Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


When I was writing The Lost Art of Walking, my fellow psychogeographer (or whatever the hell we are) Iain Sinclair offered the opinion that people hadn’t lost the art, rather that we’ve lost the environment in which people can do any walking.  A nice distinction, though of course once the environment’s gone, people lose the art pretty shortly thereafter.

This issue of the walking environment is discussed in a new book titled Walkable City by Jeff Speck, a “a city planner who advocates for smart growth and sustainable design.” Funny, isn’t it, how you never come across a city planner who advocates stupid growth and unsustainability?  Maybe they don’t write books.  Or maybe they just lie in their author bios.

I’ve only just started reading the book, but I immediately see it contains a “General Theory of Walkability.”  Yes yes, a THEORY of walking, just what the world needs. “To be favored” Speck writes, “a walk has to satisfy four main conditions: it must be useful, safe, comfortable and interesting,” which strikes me as simultaneously feeble and condescending.  Of course I’m not going to argue that a walk should be dangerous and dull, and yet “useless” walking with a certain degree of “discomfort” is pretty much what I live for.

I’m also, in general, fairly happy making my own definition of “interesting,” but in case you’re one of the poor souls who doesn’t feel the same way, here’s Mr. Speck to help you.  “Interesting means that sidewalks are lined by unique buildings with friendly faces and that signs of humanity abound.” Kind of makes you want to get in your Hummer and do burnouts, doesn’t it?  Only theoretically, of course.

"Buildings with friendly faces" - oh spare me.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Geoff,

    That sounds like a book I'll avoid. I agree with you that "useless" walking with a bit of "discomfort" is pretty much what I live for. If I'm not a little tired and my feet aren't sore, I feel like I haven't really gone for a walk. I suppose most people prefer to walk in places like the Grove or Universal Citywalk, which to me is quite sad. As far as interesting goes, I like neighborhods with small mom and pop stores (signs of humanity), but I'm more fascinated by decrepit buildings in neighborhoods that appear to have been abandoned by humanity.

    I also found it interesting that Oliver Sacks has no sense of direction. I can't remember a time when I didn't have a sense of direction. When I was about 5 years old, there was a pair of identical twin bullies who lived down the street, and I was riding my tricycle on the sidewalk when they came along and one of them pushed me off the tricycle and knocked me down. I ran in the house crying and told me mother what happened and she asked "Which one knocked you down?" and I replied "The one on the north." That prompted a lot of laughter whenever the story was told, but they were identical twins, so how else was I to differentiate between them? I guess I was a born navigator.

    I like the new desert picture at the top of your blog. It reminds me of a book I just read, "There Must Have Been an Angel" by Lee Bergthold, who walked with a friend in as straight a line as possible from Badwater to the summit of Mount Whitney in October 1989. The book made me feel like a wimp with my measly 10-mile walks on paved sidewalks.