(Continued from "Boston on Foot" and "Proportions, Proximity, and Pace of Life")
What goes through your mind when you’re driving along a major thoroughfare and you a spot pedestrian traipsing down the side of a road that has no sidewalk? For me, my brain generally circulates through a recurring set of possibilities. I imagine that maybe he is poor, homeless, or mentally unstable. I wonder whether his car broke down. Or I reason that perhaps his license was suspended.
I realized, as I thought about these scenarios, that all of my explanations assumed some sort of deficiency, that the man lacks some basic need. I realized that I was working from the assumption that no capable person with adequate means would walk as a functional means of transportation. I doubt I’m the only one who has thought this way
Technology, as it develops, not only changes the proportions of our lives, but it also changes our perceptions, just like it has with walking and driving. With the advent of mechanized transportation, walking has been relegated to evening exercise, the weekend stroll, or the narrow needs required at the office, the mall, and the home. In the same way that horse-drawn carriages are now quaint pleasure rides, walking is a luxury, not primarily a functional necessity. I mean, we might get annoyed if the parking lot is full at the grocery store.
My sister moved downtown Chicago to go to college. When we came to visit her, she would take my parents and I to some new restaurant or store in the area. After the 9th block, my parents and I would be wondering how much farther it was. My sister had grown accustomed to walking everywhere. We, on the other hand, were happy to navigate our town ensconced in glass and steel.
Technology changes how we think about things as simple as walking. When people walk where we expect only cars to travel, walking is transformed from natural to abnormal. Even though, as in Boston, the reality may be the other way around.