How did we lose the right to walk, and what implications does that have for the strength of our communities, the future of democracy, and the pervasive loneliness of individual lives?
Driven by a combination of a car-centric culture and an insatiable thirst for productivity and efficiency, we’re spending more time sedentary and alone than we ever have before. The loss of walking as an individual and a community act has the potential to destroy our deepest spiritual connections, our democratic society, our neighborhoods, and our freedom. But we can change the course of our mobility. And we need to. Delving into a wealth of science, history, and anecdote — from our deepest origins as hominins to our first steps as babies, to universal design and social infrastructure, A Walking Life shows exactly how walking is essential, and how deeply reliant our brains and bodies are on this simple pedestrian act — and how we can reclaim it.
If you’re passionate about walking, as I am, you might enjoy some of the following books and essays, or be inspired to join one of the walking groups listed below. Please feel free to send suggestions for groups you know of or are involved in (for US-based walking advocacy connections, visit this page at America Walks).
History & Culture
Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit
A Philosophy of Walking, Frédéric Gros
Pilgrimage: A Very Short Introduction, Ian Reader
Born to Walk: The Transformative Power of a Pedestrian Act, Dan Rubinstein
The Last Great Walk: The True Story of a 1909 Walk from New York to San Francisco, and Why It Matters Today, Wayne Curtis
The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, Philosophy, and Literature of Pedestrianism, Geoff Nicholson
The Walk: Notes on a Romantic Image, Jeffrey G. Robinson
On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, Alexandra Horowitz
Mind & Body
Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do about It, James A. Levine, M.D.
Sitting Kills, Moving Heals: How Simple Everyday Movement Will Prevent Pain, Illness, and Early Death—and Exercise Alone Won’t, Joan Vernikos, Ph.D.
The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, Florence Williams
The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease, Daniel E. Lieberman
The Long Road Turns to Joy: A Guide to Walking Meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh
Memoir & Travel
The Pilgrimage, Paulo Coelho
Caged Eyes: An Air Force Cadet’s Story of Rape and Resilience, Lynn K. Hall
Wild, Cheryl Strayed
Flâneuse: Women Walk the City, Lauren Elkin
Planetwalker: 17 Years of Silence, 22 Years of Walking, John Francis, Ph.D.
Of Walking In Ice, Werner Herzog
On Walking, Henry David Thoreau
Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words, Peace Pilgrim
The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen
To a Mountain in Tibet, Colin Thubron
Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, Jeff Speck
Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution, Janette Sadik-Khan and Seth Solomonow
Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), Tom Vanderbilt
The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs
Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in America, Peter Norton
Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile, Taras Grescoe
The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues & Signs, Tristan Gooley
The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, Robert Macfarlane
On Trails: An Exploration, Robert Moor
Walking While Black, by Garnette Cadogan
My Father Could Have Been Killed by Police, by Hope Wabuke
Mountains of the Mind, by Kevin Rushby
Going It Alone, by Rahawa Haile
Walk: A Message to the Class of 2017, by Drew Magary
The Four Types of Jaywalkers, by Maria Popova (Brain Pickings)
The Peripatetic Classroom, by Sarah Massey-Warren
Black Men Walking: a hilly hike through 500 years of black British history, by Bridget Minamore
Out of Eden Walk, by Paul Salopek (an ongoing eleven-year series following, on foot, humankind’s ancient migration from Ethiopia to Tierra del Fuego)
Mapping Every U.S. Road Fatality from 2004 to 2013, by Eric Jaffe (interactive map of U.S. road fatalities, color-coded by cause [alcohol, speed, etc.])
Local/National Walking Groups
Denver, Colorado: Walk2Connect and Life@3MPH — Dozens of guided walks per week in and around Denver.
Nationwide (America): GirlTrek — Join over 100,000 African American women on daily walks focused on the knowledge that self-care is a revolutionary act.
Nationwide (UK): Ramblers Association — Join groups of walkers, or go it alone, keeping over 2,000 ancient British public footpaths open.
Nottingham, UK: Get Fit Nottingham is an urban walking group leads regular city and countryside walks. Children and dogs welcome.
Nationwide (America): America Walks is a national walking advocacy organization that works at local and state levels to promote walking and walkability. Wonderful resource for information, collaboration, and research to move our walking lives forward. Check out their Advocacy Resources page in particular if you’re interested in helping your own community move toward walkability.
International: Planetwalk is an educational nonprofit founded on the lessons learned by John Francis, who spent 22 years walking, 17 of them silent. From their mission statement: “Planetwalk is modeled on Dr. John Francis’s worldwide pilgrimage that works to transcend cultural, social and political boundaries by fostering communication between young people, scientists and environmental practitioners.” Particularly good resource for teachers and schools.
Meditative Practice Resources
Wildmind: Buddhist Walking Meditation guides
Lion’s Roar: Thich Nhat Hanh on Walking Meditation
Labyrinth at Grace Cathedral: San Francisco
Guided Walking Meditation: Headspace meditation podcast from The Guardian
9 Reasons to Try Mindful Walking: The Chopra Center