger. It is a sad city, where parents and children walking are so unusual and unwelcome.