I can walk to work. This may not seem like much, but it has changed my life for the better within a week. Instead of enclosing myself in a rolling metal box and traveling along roads with other rolling metal boxes, now I step out my front door and walk. I move at the pace of reflection, slow enough to pay attention to what is around me, or to focus inward on whatever is coming up in my day.
As my world has shifted in this way, I find it increasingly frustrating to actually get into the car and go somewhere. It is still necessary to use the car now that I am living in a city with minimal public transportation. Maybe not necessary, if I’m honest, but significantly easier. I am trying to find more and more ways to make my life walkable.
More than the physical benefits of walking, I want to increase the intangible benefits. When I walk, I have time to completely separate from whatever was holding my attention at home (boxes to unpack, dirty dishes, piles of laundry) and make a calm transition into being at work. I have more liminal space to let my mind wander through whatever creative projects I have going on right now. I move through the world on a human scale, able to see and greet people I come across. And, when I get back home after walking from work, I inevitably have a moment of warm gratitude for my home, my commute, and my life as it is right now.
As I have been thinking of ways to walk more, I am also reflecting on the history of our use of technology, and how it has changed what we think of as human scale. As we developed more and faster ways of moving our bodies from here to there (bicycle, car, airplane, rocket, tesseract) we became able to see distance differently. In my grandparents’ time, a long distance relationship meant you had a town or two between you. Now, that could be as much as a continent.
And, with the new technology, we have also created new kinds of class barriers. You see that very clearly with the car in particular. Having a car, or regular access to a car, opens up opportunities for schooling, jobs, and even everyday errands in myriad ways. And the deliberate choice to not have a car is in itself a form of privilege. The privilege of living in a city or a neighborhood where everything you need is within walking distance. The privilege of good enough health to walk, and the ability to purchase adequate shoes and clothes to walk outside. The privilege of having walking routes that are safe.
All of these things live in my mind as I walk to work, or to the store, or to the bank, or to my favorite coffee shop. Privilege. Class and economic barriers. Human scale. It all lives together with everything else I am doing in my life to create and cultivate balance.