Saturday, September 26, 2009

Why We Walk

The Pleasures of a Village Stroll


Why We Should Move to Fremont

The average American family owns between two and three cars, though this number is declining in the face of the recent CRIZIS (as it is referred to in Kazakhstan, accompanied by a sympathetic nod). In your typical Kazakhstan village less than a quarter of families own cars, and many of those are old and dented Soviet models on their last legs. Instead of burning a hole in the ozone and spewing motor oil into streams and rivers, Kazakhstani’s get about mostly by foot.

I realize that foot travel is not possible for the typical suburbanite American, of which about half of Americans are a part. This is a tragedy, as foot travel has many advantages, the most obvious being environmental. It is commonly known that Al Gore discovered global warming and got a Nobel Prize for trying to light a fire under our asses. This has led many families to rid themselves of excess cars and become a single car household, but until we get out of the suburbs, we’ll be constricted to evening strolls around the block. These, however, lack the charm of stray dogs chasing you with hungry eyes and fierce barks which you find in a village.

As an aside, I want to have a small say about suburban life. While it can seem “pastoral” and great for raising kids, the homogenizing nature of suburbs is really a detriment to society. The multicultural melting pot that urban living can offer enriches children and offers them a world view that is clearly missing from life on the outside. You can get the small village feel in a rich and diverse city block, and as the green movement continues, there will be greater access to open spaces within the jungle.

Fresh air could be the one benefit of suburban life, and it is found readily (and bragged about readily) in villages. You aren’t choked in by smog and pollution. Here, again, however, Al Gore is saving the day by leading us towards clean energy and green manufacturing. It may not have taken hold yet, but given time, the air in the industrial neighborhood of Seattle could be as refreshing as Upland Green. In addition, getting outside provides the average person (read – obese lardo) some much needed exercise. Just the daily walk to and from work can start to rim off those unsightly chins and spare tires. Moving on.

People are the heart and soul of a village. In a walk to work you often pass such characters as the early morning drunk, the shop lady and the goose herder. If you were to breeze past in a car, you would be denied the magic of these people as they stagger, strut and steer through the streets. In a world where email and facebook (or blogs, for that matter) are not a household word, chance meetings in the street are the best method of passing on the news or latest gossip.

You won’t find the joke of the week in your inbox in a Kazakhstan village, but you might run into your acquaintance from the local butcher’s who has a new one to tell, even if you can’t understand it due to the colloquial language and odd sense of humor of the locals. This is the greatest benefit of walking your way around.

Walking about, and the slow speed of life here, is one of the greatest pleasures I’ve derived from my time here. Returning to the high speed, car obsessed world of America I’m sure will lead to me reminiscing about my idyllic life here, just as sure that my ruminations will drive you all nuts.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

Good essaying, bro. One thing I really dug about Paris was how liveable a city it was, despite it's enormity. Not only were there shops that sold anything you needed within a few blocks of anywhere (butchers, produce, mini-grocery stores, clothing, kids, anything) but in case the weather sucked, they had an AMAZING subway system that was cheap, fast, and covered literally almost every block in the city. As far as green spaces, a lot of the buildings had central courtyards, with businesses at street level and apartments above, and there were decent sized parks all around, perfect for relaxing with a baguette and a coke. Lots of cars were there, and way more little scooters (gas was about $8/gal) but a lot of people were on foot, and there were a lot of families living in the city. Oh, and French people do carry baguettes around everywhere, it's not just a stereotype.