The great garden swindle: how developers are hiding behind shrubbery, por Oliver Wainwright

A High Line for London? What the Braithwaite viaduct in Shoreditch might
look like. Photograph: Bishopsgate Goodsyard

"From trees on bridges to magical parks, London’s most damaging developments are using green garnish as a decoy to distract from what’s really going on

Spring has sprung and developers are getting green-fingered. Across London, their planning applications are sprouting leaves and bursting into bloom. They’re promising trees on bridges and jungles in the clouds, sky-gardens and life-giving linear parks, along with a whole network of green ribbons weaving through town.
Who could say no to this fecund vision for London? What mean-spirited planning committee would stand in the way of this pastoral dream? Very few can resist the lure of a good garden. That is precisely the problem.
Developers have got wise to the power of a few plants in easing their bloated schemes through the planning system. They’ve realised that a little green garnish can mask a multitude of sins. A clutch of 40-storey luxury apartment towers in a conservation area, you say? But check out that lovely lawn! A bridge-shaped tourist attraction for a stretch of the Thames that doesn’t need another crossing,to be built at vast expense to the taxpayer? But what nice shrubs it has! The word “garden” has never been misused as such a damaging decoy.
If ever evidence were needed that the promised planting of a CGI mirage might not be as good in reality, it can be found 150 metres up in the air at No 20 Fenchurch Street. The 37-storey Walkie-Talkie tower was given planning permission in an area never intended for tall buildings – way outside the City’s planned “cluster” – on the sole basis that it would come with a majestic “sky garden”.
The Walkie Talkie 'Sky Garden' … vision vs reality.
 The Walkie-Talkie ‘Sky Garden’ … vision vs reality. Image: 20 Fenchurch Street
The planning application featured a storyboard of seductive images, from pensioners mingling among the cherry blossom to visitors staring out in awe at the neighbouring towers, all from the vantage point of this fairytale bower in the sky. Policies could be breached and all would be forgiven for the joy this Babylonian utopia would bring.
The reality, as documented in these pages, is more like a couple of rockeries and a few trees in pots. It has all the sylvan charm of an office lobby – a public space for which you must book in advance and go through airport-style security to savour.
It is an underwhelming precedent that makes the proposed garden bridge seem all the more unlikely to deliver the promised dream of a floating forest across the Thames. Joanna Lumley’s plan, that people will be able to “walk through woodlands over one of the greatest rivers in the world,” is more likely to end up seeing crowds shuffling across a windswept deck, picking their way between a few shrubs that are clinging on for dear life.
A closer look at the planning application reveals what the feted bridge will actually look like from the south bank. Buried in the Environmental Statement, Volume 8, Appendix 15, page 27, lurks a verified view of the reality of this great chunk of engineering. It will be a copper-clad aircraft carrier, topped with a meagre green sprinkle – what my colleague Rowan Moore so elegantly described as “urban parsley”. A judicial review has been launched against the planning permission.
The garden bridge … vision vs reality?
 The garden bridge … vision vs reality? Image: Garden Bridge Trust
It’s easy to giggle at the folly of the garden bridge, but this wilting parsley has become a scourge. Across London, this green dressing is being used to soften the blow of steroidal overdevelopment, with slivers of park threaded between bulging apartment blocks. On the Greenwich Peninsula, where the developer Knight Dragon has almost halved its affordable housing commitment, the flats are currently being marketed with “views of Central Park”. They must be jolly high.
Some of the apartment blocks already built there have tried the “vertical garden” trick too, with forlorn patches of green wall hanging off the facade like sticking plasters trying to hide the bin store. As one Twitter wit put it when I posted a photo of the wretched thing: “Certainly sir, a two-bed maisonette. And would you like salad with that?”
The former Heygate estate in Elephant and Castle is being recast as “Elephant Park”, because there will be some greenery in the middle of the development – to be planted long after Lend Lease’s elephant of regeneration has charged through and trampled the council flats to dust. Further west, among the thicket of towers currently sprouting between Vauxhall and Nine Elms, will one day weave a kilometre-long linear park, or “a sustainable green backbone” as the developer Ballymore has it.
“This extraordinary green channel will be entirely open to the public and a focal point for shopping, sports, leisure and recreation, outdoor events and all forms of community life,” they coo. “Its edges will be lined with homes, shops, cafes, leisure venues and other attractions to draw people in and activate the space.”
The 'sustainable green backbone' proposed to weave through Nine Elms.
 The ‘sustainable green backbone’ proposed to weave through Nine Elms. Image: Nine Elms Vauxhall Partnership
But with most of the development being marketed to overseas investors, who are unlikely to ever set foot here, it’s hard to imagine what kind of community life will occur on the great green carpet. Still, at least it will provide a “visual amenity” for those looking down from their £9m penthouses, if they ever bother to collect the keys.
The other side of town, at Bishopsgate Goodsyard in Shoreditch, the same developer is using a similar strategy of Potemkin planting to distract attention away from what they’re really doing on the other side of the hedge. London will be gifted with a spectacular new High Line, they trumpet, with a pocket park perched atop the crumbling remains of the old Victorian railway arches. Having suffered decades of neglectful vandalism, the Braithwaite viaduct – one of the oldest rail structures in the world – will be reincarnated as a “rich multi-layered three-dimensional landscape concept,” complete with bountiful retail pavilions and something that looks like a Swiss chalet.
Views of the new park are, as ever, carefully choreographed so as not to show the seven towers of luxury flats that will loom over your head as you and the rest of Tech City guzzle your lunch on a small patch of grass. There may only be 10% affordable housing in the £800 m development – in boroughs where policy aims for up to 50% – but oh! How about that lovely multi-layered landscape concept? Just look at those bushes ..."

Boris bikes 'good for health of users', study says

The London cycle hire scheme was launched in 2010

"London's cycle hire scheme has had a positive effect on the health of its users, suggests a study in the British Medical Journal.

It says '"Boris bikes" have greater benefits for men than women, and for the over 45s who have more to gain from increased physical activity.
These benefits outweighed the negative impact of injuries and air pollution.

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When the cycle hire scheme was introduced, there were widespread concerns that increasing the number of inexperienced cyclists in central London would lead to higher injury rates”
Dr Anna GoodmanLondon School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Encouraging more, older people to use the scheme would increase the health benefits, the UK researchers concluded.
The London cycle hire scheme, sponsored by Barclays bank, was introduced in 2010 and championed by the city's mayor, Boris Johnson, to such a degree that the bicycles came to be known as Boris bikes.
The authors of the study, from the Medical Research Council, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and University College London, looked at the cycle hire scheme over the course of one year, from April 2011 to March 2012.
They tracked 578,607 users' journeys during this time and used data on physical activity, travel, road traffic collisions and air pollution to work out the health impact of hiring a bike in central London.
They found that the benefits "substantially outweighed" the harms, when the injury rates for hired bike usage were taken into account.

Co-study author Dr Anna Goodman, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said this confounded expectations.
"When the cycle hire scheme was introduced, there were widespread concerns that increasing the number of inexperienced cyclists in central London would lead to higher injury rates.
"Our findings are reassuring, as we found no evidence of this. On the contrary, our findings suggest that the scheme has benefited the health of Londoners and that cycle hire users are certainly not at higher risk than other cyclists."

Bike hire scheme facts

Docking station for London bike hire scheme
  • More than half a million users made 7.4 million trips on London cycle hire bikes during the year of the study
  • These trips would otherwise have been made on public transport (47%) or on foot (31%)
  • Almost 71% of cycle time was made by men
  • There are now 8,000 bicycles at 571 docking stations in London
  • Around the world in 2013, 636 cycle hire schemes were operating in 49 countries, using 600,000 bicycles
The researchers measured the health benefits in terms of Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) - the number of years of life gained or lost to illness, disability or premature death.
For all men in the study, the combined gain was 72 years, while for women it was 15 years.
Among men, almost half this benefit was from reductions in heart disease, while among women the largest benefit was seen in reductions in depression.
But when injury rates for all cycling in central London - not just the hire scheme - were used as a comparison, the benefits were found to be smaller for men, and shrank to virtually nothing for women because of the higher death rate among female cyclists following a spate of deaths in London last year.
Looking at older age groups, the study found that although the injury risks increased with age, the benefits of exercise for the 45-59 age group onwards "substantially outweighed the harms".
In the 30-44 age group, the benefits "marginally" outweighed the harms, the study said, because many of the diseases affected by physical activity are less common in younger people.

Dutch example
Dr James Woodcock, a population health scientist from the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, said the health benefits could be even greater if cycling was made safer, as it is in the Netherlands.
"The Netherlands manages to achieve high levels of cycling with low risks, not by focusing on helmets and hi-vis, but by providing high quality infrastructure that physically protects cyclists from busy, fast moving traffic."
Roger Geffen, campaigns and policy director at the national cycling charity CTC, said the health benefits of cycling were well documented but people tended to have an exaggerated perception of the risks involved.
"This can be a major deterrent to cycling. It's not entirely unfounded - we still need to see action to reduce actual and perceived dangers of cycling.
"But you are less likely to be killed in a mile of cycling than a mile of walking. One cyclist is killed on Britain's roads for every 26 million miles travelled by cycle.
He added: "Cycling is far more likely to increase your life expectancy.""

What biking’s gender gap really says about America

by  October 1, 2014

"In recent years there’s been overall major support for biking among Americans, but women make up only a quarter of all bike trips in the United States.
Earlier this year, major bike share programs released data showing a glaring gender disparity among bike renters in New York, Chicago, and Boston. Women riders accounted for an average of 23.5 percent of overall rentals across these cities.
The raw data in these studies points pretty blatantly to the existence of the gap. As with any study however, the numbers themselves aren’t as important as where they come from, or as what we choose to do with them.
So let’s take a closer look.
For starters, the reasons behind many women’s reluctance to biking has been well documented. Elizabeth Plank at Mic writes the gender gap can largely explained by a mix of “women’s aversion to risk, women’s clothing, economic and time poverty, as well as sexual harassment.”
Women frequently cite safety as a major concern for cycling on the road. Lacking infrastructure and aggressive drivers are among several major risk factors that many women weigh in deciding whether to bike or not.
Beyond traffic safety, personal safety is on the line as well. Grooming and getting “office ready” post-ride keeps many women off bikes. And whether they’re wearing work fashions, cozy weekend gear or “cycling chic” clothing, many women are subjected to sexual harassment while biking.
Beyond those issues, and a long list of traffic concerns, we land on the issues of time and money—the two categories into which seemingly all other factors fall. We know that on average American women make less money than American men, so women need to spend more time working to make even close to an equal wage. They also frequently have more increased responsibilities at home compared to their male counterparts, hence, less time.
For many women, using a bike as a major mode of transportation just isn’t efficient for their lifestyle. For plenty of others, biking is just the right fit. Whether the majority of women want to bike or not isn’t the issue. The issue is working to eliminate the frequent barriers to biking so that any woman who wants to do it can if she chooses.
That’s a long road. But the data, at least, serves as a reminder of the strides we still need to make, and at best, offers some opportunities for action."

Walking or cycling to work 'improves well-being'

Commuters who changed their mode of travel to cycling or walking felt more content
14 September 2014

"Switching from driving a car to walking or cycling to work improves our well-being, a study suggests.
Active commuters felt better able to concentrate and under less strain than when travelling by car, University of East Anglia (UEA) researchers said.
Even going by public transport was preferable to driving, data from 18,000 UK commuters over 10 years suggested.
Researchers said policies encouraging people to leave their cars at home could have a big impact on well-being.
The physical health benefits of exercise are already well known and this study reinforces the idea that there are positive psychological effects too.

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People feel better when they have a longer walk to work”
Adam MartinUEA
The study, carried out at UEA's Norwich Medical School and the Centre for Health Economics at the University of York, used data on nearly 18,000 adult commuters from across the UK over 18 years.
Out of this group, 73% said they went to work by car, 13% walked and 3% cycled to work. About 11% used public transport on their commute.
Those who had an active commute were found to have a higher level of well-being than those who went by car or public transport.
When researchers analysed the wellbeing of a small group who swapped the car or bus for a bike or going on foot, they found they became happier after the switch.
A busy London street
Walking or cycling to work improved the commuting experience
The study looked at feelings of worthlessness, unhappiness, sleepless nights, and being unable to face problems. The researchers also accounted for numerous factors known to affect well-being, including income, having children, moving house or job, and relationship changes.
Lead researcher Adam Martin, from UEA's Norwich Medical School, said: "Our study shows that the longer people spend commuting in cars, the worse their psychological well-being. And correspondingly, people feel better when they have a longer walk to work."
Mr Martin said the study's finding that commuters felt better when travelling by public transport, compared with driving, was "surprising".
"You might think that things like disruption to services or crowds of commuters might have been a cause of considerable stress.
"But as buses or trains also give people time to relax, read, socialise, and there is usually an associated walk to the bus stop or railway station, it appears to cheer people up."
The UK Faculty of Public Health welcomed the findings of the study, published in the journal, Preventive Medicine.
It said streets that were for people, rather than cars, promoted neighbourliness and helped everyone to have happy communities."

Heaven’s Gaits

Walking competitions were the favorite spectator
sport in the late nineteenth century.
What we do when we walk.

"Why people walk is a hard question that looks easy. Upright bipedalism seems such an obvious advantage from the viewpoint of those already upright that we rarely see its difficulty. In the famous diagram, Darwinian man unfolds himself from frightened crouch to strong surveyor of the ages, and it looks like a natural ascension: you start out bending over, knuckles dragging, timidly scouring the ground for grubs, then you slowly straighten up until there you are, staring at the skies and counting the stars and thinking up gods to rule them. But the advantages of walking have actually been tricky to calculate. One guess among the evolutionary biologists has been that a significant advantage may simply be that walking on two legs frees up your hands to throw rocks at what might become your food—or to throw rocks at other bipedal creatures who are throwing rocks at what might become their food. Although walking upright seems to have preceded throwing rocks, the rock throwing, the biologists point out, is rarer than the bipedalism alone, which we share with all the birds, including awkward penguins and ostriches, and with angry bears. Meanwhile, the certainty of human back pain, like the inevitability of labor pains, is evidence of the jury-rigged, best-solution-at-hand nature of evolution.

Over time, though, things we do for a purpose, however obscure in origin, become things we do for pleasure, particularly when we no longer have to do them. As we do them for pleasure, they get attached either to a philosophy or to the pursuit of some profit. Two new accounts of this process have recently appeared, and although they occasionally make you want to throw things, they both illuminate what it means to be a pedestrian in the modern world.

Matthew Algeo’s “Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America’s Favorite Spectator Sport” (Chicago Review) is one of those books which open up a forgotten world so fully that at first the reader wonders, just a little, if his leg is being pulled. How could there be an account this elaborate—illustrated with sober handbills, blaring headlines, starchy portrait photographs, and racy newspaper cartoons—of an enthusiasm this unknown? But it all happened. For several decades in the later nineteenth century, the favorite spectator sport in America was watching people walk in circles inside big buildings.

The story Algeo tells begins in 1860, at the start of the Civil War, when a New Englander named Edward Payson Weston made a facetious bet with a friend that, if Lincoln won the Presidential election, he would walk all the way from the State House in Boston to the unfinished Capitol, in Washington, in ten days. Lincoln won, and, ten days before the inaugural, Weston set off. Though he didn’t get there quite in time, his progress, chronicled by the newspapers, enthralled a nation in need of some small fun, and he became an improbable American hero, a kind of Lindbergh of the corns and calluses. Liking his new celebrity, and the money it brought, Weston decided to keep a good thing going and, when the war ended, began to engage in competitive, six-day (never on Sunday) walking marathons in Chicago, New York, and, eventually, London.

For the next two decades, while baseball burbled around the amateur edges and boxing went on in the shadows, walking really was the dominant spectator sport in America, and Weston its central figure. He had the brains to adopt a singular and consistent costume, a gentleman’s gear of hunting trousers, boots, and riding crop. In time, a poor Irish immigrant to America, Daniel O’Leary, emerged as his opposite in style, and so his great rival; together, they staged walking races, symbolic class contests, immigrant vs. native, over several long sessions in several big towns. O’Leary was, in a Jackie Robinson-like way, perceived as a credit to his race, restoring the honor of the Irish, stained most recently, in Chicago, by the episode of another O’Leary and her cow. Working-class enthusiasm for the contests was so keen that indoor stadiums were needed. In New York, P. T. Barnum’s Roman Hippodrome, in the East Twenties, got covered, first by a tent and then, soon afterward, by a real roof, in part to contain and show off the walking marathons. (Eventually, that Hippodrome evolved into the original, sadly lost Madison Square Garden, where walkers walked, and where, in 1879, Weston, freshly returned from his London exploits, was given a hero’s welcome.)

The sport was surprisingly open to the talents. There were African-American walkers—the real Jackie Robinson of the sport was one Frank Hart, who was a protégé of O’Leary’s and therefore called Black Dan—and there were even legendary women walkers, like Ada Anderson, who trained in Wales and then took a boat to America to walk for cash. Walkers were the first mass-culture sports stars: when a tobacco company inserted trading cards into cigarette packs, what the cards showed was pictures of the walkers. O’Leary, after a London contest, returned to his home town in Ireland and received a hero’s welcome of his own.

What accounts for the popularity of watching folks walk for long days? Algeo, discussing the moment when the craze took off in Chicago, first suggests that walking ruled because there was nothing much else for the working classes to attend. But then we are on to England, where the sport is for a time every bit as popular, and, while there may not have been much cheap popular theatre or music hall for the working classes to go to in Chicago, there surely was a lot of it in London. The truth is that many waves sweep mass society that have no more explanation than the oceanic kind: a random blast of wind drives a swell, it snags on a rock, and then the wave crashes. By the late eighteen-seventies, walking had started getting ferocious hate mail, or sermons, chiefly from New York City preachers, who thundered against it as a “gladiatorial” sport. Soon there was legislation, still on the books, prohibiting six-day walking marathons.

The contests, one comes to see, were no longer really walking competitions. Mostly, they were, or became, something crueller. They were competitions in not sleeping. The ability to walk well—to have Weston’s odd big stride or O’Leary’s right light step—had surrendered to the more brutal ability just to stay awake for six days. (Weston eventually admitted to having chewed coca leaves while racing, although, Barry Bonds-like, he strenuously denied that the drug really helped.) The crowds were not coming to watch the walkers walk. They were coming to watch them drop.

Competitive walking, in its maturity, turns out to be less a charming game from an age of innocence than one more episode in the modern fascination with rituals of human endurance, made exotic by technological advance, and fuelled by the same morbid curiosity that gives us the demolition derby, books about survival on Everest, and the ice-bound stunts of David Blaine, along with “Survivor” and “Deadliest Catch.” Our appetite for watching people stumble from exhaustion soon moves from one kind of spectacle to the next, perhaps partly because we’re ashamed of having enjoyed the previous one. This may also explain why each one, when it goes, can leave so little track behind. We keep our eyes fixed on the horizon to avoid having to look back over our shoulder in embarrassment.

“Walking is not a sport,” Frédéric Gros announces, in the very first, single-sentence paragraph of his new book, “A Philosophy of Walking” (translated from the French by John Howe; Verso), already a best-seller abroad. “But what about Weston and O’Leary and Anderson?” the newly instructed reader wants to shout. No dice. Gros is a professor of philosophy at a French university—at the finest of French universities, the University of Paris XII, and also at the great Sciences Po—and if you did not know this in advance you would not have to read much of his book to guess that it was so. He is not the kind willing to make even a minimal Google search (“Sport promenade histoire”) before writing. Instead of historical argument supported by evidence, or chronicle illuminated by interpretation, he gives us oracular assertion, supported by more oracular assertion. In this game, it is batting average that counts: if four out of ten of your oracular assertions arearresting oracular assertions, you’re golden.

And many of Gros’s oracular assertions are arresting; if they don’t exactly stop you in your tracks, they slow your leap to certainties. The purpose of walking, he tells us, is not to find friends but to share solitude, “for solitude too can be shared, like bread and daylight”; the philosopher Kant’s life “was as exactly ruled as music manuscript paper”; when walking, the body “stops being in the landscape: it becomes the landscape.” And so on.

“It’s the mark of Cain, but it’s benign."
Gros’s larger theory of walking, abstracted from all the abstractions, is that there are three essential kinds. There is the root case of contemplative walking (what you do to clear your head). There is “cynical” walking (the term referring to the Cynics of ancient Greece, homeless hippies who scorned conventions, customs, clothes). And then there is the composite contemplative-cynic, the modern city walker (what is often called the “flâneur”). Gros’s thesis is that the three kinds, developed over time, can now coexist, although, no surprise, the commodifications of capitalism make that coexistence hard.

Contemplative walking is Gros’s favored kind: the walking of medieval pilgrims, of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Henry David Thoreau, of Kant’s daily life. It is the Western equivalent of what Asians accomplish by sitting. Walking is the Western form of meditation: “You’re doing nothing when you walk, nothing but walking. But having nothing to do but walk makes it possible to recover the pure sensation of being, to rediscover the simple joy of existing, the joy that permeates the whole of childhood.” There’s a reason, Gros suggests, that a dominant school of philosophy in the ancient world, revived in the medieval, was called the “peripatetic.” In Raphael’s great fresco of assembled ancient philosophers, conventionally called “The School of Athens,” Plato and Aristotle are shown upright and in movement, peripatetic even when fixed in place by paint, advancing toward the other philosophers rather than enthroned above them. Movement and mind are linked in Western thought.

The Cynic philosophers of antiquity, in contrast, were often merely “circumambulant”—walking around and around the same few blocks in order to annoy other people. “All the commonplace compromises and conventions were booed, mocked, dragged through the mud,” Gros writes. “The Cynics’ philosophy is linked with the condition of the walker by far more than the superficial impression of rootlessness: the dimensions of experience inherent in those great peregrinations become dynamite when imported into towns.”

From these two begetters, contemplative country hikers and argumentative city schleppers, all other walking descends. The kind of modern city walking that we associate with the flâneur—the nineteenth-century city walking of Baudelaire and Manet, which Walter Benjamin later apotheosized—combines the contemplative walker’s escape from self-consciousness and inner noise with the Cynic’s attempted escape from social roles. The flâneur represents cynicism, but clothed and housed and only sporadically committed.

Gros’s horizons, though they contain some American writers (including, puzzlingly, Jack Kerouac, the echt American driver), are narrowly Parisian. He mentions none of the great New York walkers, from Walt Whitman to Alfred Kazin, let alone the striders in Madison Square Garden, nor does he quote any of the great New York walking books. Is there a peculiarly New York addition to the meanings of walking? Rereading the New York walkers, you find one note that eluded the cynic-contemplatives of Paris: in New York, walking, even without companions, can still be an expression of companionship, of expansive connection; a happy opening out to an enlarged civic self rather than a narrowing down to a contemplative inner one; a way of scooting toward the American Over-Soul, in sneakers.

It starts with Walt. Where the Parisian poet-walkers of his time walk to take it all apart, dissect the scene, find the skull beneath the street lamps, Whitman walks to get it all in, see what’s up, get the life of the city right. Walking in New York, Whitman says, leaves him “enrich’d of soul, you give me forever faces.” Whitman is always walking through the city. “Brooklyn of ample hills was mine,” he tells us of his walks, and “I too walk’d the streets of Manhattan island, and bathed in the waters around it,” which says something about the state of the waters then. Making his way down the streets, leaping into the Hudson: those are Whitman’s promenades. He seeks not a glimpse inside his own mind but connection: “Manhattan crowds, with their turbulent musical chorus! / Manhattan faces and eyes forever for me.” This makes him a man of buses and boats and bridges as much as of boulevards; his New York is as much Brooklyn as it is Manhattan. (And there’s his ferry, connecting them.)

Alfred Kazin, whose “A Walker in the City” (1951), heavily haunted by Whitman, remains the best book ever written about New York on foot, is all about going somewhere. Kazin uses walking as a metaphor for ambition and escape; his book is a study in how ambitious kids can ascend on foot when the provinces are just across the bridge. He was walking all the time because he was getting the hell out of Brooklyn and couldn’t afford a taxi. You could take the subway—Moss Hart, in “Act One,” writes of taking the subway—but Kazin prefers to walk, because the subway is one of the chief things he is escaping from. (When Hart escaped from Brooklyn, he took taxis, Broadway hits being more helpful in that line than Partisan Review pieces.)

As Whitman is walking through, Kazin is walking to and toward. He’s going somewhere with every step. (When he retreats back to Brooklyn, it is to see how far he’s gone.) If one were fanciful, one might say that the ghosts of the old Madison Square Garden walkers moved him—or, more bluntly, that the same cult of ambition and success that made Weston turn a small bar bet into a life’s career infects the dreams of the young writer. There’s no point in walking if you’re not getting ahead, even if the track you’re walking on turns out to be a perfect oval, taking you home.

Yet we find in both Whitman and Kazin a moment when the walker delights in the pure chance of walking in New York, what Kazin calls the walking that supplies “a happy, yet mostly vague and excited feeling.” Whatever else we walk to accomplish when we walk in New York, we always hope to randomize our too neatly gridded city existence. You go where your feet take you. Buses follow routes and subways have schedules, but someone on foot goes wherever he wants.

For a long time in the nineteen-eighties, I seemed to do nothing but walk around the city. I was blessed by several bits of new technology: by the first great age of the modern sneaker, for one, which allowed even the flat-footed to stride on what felt like cushioned air. And then the Walkman made every block your own movie. Just as the period of the first flâneurs falls between the rise of gas street lighting, which opened the city to twenty-four-hour circulation, and the onset of the automobile, which made cities loud again, so walking in the nineteen-eighties lay between the invention of the Walkman, which suddenly neutralized the noise of the automobile, and the onset of the iPhone, which replaced isolation-booth serenity with our now frantic forever-on-guardness.

You could walk anywhere. Saturday all day, Sunday all day, I’d tramp through the lower-Manhattan neighborhoods. The differences, architectural and social, among Tribeca and SoHo and the East Village, to name only contiguous areas, were distinct and vivid and nameable then: cast-iron buildings shading off into old egg- and paper-carton factories sweetly interrupted by small triangular parks, and edging over, as you walked east, into poor-law tenements that were just being reclaimed by painters. I would set off on a Saturday morning and walk all day, and achieve Kazin’s feeling of vague excitement, of unearned release, in a way that I have never felt before or since. SoHo in the eighties was the finest place for walking, not only architecturally beautiful but, by accident, still beautifully composed: illuminated sidewalks, glass orbs studding the iron paving to bring light to the basements below, still actually functioned, while the pioneering businesses were as chic and widely spaced as rocks in a Japanese garden—a single one-room restaurant with a cursive menu outside, a block of old businesses, a single charcuterie, a single deli for the whole neighborhood. At twilight, you walked, so to speak, from campfire to campfire, with inviting darkness in between.

Go back to SoHo now, and the streets seem stuffed, the glass sidewalks mostly paved over. There is little room to walk amid the shoppers. Walking for pleasure in cities is an occupation of the young. Only a very few older people of great vitality walk long in cities. What changes over time is not the city alone—some twentysomething is even now walking ample and hilly Brooklyn, and writing it down. What changes is us. We start walking outdoors to randomize our experience of the city, and then life comes in to randomize us. Children are the greatest of randomizers. They make walking unnecessary; we circle them to get the same effect of chance excitement. Their walking begins and ours ends.

People are made for walking, but we are not very good at it; our backs and arches, like querulous cabinet ministers, at first complain and then resign. Perhaps this is why the evolution of walking within a life falls into the same fated pattern as the old forgotten American sport. Like Weston, we begin peripatetic, walking where we will, then become circumambulant, walking around our kids or on an indoor track; we make a pass at a pilgrimage, like Dan O’Leary in Ireland, fail, and end up immobile. Footsore, we sit down and stay there. And then even our cells begin to go random on us, producing small failures of replication that mark our skin. Eventually, we leave the room feet first, hoping only to be remembered in someone else’s head, or by someone else’s hand. Without something happening in that higher human register where things are thrown, and thought, walking is strictly for the birds."