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.

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.

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…

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…

“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.”

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.

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…

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.

When I started walking the 450 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I wanted to hear birds and waves and let my mind wander towards contemplations of life and philosophy and the divine. That was what I hoped for. My brain, however, had its own agenda.

 

The trip began pleasantly enough on a clear and cool October morning, following paths and small roads that hugged the crenulations of the northern California coast. In those first few days everything was novel: I felt the weight of the backpack, enjoyed the breeze coming off the coast, smelled the salt air.

That first night out I met a middle-aged man named Gary who was riding his bicycle down the coast. He was overweight and out of shape and had to push his bike up hills, so for a few days… More…