Friday, May 15, 2009

London On Foot

My parents just got back from London and forwarded some of their pics my way. The images reminded me of how some of the best places in the world evolved over time, modifying themselves to fit each age. The sensibility of a place which developed when people traveled primarily by foot or horse, for instance, offers a completely different scale than cities built after the advent of the car. Once the car's needs dictated urban planning, it's easy to see how challenging it became to negotiate those modern cities on foot. And don't even ask about trying to get from one end of the Las Vegas strip to another.
Lately, however, there is a push to consider a more pedestrian landscape. In Vauban, a German suburb, there has been a shift in thinking. Cars are no longer the linchpin of the suburban streetscape, instead relegated to parking spots on the outer perimeter of the development. People living there readily surrendered their cars in exchange for the quiet streets where children feel safe to ride a bike without fear of meeting up with a car. Even in pedestrian-friendly places like Manhattan, speeding taxis and gridlock traffic make navigating the streets on a bicycle something only the intrepid would undertake.
Being on foot is also often the best way to experience a place. Zooming past our surroundings at top speeds definitely inhibits exploration. Would we even think to stop at a street fair or pop into a store if we saw it at fifty miles an hour? Would we even notice what we've missed? Sometimes the most progressive way to do things is in fact one of the oldest ways to do things-- one step at a time.

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