06 May 2012

It's All About Cars (Again)

I was out walking along the East River the other morning when a tall man ran silently past me in some of the new running shoes.  

I got to thinking about the controversy that's been raging this year among runners about whether or not to wear padded shoes, and whether to run with a heel-toe strike or on the balls of the feet.

And then I came to Stuyvesant Cove Park, where there are some wood-chip paths, and I walked onto one of them.  Immediately, I felt the difference: the surface is softer and more irregular than pavement, and my feet -- and everything attached to them -- were significantly happier.

And slowly it dawned on me that pavement isn't made for people, and people aren't made to walk, or run, on pavement. 

We've paved half the planet with asphalt and concrete to make it easier for cars and trucks to buzz around at high speed.  And the fact that we end up running and walking on all of that pavement, and arguing about what shoes to wear while doing it, is merely a side effect.  Even cobble-stone, with its irregular surface, is easier on feet, ankles, knees, and the rest of the body than asphalt or concrete pavement.

So we get back to the issue of urban planning.  How do we make it so that pavement isn't the only choice for people who want to walk rather than drive around, whether in an urban center or in a small town?  How do we come to understand that pavement isn't the norm, and shouldn't be the automatic choice of surface in all locations?

I write this with awareness that people who use wheelchairs need flat, firm surfaces to move on.  But how flat?  Are wheelchairs, too, designed for pavement?  Could redesign allow for mobility over a wider variety of surfaces with limited increase in difficulty of handling?