Even the signs aren't sure.

Here’s a question: Are we evolving to become quadrupedal, needing four limbs to get around as we once did on the African savanna?

After all, we now need two limbs to control foot pedals, and two to aim a wheel in the direction we’re headed. (Well, at least one to aim, one to text while driving). For nearly five million years we were fine getting around with two feet when we had to cover a distance. Then, in the last century, we’ve more or less abandoned our feet to become car monkeys.

Wayne Curtis is a contributing editor to… More…

Maybe he went for a walk.

Creative people walk. The philosopher and compulsive stroller Friedrich Nietzsche left little room for debate when he claimed 125 years ago, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.”

And he had a lot of company in this belief, especially among the pantheon of the early big heads: Tchaikovsky, Rousseau, Dickens, Mahler, Thoreau, Kant — all were habitual walkers, some to the point of obsession. Thoreau, for instance, adhered to a simple calculus — he could write for an hour only if he offset that with an hour of walking. Tchaikovsky walked precisely two hours every day to remain creative. Rousseau believed he could conceive thoughts worthy of committing to paper only if he walked. Rousseau further claimed that just looking at a desk left him dissipated and vaguely nauseous, foreshadowing the affliction of modern cubicle dwellers everywhere.

Bike if it's further.

A person who eschews a car and walks by choice today seems willfully archaic, as curious a specimen as someone choosing to play professional football in a leather helmet.

Why would you choose to walk when the gods of modern technology have provided us with cars? We’re in an age of rapid movement, and walkers seem to be in no hurry; many are known to stop to talk to others, or to admire some streetside oddity that’s captured their attention. “English has no positive word for lingering on the street,” wrote British transportation consultant John Whitelegg. “In English, slowness in general is often treated with pity (a slow learner, retarded) with derision (sluggish) or with suspicion (loitering).”

Wayne Curtis is a contributing editor to The Atlantic and the author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History… More…

In a crowded airport terminal

I’m at Atlanta-Hartsfield on a busy Thursday evening, and my goal is to walk a few dozen yards from Simply Books across the “A” concourse’s main hallway to the Chick-Fil-A. It’s a short but not a trivial journey — the wide hallway is packed from edge to edge with a swiftly moving river of thousands of travelers headed both left and right. It reminds me of that chaotic moment between classes in high school when everyone rushing to get to their next class before the bell rings, although with less flirting and more grim expressions.

Closest to me a thick stream of people is headed to the right, toward Gate 34, and beyond that a counterstream has set up headed in the opposite direction toward Gate 1. Drawing on experience in whitewater kayaking, I ease into the flow moving to my right and ferry across the current, crossing diagonally as… More…

What all American sidewalk cafés aspire to be

Ah, spring is here and sidewalk cafés are again blooming across America! Some of my friends are thrilled at this seasonal turn. I am not.

My memories of outdoor dining skew toward the mildly traumatic. Such excursions often begin with companions who all but squeal “Let’s sit outside!” Confronted with such enthusiasm, it’s hard to argue for an indoor seat, and if I do I’m accused of being a troglodyte and killjoy. Enduring a long, silent, and pouty indoor meal is never fun, so I usually capitulate and go outside. Thus I leave the comfort of civilized shade and air-conditioning, and take my seat in the petting zoo set aside for masticating humans.

Wayne Curtis is a contributing editor to The Atlantic and the author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World… More…

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The Victorians were apparently much plagued by fairies. Accounts suggest that these little creatures flitted around the margins of mid and late 19th century life, all skittish and shy and showing up when one least expected them. Painters such as Richard Dadd made a career of depicting these beings of “a middle nature between man and angels;” in 1894 William Butler Yeats famously implored, “Faeries, come take me out of this dull world.” They were most readily spotted in Europe, but were also intermittently active across the Atlantic, some possibly having arrived on these shores as stowaways with Irish immigrants.

Fairies persisted beyond Queen Victoria and even King Edward VII. The noted Cottingley fairies appeared in grainy black and white photographs shot in 1917, which depicted wee, winged fairies gamboling with two young sisters. These became even more famous after Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle lent his not-inconsiderable credibility… More…

How about, don't drive?

“I don’t hear birdsongs in the morning, like I did when I was a kid,” said Jim Stone, executive director at Walk San Diego. “They’re slowly going away. Things in our lives change, but because they change in slow increments over a long period of time, we become accustomed to what’s new.”

Stone and I weren’t actually talking about birds. We were talking about walking and walkability in America. About how our access to places on foot alters subtly from one generation to the next, almost imperceptibly. “What we witness and what we encounter becomes the new status quo, the new benchmark in how we make assessments,” Stone said. “If people would remember a time when they could walk freely, they could make a comparison. The problem is, that time is getting further away from us.”

Fulfilling our innate desire for a story?

Cars are the primary predators of the modern urban ecosystem. They roam at will, and kill some 400,000 pedestrians worldwide every year — about 4,500 annually in the United States.

Faced with evolutionary pressure, pedestrians will do what other species have done over many millennia: evolve and adapt, such that the fittest will survive. This notion is at least a century old. “What is the future of the pedestrian, anyway?” the New York Times asked in 1908. “Darwin might tell us if he were here, but he is not here and we must look elsewhere for enlightenment.”

Wayne Curtis is a contributing editor to The Atlantic and the author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails.

What will 10K steps a day create?

Ten thousand is a likable number. It’s rotund and cheerful, both aspirational and accessible. Ten thousand is like the serious but fun kid who sat near you in high school chemistry — not as goofy as 3,850 in the back row, or as aloof and vain as 100,000 up front.

Ten thousand is also how many steps a day you’re told to take if you want to maintain good health. It’s been prescribed like a multivitamin, or those eight, eight-ounce glasses of water we were once instructed to consume every day to stay hydrated and rosy.

And it’s definitely a thing. The American Heart Association recommends 10,000 steps every day. The Kaiser Permanente health group administers its own program, “designed to help you gradually increase your physical activity level and work toward a goal of walking 10,000 steps each day.” If you buy a FitBit, one of the new generation… More…

Shoes matter.

At the 2013 Walking Summit early this month in Washington, DC, I spent a lot of time looking at other people’s shoes.

My interest in footwear-as-fashion borders on nil, but I was curious about locomotion. I saw a lot of sensible, flat-heeled shoes on women, and some efficient Tevas and Hi-Techs on men. But also quite a few painful and pointy dress shoes on both sexes, all inappropriate for walking more than to the nearest Starbucks. I tried not to judge, but, well, what can I say?

Wayne Curtis is a contributing editor to The Atlantic and the author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails.