On Walking

So I have had this book called "Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next" on my Kindle cue for sometime, but a recent review caused me to put it right to the top. (A companion piece of sorts to "Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier", formerly at the top of my kindle cue) Basically, the author projects that airports will soon replace cities as the focal point of development, commerce, and habitation. Amazon describes the Aerotropolis thus:

A combination of giant airport, planned city, shipping facility, and business hub... Today, the ubiquity of jet travel, round-the-clock workdays, overnight shipping, and global business networks has turned the pattern inside out. Soon the airport will be at the center and the city will be built around it, the better to keep workers, suppliers, executives, and goods in touch with the global market.

A London Review of Books reviewer, Will Self, referred to this type of development as "A Redeye to the Apocalypse" which is a pretty funny turn of phrase even though I generally avoid all things Apocalyptic.  As a traveler I love the idea that I could get somewhere quicker and possibly for less...but what will we be traveling to if "cities" as we know them are turned into commercial centers based on global trade instead of local tradition?  But more on that after I finish the book.

In a New York Times article the other day titled "To Fly or to Walk" Roger Cohen addresses the Aerotropolis and its consequences to the way we experience the world. He cites British author and book reviewer, Will Self, who, concerned that he had lost his physical place in the physical world, took up walking treks from big city airports into their city centers.

"Airworld reduces people’s experience to jump cuts, sudden transpositions of scenes with no establishing shots between.” Self explains.

Cohen recommends walking from our old cities to our airports "the better to measure where we really are, who we are, and where we want to go."

Sounds like a bit of abstract space and time doctoral research mumbo jumbo doesn't it? Well, perhaps let me relate it in a way that made total sense to me as a traveler.
In the fall of October 2009 Max and I took our first trip to Northern Israel. We traveled through many a checkpoint and banana grove to get to the northernmost tip that shares a border with Lebanon: Rosh Hanikra. The trip was fabulous - we spent a few days touring around the Galilee, we stayed a night in the holy city of Tsfat, and swam in the bluest Mediterranean water I have seen to date in Achziv. We rented a car and drove through Jericho on the way home, a city claiming to be the oldest in the world.

But you know what I remember most? The sticking image of the whole trip? After touring the chalk white cliffs of Rosh Hanikra we waited over an hour for a bus to take us back to our lodging in Achziv, about 3.5 miles away. As the sun started to sink behind the Mediterranean we decided to hoof it instead. We walked for just over an hour through netted banana fields and abandoned kibbutzim. We caught glimpses of the sun setting over the ocean every once in a while through the trees and had to steer clear of farmers creeping up behind us on their tractors. We got back to our hostel just before the last bit of light disappeared.

That is my most vivid, most lasting memory from that trip.

Self talks about walking in order to reestablish where he was in the world "in a visceral and muscular way." There is something about so real and life sustaining about engaging our bodies in the pursuit of experience. That physical memory is powerful and connects us to the world, the space around us.

When we lived in DC I loved the terrific metro system, but, I felt like I was reducing my experience to "jump cuts with no establishing shots in between" as Self describes. It was hard for me to explain why that was a little unsettling, to leave my home in Arlington and pop up at Dupont Circle without any context. For a few weeks I took the metro involving one transfer from my Doctor's office to my Acupuncturist office because I didn't know they were only about a seven minute walk apart. I had no concept of space and how I related to it.

Our relatively short time in Jerusalem left such a mark on both of us for many reasons, but I have no doubt that one of them is that we walked the hell out of that city. Forgive my French. Max and I talked about it over lunch and sure enough, most of our strongest memories are of walking through the old city, through our parking lot after class, through Beit Hanina on the way home from work. I guess if you think about it, you engage almost all of your senses when exploring a place on foot. You hear the construction and haggling, you smell the street food and the uncollected garbage, you see buildings up close and brush up against people in crowded walkways.

We have come to enjoy Casablanca more and more as we walk to and from work and the market. In fact, I have a trip planned next weekend where I think instead of getting a cheap taxi to the roman ruins we will "walk with locals on their way to their olive fields" as the guidebook says. We'll try and have a "visceral and muscular" experience.

But then again, sometimes we get lazy :)  


  1. What a great post...interesting stuff I had never thought of before, but I realize I totally agree!

  2. It's all so true. I was just talking with some friends visiting from the States about how some airports have become more like malls. It's not a huge leap from there to cities, is it?
    And walking definitely makes all the difference.

  3. The inability to walk anywhere in Port of Spain is one of my major pet peeves with the place and one of the reasons I just could not fall in love with the city.

  4. Every time T-rav and I have gone vacationing in a new city, we spend a significant time wandering around on foot with no particular goal in mind. I think that's the best way to find the hidden gems of a place.