While I rarely do anything with celebrities, I will say that I have met Dave Grohl and Russell Howard. I was walking away from an outdoor concert with a friend when we saw Dave Grohl, and because my friend was shy, I straight up said, “You know, you look like Dave Grohl.” He replied in the affirmative, and we shook his hand, and continued walking to our destination. Today, I was walking in downtown Austin, and I thought Russell Howard looked familiar–in a tech city, people who look like him are not rare–so I shouted, “Russell Howard?” He smiled and nodded, and I said to myself, “That is funny.” I illustrated both of those moments not because of the celebrities, but because both of them happened while I was walking, and they illustrate that when people expect to walk, we all become human and we stop seeming so foreign to each other.
When communities in the United States were first developed, they were built like everywhere else on the planet: resources were located in the center with people surrounding the resources. Cities had tight, vibrant, downtown areas, which is why when independent Black communities were developed, there were also tight, vibrant, central areas. People especially centralized resources during the Jim Crow era because outside of segregated areas, non-white people could expect to meet violence, so we made sure to have safe access to whatever we needed. All people expected to walk because barring infirmity, that was how people moved unless they had horses. No one thought that it was interesting or a mark of poverty to do otherwise, and it was only when suburbanization exploded that cars became status symbols, and everyone rushed to purchase cars.
During the displacement era beginning with the tech boom in the 1990s, walking suddenly began trending again, and the people who rushed to separate themselves from the “dangerous ghettos” finally recognized that living near resources was convenient. Even with the mortgage crash from suburbs losing their value, the few people of color remaining after urban renewal were displaced to make room for those with the money to buy homes with cash and could pay higher commercial rents to establish businesses. In fact, “transit-oriented development” is simply the rediscovery of how communities can look when everyone expects to walk to resources. Traffic and parking minimums in denser areas only exist because people who used to live in suburbs refuse to acknowledge that the whole point of denser areas is not to have personal vehicles. Unfortunately, service workers and construction laborers are forced out of the communities they serve, adding the cost of cars to people who can least afford them.
Walking gives people more of a connection to their communities and the people in them. Reduced speeds force drivers to acknowledge that they do not deserve to be apex predators hunting for those on foot. Crosswalks at corners puts pedestrians in perspective of drivers, and when people are accustomed to seeing people on foot, there is an expectation of safety. Dave Grohl was walking back to a location where he could potentially use other transportation. Russell Howard was staying at a hotel downtown because he wanted to walk around the city, like people do. Walking during the pandemic has kept so many people connected to the world without compromising their health, and I cannot imagine how isolating and sad it is for people who cannot safely walk. Therefore, expecting to walk needs to be included in all community development without deeming it a luxury for the wealthy.
While it’s good to walk, it’s also good to close doors, so donate if you would like to see more!