December 31, 2007

2007: The Flâneur's Return

When I started walking the streets of Manhattan in the summer of 2007 I had little idea where the streets would take me. I had recently quit an isolating desk-confining job on the Upper East Side, and all I wanted to do was walk. I started walking everywhere - down Broadway to the Battery and up to Bryant Park, through the museums and Chelsea galleries, up and down the Bowery and through the Ramble of Central Park. As my legs grew stronger, I walked over the bridge to Brooklyn and back. I lost 20 pounds in two months, and I saw beautiful things.

Walking opened up a world that my previous life had shuttered, and at some point I became the flâneuse, one with a twang and some crazy red boots. Walking brought me back to the dusty roads of my identity and kick-started my imagination. Several art exhibits that I saw along the way featured images of my newly discovered flâneur heritage, and I felt part of the world again.

As I look back on the year, 2007 brought good news for walkers of the streets. Studies of walkable cities and of the health benefits of walking made for some powerful arguments. Cities need to replace carbon-emitting vehicles with mass transit, bike lanes, and sidewalks, and for those who cannot walk, we need to demand accessibility. A long look at the work of Jane Jacobs reaffirmed the neighborly goodness of pedestrian-friendly streets. Walking off any street helps fight the war on obesity.

New York makes walking glamorous, hallelujah, and for those of us who live here, it's a great affirmation. I've lived in cities where walking was considered the pitiful last resort of the unfortunate, a shameful sign that your car had broken down. Here, on the other hand, runway models, window shoppers, designers, brokers, writers on strike, and all kinds of differently-dressed pedestrians inhabit our cinematic imagination. Greta Garbo, the most glamorous movie star of her time, chose New York at mid-century to live out her remaining years, and all she wanted to do was walk. Me, too.

In subsequent posts, I will highlight some of my favorite discoveries of 2007. While I do get around - I've walked approximately 500 miles over the course of the past year, I will demur from describing these choices as "Best of." I didn't see everything I planned. There's always next year. I'll also suggest how to lose 20 pounds by the vernal equinox. In the immediate future, a lovely bottle of French absinthe and a little bubbly will come out tonight.

For those new here, welcome to Walking Off the Big Apple. For loyal readers waiting for me to wake up from hibernation, thank you, thank you, thank you. Happy New Year, and I look forward to 2008.

1 comment:

john said...

Gee, that's funny. I hitchhiked to NYC when I was 20, walked over to Times Square, and said "Now this is the place." I spent the month I was there, before my draft number came up, walking all over town, seeing everything. I had no trouble at all with traffic, saw no need for traffic calming BS, or safety zones, or converting streets to mini-parks, or any of the the other nonsense the politically-correct babies of the 21st century need.
New York was a great place because it was free and the people knew how to handle business.