OPINION: Where will we walk?

Where will we walk?

A hyper question, strange place– no feet, just tarmac. I suppose many people ask this question subconsciously on a daily basis, but choose to accept the status quo. A status quo where in there are no sidewalks in many places where people walk. How does a primary mode for all beings turn into a side topic? It does seem to me that major development projects, highways, narrow-ways and neighbourhood streets have an overwhelming tendency to sidestep the walking bit. National Treasury was on to this, but it seemed to have stemmed the root around it.

Something which we all truly do: some find it tedious because it’s unpleasant; some find it fascinating because it’s an exploration. Either way, there is a purity in walking that fades away when rushing to work, or betting on a meeting, if not setting the attire scene for an important date. The spatial awareness young people develop when navigating through local and regional settlements relieves them of the unsettling idea behind exploring new places– it may help them judge dangerous corners and fun places to hang out (with)in. More and more places are embracing the idea that people genuinely crave the great escape in some way: that little patch of grass at the shopping mall, or those winding roadways buzzing with stuff to taste and chat to. Airports are getting this too.

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Top end photo in Ga-Rankuwa. Foot traffic is real– provision is partial but unfair. In many towns potholes are refilled faster than the thirst for good quality sidewalks is quenched. What if it rains, will it pour?

In Africa, footwork is an undervalued and abused commodity. The pressing time scales to reach employment, recreation and other contact points of life seem to convert something essential into a nuisance of value–especially as incomes rise. Granular design, thinking on our feet, and reimagining local space is more important than ever-now. Confronting traffic tones, cellphones and headphones with trombones of activity temporarily occupying streets make healthy stints in offering communities the luxury of space. However, playing in the street growing up was normal. It still is in some neighbourhoods. Cars make space, they pause, slow down and approach delightfully. Today, the kids applaud you as you drive past slowly. Yet, at many stop signs motorists do not observe the same type of courtesy.

The psychology of driving a sculptured capsule reduces the extent to which eye contact– and therefore place contact– takes place (John Urry highlights this well). It’s much harder to start conversations in a car than it is to approach people organically, without the frictions of fiction.

Vryburg has a few complex corridors. This one spotted me a shot at seeing children navigating space under guided examples. The intersections are not too far apart, it’s the street that is not well designed. Intersections between crossings and the lack thereof.

How do I know my community’s interests when moving without encapsulating the true nature of place acquired through tactile contact?

How does a governor truly look at place without living in it consistently, not guest coasting to collect “data”?

There’s something behind the footwork that transcends the level of service requirements of sidewalks, and pedestrian simulation models. There is the fact that parts of our feet truly reflect contact with organs in our bodies. Or consider the symbolic tip toe that in some countries setting foot in a house with one’s shoes on is profoundly unacceptable.

Are we at our most vulnerable, most open and human state [at] our feet?

Aren’t we always [on] our feet even when sitting down, solving a tough problem that landed at our feet?

It’s just unusual that we sidestep the sidewalk when we walk so often.

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