OPINION | It's time to rediscover the joys of walking
One upside to these difficult times can be found right outside your front door
This column is an opinion from Richard White, who has written extensively on Calgary's urban development.
One of the benefits of the COVID-19 epidemic will be that humans rediscover the joy of walking.
I have been an avid walker most of my life — I'd rather walk than cycle or drive. Why? Because I get to see fun things and meet people I never would have otherwise.
I walked one hour to work and one hour home for over 10 years because I love walking so much (No, it wasn't uphill both ways).
Over the past week, I have seen more people walking in Calgary than ever before, either because they have the time or because their gyms and other fitness facilities are closed. I hope this will be a lesson for them to incorporate more walking into their everyday lives on a permanent basis.
While many people are driving to Calgary's extensive parks and pathways to go for a walk, I would recommend you forget the car and walk in your neighbourhood. There is a wonderful world right outside your front door.
Take the path least travelled
One of the advantages of Calgary's urban sprawl is that we have lots of empty streets, making it easy to go for a walk and still practise physical distancing.
An added bonus is you will get to know your neighbourhood and perhaps even a few new neighbours. You might even find a hidden gem, like I did.
This past week, we decided to go for a walk and headed west across Crowchild and into the community of Parkdale. When we got to the end of Seventh Avenue N.W., we decided to wander down a back alley rather than taking the sidewalk along 37th Street. After only a few metres, I realized the alley intersected with another alley and there was a hidden open space.
Lo and behold, there was a hidden retro playground in the little triangular leftover piece of land. I have been wandering the streets of West Hillhurst and neighbouring Parkdale since the early 1990s and I never knew about this. Imagine having your own private city playground.
This is not the only "secret" playground in our 'hood.
There is one at the border between West Hillhurst and Briar Hill, that is accessible only from Sumac Road N.W. It has its own skating rink in the winter and sometimes even a fire pit. I expect there are lots of them in Calgary's older established neighbourhoods, just waiting to be discovered.
Be a flaneur
One of the things I love to do is to wander the streets looking for "fun flaneur finds," photographing them and then tweeting them out to others.
Flaneur is a French term for a person who walks city streets with no particular destination in mind, other than noticing the little details of street life along the way. For me, it can be a fun kids' swing on a tree in a front yard, or some garden ornament, maybe a fairy garden or an old sidewalk stamp.
Sometimes I wander back alleys looking for garage door artworks. It is amazing what you can find if you are hyper observant. Let your imagination be your guide.
Explore a new community
If you are tired of walking in your community, why not drive or take transit to a new neighbourhood for a walkabout? If you live in the suburbs, you might want to go to an established neighbourhood and see what their streets and alleys have to offer. I would recommend places like Ramsay, Inglewood, Bridgeland, Scarboro and Roxboro.
If you live in the inner city, perhaps now is the time to explore a new suburb and see what they are all about. It might surprise you how the houses in the new community of Livingston are similar to the infills of Killarney or Mount Pleasant.
Walking is faster than you think
One of the barriers to walking is that people think they don't have enough time.
Most of us have lost the sense of how far we can walk in 15 or 20 minutes. The average person walks at a pace of about five kilometres an hour, which means you can walk more than a kilometre in 15 minutes.
Walking is also probably the best form of exercise, especially if we push ourselves to walk a little faster than normal. And it's the cheapest form of exercise. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes — no other special equipment or membership is required.
There are lots of scholarly studies out there showing that walking every day can help your mental health, help you with sleeping, aid digestion and prevent illness. Perhaps the new saying should be, "A walk a day will keep the doctor away!"
Walk the talk
Another advantage of walking is that you can talk to people, be they the people you are walking with or the neighbours or strangers you meet along the way.
On one of our walks last week, a neighbour was out chipping some ice. I said, "Hi," (I always try to say hello to people when walking by them, it seems like the friendly thing to do) and soon we were involved in a robust conversation about how the world is going to change.
So whether you live in Calgary or in another city or town, appreciate the opportunity you have to rediscover the joys of walking.
Just remember to keep your distance. It's best to walk alone or in pairs, two metres apart. And respect the space of others when passing. Say "Hi" and thank them if they move over first.
And remember to bring your phone so you can take photos of the fun things you find.