Tag Archives: Thoreau

One year ago today

July 16, 2013

Just after I finished rereading Thoreau’s essay on walking (daily, four hours a day, sauntering, sans terre, la Sainte Terre), the guy who works for the pizza place nearby came by to hand out fliers, on which he always personally writes an impersonal message to promote neighborly savings on chicken wings and the like. It was his last stop of the day. He thinks he has walked eight miles by now, so I offer him tea.

He normally walks between six and twelve miles per day, he says, but once he walked thirty-three, from 13 Mile and Schoenherr to 19 and Livernois, or some stretch like that. He used to drive sometimes, but he likes walking, and his boss said that when he hands out fliers on foot, the screen looks like a video game, each address on his path lighting up with pizza orders.

So now he just walks. 250 or 300 miles per month. His shoes look inconspicuously comfortable, unscuffed. I ask if he ever got too sick or injured to walk in his eighteen years of this occupation, and he says no, vehemently, never. He gives me the empty teacup and I tell him to come back to the acupuncture clinic if he ever needs to put up his feet and take a nap. He smiles and walks away.

He might walk to Florida someday; there, “you get a great tan – all seasons!”

I haven’t heard from this character in a while and it worries me. I hope his tan is coming along well.

Marchetti’s constant

November 15, 2012

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.