“Walking and the Suburbanized Psyche” by Rebecca Solnit

Everywhere in the world, walking is an essential part of every person’s life. Rebecca Solnit, in her essay Walking and the Suburbanized Psyche, claims that if walking continues to lose its meaning to our society, then the said society’s relationship between world, body, and imagination will be lost. According to Solnit (2001), “suburbanization has radically changed the scale and texture of everyday life, usually in ways inimical to getting about on foot” (288). I agree with Solnit on the point that urbanization has its negative effects on our society: it restrains socialization in a way, increasing the tempo of life and leaving little time for being truly social.

Humans need socialization – it was a crucial drive that steered our development forward tens of thousands of years ago, and it continues to be one of the most important aspects of our life. People who are deprived of regular human contact tend to become anxious, irritable, and even have the potential to develop a mental disorder. The COVID-19 pandemics had proven when millions of people suffered from isolation during the lockdowns. Hwang et al. (2020) support that claims, stating that “quarantine and social distancing lead to elevated levels of loneliness and social isolation, which in turn produce physical- and mental-health related repercussions” (1219). Many people still experience these effects, even when lockdowns are long over.

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Urbanization provided some significant obstacles to the process of socialization. For example, today, people who live in the suburbs often tend to stay indoors simply because it takes too much effort to drive to the city. Additionally, the overly urbanized environment takes over natural spaces such as parks and ponds, which tends to have a negative effect on one’s creativity and imagination. Solnit (2001) states that “suburban sprawls generally make dull places to walk, and a large subdivision can become numbingly repetitious at three miles an hour instead of thirty or sixty” (292). The lack of natural spaces to walk around provides fewer opportunities for inspiration while also causing frustration and anxiety.

In big cities, walking today is more of a running contest to get from point A to point B in as little time as possible. Whereas people tend to forget that walking is one of the most affordable and effective physical exercises that can help one stay fit and healthy with little effort. Goopy et al. (2017) add that “Walkability, viewed from a population health intervention perspective, holds enormous promise with research showing that the more walkable a neighbourhood, the healthier its residents” (S21). During walks, one also has the opportunity to clear their mind and improve their mood, aiding their mental health in the restoration of inner resources. Another advantage that walking presents is that it reduces the overall use of fossil fuel which is positive not only for the environment but for the population’s health, too. Thus, in general, it is safe to say that walking, while being a significant part of our lives, is now in danger due to aggressive urbanization.

However, I also disagree with some of Solnit’s statements. Walking culture is not dying; rather, it is nowadays transformed into something new, adjusted to the changing reality. People still enjoy walking, and after the COVID-19 lockdowns, they value this ability even more, having experienced the devastating effect of isolation on their health. Moreover, many individuals start to care about their general health more, which prompts them to resort to walking whenever possible instead of driving or taking public transportation. People now walk not only because they have to but because they choose to. Parking spaces, especially in giant cities such as New York, are highly limited, and this also influences one’s decision to walk. Thus, in my opinion, it is safe to conclude that, while walking culture, indeed, has suffered from urbanization, it is still thriving in our society and will continue to do so in the future.

Works Cited

Goopy, Suzanne, et al. “Culture, Identity, and Walkability: Determining Patterns of Walking Behavior in a High-Risk Population ( Breakout Presentation ).” Journal of Transport & Health, vol. 7, 2017.

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Hwang, Tzung-Jeng, et al. “Loneliness and Social Isolation during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” International Psychogeriatrics, vol. 32, no. 10, 2020, pp. 1217–1220.

Solnit, Rebecca. “Chapter 15: Aerobic Sisyphus and the Suburbanized Psyche.” Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Penguin Books, New York, USA, 2001, pp. 288–306.

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