I wrote about the absence of pedestrians in an entry a while back, focusing on the lack of walking facilities in my neighborhood. Now, I find myself in a very different neighborhood. It does have sidewalks, but who’s walking?
I have been in Greater Houston for nearly month and have seen a total of 27 pedestrians on the road. There is no incentive to walk, because, as most people living in a suburban sprawl community with common sense know, to get anywhere that is anywhere you drive. But my roommate and I walk, because neither of us is old enough to rent a car.
It is an entirely isolating experience to walk in this city, because the only things around you are machines. The air often feels hostile, but mostly just downright awkward. We have been honked at seven times by cars driving by us. I reckon it’s because we stick out a whole lot.
The thing about walking when everyone else is driving is that you don’t see actual bodies or feel the warmth of their Southern hospitality, which is only apparent when you step into a store or a residence. There is a genuine disparity between the people living in the environment and the actual surroundings.
Because we’ve been walking almost daily, we experience seeing a full moon rising on one side of the sky and a bold, red sun setting on the other. We are accustomed to seeing white egrets perched on the trees of Egret Bay every evening to rest. We feel the warm, Southern breeze that we wish for our parents back home where snow piles up our front porch nearly two feet.
Because we’ve been walking, we’ve also been able to experience the community’s stores, restaurants and scenic areas much more intensely than if we drove by them. It means better business for small, independent businesses and more personal connections with the people under its roofs. If you are driving, you can’t wave to the storeowner. You can’t bump into your neighbors and start a conversation. You don’t notice every nook and cranny of your world.
I constantly imagine what this city would look like without the wide roads and the even wider parking lots. Could it be compressed into a much smaller version of what it is so that everything could be within walking distance? Or is the vast expanse of land too tempting for people to stay within confined limits? What if the city actually had a center? What if it was alive?