Why Walk?

walking for health

If I were a model citizen I’d be urging you to do what government health bods recommend and get off your arses and walk somewhere for a certain amount of time. Like me.

I walk to the shops. Why can’t you?

I walk for fun. You could too.

I even walk to visit family in Rothwell and Thorpe… what’s stopping you just getting off the couch!

Is it your motivation? Are you a bit diminished in the motivation department? Wiped out motivation-wise?

What about your intentions? Aren’t they as healthy, wholesome and honourable as they might be?

Do you suffer insurmountable barriers in the way of your walking activities?

What exactly is the problem with you?

How do we encourage people like you to walk more?

The question was asked on Facebook this morning and the answers were instructive.

You need an app.

You need a dog.

You need to read the right books.

You need to think of your health.

You need to think about your mental well-being.

You need a distraction, such as an audiobook, to take your mind off the chore of walking.

You need interactive pavements.

You need pavements that light up like a Michael Jackson video.

You need the encouragement of a celebrity.

You need to go on a taxi diet.

Well, I can’t say I’m a model citizen. And if anyone came up to me with a clipboard and enquired after the extent of my involvement in pedestrian activities I think my response would be far from civil.

The main reason people like you don’t walk more was pointed out over 50 years ago. The city isn’t built for you to walk around. Nothing to do with the contents of your mental basket being bad for your health. You aren’t at the centre of urban design, the car is.

But to bring the pedestrian back into the picture, one must treat him with the respect and honour we now accord only to the automobile: we should provide him with pleasant walks, insulated from traffic, to take him to his destination… Where walking is exciting and visually stimulating… people are perfectly ready to walk. The legs will come into their own again, as the ideal means of neighbourhood transportation, once some provision is made for their exercise… But if we are to make walking attractive, we must not only provide trees and wide pavements and benches, beds of flowers and outdoor cafes; we must also scrap the monotonous uniformities of … zoning practice, which turns vast areas, too spread out for pedestrian movement, into single-district zones, for commerce, industry, or residential purposes.

Lewis Mumford, The Highway and the City.

Take this proposed development in Armley.

retail hub

Only a sadist would encourage walking here. And if you were concerned about your mental or physical health you would be recommended to avoid. The more our cities are modelled on this the less there’ll be any reason to walk; no matter if you have a mountain of motivation and deluge of intention enough to sweep away all the barriers to walking participation, there will simply be no point moving off the couch. Better off opening the wine and settling down with a book about how walking used to be.


  1. Agreed @philkirby. People walk because they have to, or want to, or there is somewhere good to go, something good to do along the way. End of. If obstacles are placed in their way – road, time, carry-on – their incentive is lessened. Then money and time and burden usually takes over.

  2. Omits to mention the footbridge which just further down Armley Road if you need to cross.

    Its actually in the photo if you look closely.

    1. That is a great piece.

      Jacobs and Mumford had a fall out when he wrote a less than glowing review of her book, summing it up as a “mingling of sense and sentimentality, mature judgements and schoolgirl howlers.”

      She also wasn’t fond of Mumford’s partiality for Garden Cities.

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