Recently by Wayne Curtis:

   

Las Vegas is unwalkable in so many ways, and in so many different kinds of ways, one could make a solid argument that it should be preserved forever as Unwalkable National Park. This would ensure that future generations would never forget how cities should not be designed.

Where to start? Why not the casinos. Yes, one gets around them by foot, so they’re by definition walkable, but they’re also famously designed to disorient and confuse walkers the moment they enter, both in time and space. Signs are rare and windows are nonexistent. You rarely know where you are. When you walk through, say, the MGM, what’s ahead of you and behind you look exactly the same — it’s a crazy hall of mirrors. It confounds every cognitive mapping approach, from using landmarks (didn’t I just pass… More…

   

America, as we all know, is amid a zombie apocalypse.

Walk down any city street and you’ll see armies of the digital dead shuffling slowly, their eyes affixed to a small screen in their hands. This device, according to accounts I’ve read, tells them where to go and what to order at restaurants and it can also read the minds of others.

From time to time, they will glance up and a brief squall of confusion will cross their faces as they try to reorient themselves. At other times they’ll scan their immediate environment with the squinty, narrow gaze of a hunter, their nostrils flaring slightly, in search of unguarded electrical outlets where they can refuel their gadgets. But they eventually will look back down and reenter their safe and cloistered world.

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We know how to walk when we’re six weeks old, but we lack the muscle tone and coordination to actually do much about this — it’s like being given a bicycle, then told you’ll get the wheels in a few months. Fortunately, at this age we also lack the verbal skills to yammer endlessly about life’s obvious injustices.

Then, at about a year old, we take our first step, whereupon several complex processes begin, starting with a long negotiation with gravity. We stand clinging to an adult’s pant leg, then release and start to pitch forward. One leg swings out, and then another, and — whoa! — we lurch a step or two. Fall, repeat. Writing in 1863, the polymath Oliver Wendell Homes made walking sound like ad copy for a new PlayStation 4 game: “Walking… More…

   

Fair warning: I’m about to use a short phrase, consisting of two words, each of which are so excruciatingly dull that reading either one could very well cause you fall into an extended slumber, like Dorothy approaching Oz. Combined, they may induce a coma. Proceed at your own risk.

To wit: Pedestrian infrastructure.

Also, I will be writing about Cincinnati.

Still with me? Good, because Cincinnati is a pretty fascinating place if your interests run to the history of walking in America in general, or, say, pedestrian infrastructure in particular. It’s home to a couple of groupings of artifacts that bookend the highs and lows of American walking culture over the past century and a half.

Let’s start the tour at City View Place, at the edge of the Clifton… More…

   

A few weeks ago I was out walking in my neighborhood when an SUV came barreling around the corner and into a crosswalk I had traversed halfway. I assumed the car would stop; the driver obviously assumed I would stop. What’s the opposite of a standstill? Collision course? Because that’s where we were headed for some long nanoseconds.

I can be pretty stubborn when I cross streets — I don’t respond well to bullying, even if the bully outweighs me by 4,000 pounds. I didn’t want to stop in this case because I clearly had the right of way — the laws say that the turning car had to yield to me. But to paraphrase a hoary mushroom hunter joke, there are old pedestrians, and bold pedestrians, but no old, bold pedestrians.

I didn’t… More…

   

Now, here’s an interesting walking cane.

It was made in Holland sometime in the 19th century. It has an ebony shaft and is 35 inches long. The top features an ivory finial depicting a four-inch-high man with muttonchops. The man is squatting, and evidently taking a dump. Perhaps it’s best if I now just quote the auction catalog: “He holds in his hands between his legs an eel-like animal that stretches ahead to become his sexual organ when the button on the back is depressed.”⁠ This cane sold a couple of years ago for $8,000.

Victorians often get tarred as a stodgy and uptight, but not by those who’ve seen some of the walking sticks they promenaded around with. Naked women carved in ivory were a popular motif, as were couples intertwined to look… More…

   

Considerable yammer-yammer ensued when New York Times poll analyst Nate Silver, wearing his newly tailored superhero’s cape, tweeted about a connection between walking and voting. He put it simply: “If a place has sidewalks, it votes Democratic. Otherwise, it votes Republican.”

Generally, commentators thought that liberals were attracted to more densely settled areas, where sidewalks make sense. Here liberals found a communitarian, let’s-share-our-space approach that jibed with their values. Conservatives, on the other hand, put higher value on personal independence and property rights, and so tended to embrace a ”get-off-my-lawn,” go-it-alone worldview. They settled in areas where homes were farther apart and unconnected by sidewalks, and where personal space was less likely to be trampled by trespassers or twelve-year-olds.

But let me propose another theory, one drawn from some early ideas about cognitive mapping…. More…

   

16 years ago a mail carrier with the cheerful name of Martha Cherry was fired. She was 49-years-old, and had been with the U.S. Postal Service for 18 years, delivering mail by foot in Mount Vernon, N.Y., in Westchester County.

Cherry was let go after her superiors determined that she walked too slowly. “You were observed on June 9, 1997, to walk at a rate of 66 paces per minute with a stride of less than one foot,” the condemning report charged, adding the detail that her “leading foot did not pass the toe of [her] trailing foot by more than one inch.” The upshot? She took 13 minutes longer than necessary to walk her route.

The flap was, essentially, over whether mail — that is, information — should move at three miles per… More…

   

If there’s a way of walking that’s achieved a modicum of celebrity — discounting Monty Python’s “silly walk” — it’s the goose step, that chopping, stiff-legged march made infamous in World War II by Nazi soldiers tromping in untold numbers across treeless plazas. Legs mechanically up and down. Knees unbent. Toes pointed upward. Arms oscillating precisely. It’s a step that exists now primarily in that thorny borderland between absurdity and terror.

The step — the Prussians called it Paradeschritt or, later, Stechschritt — apparently took root with guards in the Holy Roman Empire, and then found its way to Prussia around 1730. It persisted until 1940, which was the last year the Nazis taught newly drafted soldiers how to goose step, instead shifting to more practical skills. (It was renamed the “Roman step” when Benito… More…

   

Dumaine Street is one of the narrow, old streets lined with spalled buildings in the French Quarter of New Orleans. It’s rather beautiful. And I absolutely loathe it. Mostly, I loathe it for its obstinate refusal to arrange itself in proper chronological order.

When I walk down Dumaine, I’m often trailed by a half-dozen or so tourists, and I’m trying to tell them the story of the city. I volunteer for a nonprofit group, and once a month or so I lead architectural walking tours of the French Quarter. The tour lasts about two hours. Along the way, I try to offer up some small insights into the French Quarter and how it got that way. That Dumaine Street won’t cooperate with my narrative is an affront each and every time.

First we pass lovely… More…