Marchetti’s constant

In this interesting piece on commuting and urban wilderness, Chris Turner explores the pedestrian routes available to him emerging from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, and reports back on Marchetti’s constant, frustratingly constructed sidewalks, and some Thoreau, for good measure.

“The core of Marchetti’s seminal paper is an examination of “travel time budgets” through the ages (based on research first done by Yacov Zahavi in his fieldwork for the U.S. Department of Transportation and the World Bank in the late 1970s and early 1980s). Zahavi had found that regardless of culture, class, creed or access to advanced technology, the mean amount of time people all over the world spend in everyday transit is about an hour. Marchetti looked at the historical record and determined that the mean held true all the way back to neolithic cave sites. He refers to this as “the quintessential unity of traveling instincts around the world.”

“For more than 10,000 years, Marchetti’s Constant has held sway over how we site our homes, do our day’s work and build communities. And for all but the last 100 or so years, virtually all of those hour-long daily commutes were made on foot. What would it be like, I wondered, to obey Marchetti’s Constant as a pedestrian in the modern city?”

In pursuit of an answer to his question, he muses,

“Here’s something, though, that might surprise Thoreau; it was certainly the most arresting lesson Marchetti’s Constant taught me. The cities have become Wildness.
We just don’t know about it because we never walk through it.

This hardly seems revelatory in Detroit, where urban wilderness has gone a step beyond the layers of crumbling concrete Turner finds, more in stride with wildness as Thoreau originally intended. It’s a coy reminder of how lucky it is to share a city with the pheasants rooting through backyards and the small red fox loping amid dusky trees in the Dequindre Cut.

Read For Pedestrians, Cities Have Become Wilderness at the Atlantic Cities.

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