Friday, April 2, 2010

Life takes place on foot

Wow, our annual meeting happened and I forgot to blog for a month. Oops!

Yesterday, one of our interns was raving to me about a book he recently discovered about the design of public spaces: Jan Gehl's Life Between Buildings. I didn't previously know about this book, but it's immediately clear that it was visionary and continues to influence people-friendly designs and thinking about the public realm. Since we're WalkBoston, Phil highlighted this excerpt for me (emphasis added):
It is important that all meaningful social activities, intense experiences, conversations, and caresses take place when people are standing, sitting, lying down, or walking. One can catch a brief glimpse of others from a car or a train window, but life takes place on foot. Only "on foot" does a situation function as a meaningful opportunity for contact and information in which the individual is at ease and able to take time to experience, pause, or become involved.
I love this so much, both because it's something I believe and because it's something I experience. My whole life is changed by the neighborhood I live in, and my relationship to my neighborhood relies on my moving around it on foot on a regular basis. I know more neighbors than I would if I only traveled by car. I have casual, incidental contact with people I know at varying levels of intimacy, and each one improves my day, even on the grouchy ones!

I recently used the T stop exit farther from my house so I could finish a conversation with my friend before we went to our homes (in opposite directions from the square). As I crossed the plaza that sits above the T station, I ran into a group of friends who were hanging out. I have since resolved that when the weather is nice, I should always take the long way out of the T station on the off chance that I'll run into folks in the plaza by doing so.

I figure that when I'm 70, I'm more likely to remember and value that happy moment of unexpected socializing than getting home a couple of minutes earlier.

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