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Within walking distance

Posted in IDEAS by Faezah Ismail on January 25, 2010
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'Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time' -- Steven Wright

Professor A. Murad Merican’s reflections on walking (Walk the thought, Learning Curve, January 24, 2010) underline our disconnection from the natural world.

He belongs to a circle of enthusiasts who want to bring walking back into our lives as we try to make sense of and keep up with the rapid pace of change.

He laments the lack of opportunities for the activity now and wants to teach students to walk.

“University campuses are ideal places to promote walking,” he says.

Japanese creator, inventor, innovator, architect, urban planner and creativity teacher Shunya Susuki made a similar plea early last year.

“Life at walking speed” (Learning Curve, March 8, 2009) aptly describes the philosophy that he subscribes  to.

He believes in living in an environment where the pace of life matches with the speed of walking.

He learned about this way of life when he spent some time (1999 and 2000) in Zermatt village, a car-free Swiss mountain resort with a breathtaking view of the Matterhorn.

Zermatt residents are able to “conquer their environmental problems because they have lived their lives at walking speed”.

It is an ideal to aspire to, he says.

New Straits Times columnist Wan A. Hulaimi (New Sunday Times, January 17, 2010), another walking devotee, wonders why buildings today do not come with sheltered corridors like those built during colonial times.

Susuki’s message of matching the pace of life with walking speed can guide us to make better choices.

In the mad rush to chase our dreams, we may have lost the desire to walk and, by extension, the wisdom to check our priorities.

Walking allows us to see things in perspective as we soak up the mood of our surroundings: trees that stand tall, flowers that glow in full bloom and water features that evoke tranquillity.

We don’t know why but we feel a strong connection with living things.

Biologist Edward. O. Wilson (The Creation, 2006, Page 63) explains that “the gravitational pull of Nature on the human psyche can be expressed in a single, more contemporary expression, biophilia, which I defined in 1984 as the innate tendency to affiliate with life and lifelike processes.

“From infancy to old age, people everywhere are attracted to other species. Novelty and diversity of life are esteemed.

“Nowadays the word ‘extraterrestrial’ summons in ultimate manner the countless images of still unexplored life, replacing the old and once potent ‘exotic’, which drew earlier travellers to unnamed islands and remote jungles.

“To explore and affiliate with life, to turn living creatures into emotion-laden metaphors, and to install them in mythology and religion — these are the easily recognised fundamental processes of biophilic cultural evolution.

“The affiliation has a moral consequence: the more we come to understand other life forms, the more our learning expands to include their vast diversity, and the greater value we will place on them and, inevitably, on ourselves”.

Have we really lost the use of our feet because we now live in a “civilised” world where motorised transportation dominates?

That is sad because as Murad puts it, “walking sustains man’s sanity”.

Haven’t you gone for a walk to clear your head?

Thomas Mann was spot on when he discovered that “thoughts come clearly while one walks”.

Life will be better if everything we need is within walking distance.

NOTE: Photo courtesy of New Straits Times.

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