“We live in a fast-paced society. Walking slows us down.” — Robert Sweetgall, walking guru and president of Creative Walking Inc.
Walking. It’s a natural, human thing to do. Whether we wander through wide open green spaces or ramble around in cities, the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other makes everything around us feel more intimate. Walking puts the unreachable within reach.
Starting in mid-January 2016, Lluís, my partner for 10 years, and I will add a new dimension to our walking habit. We’ll fly to Bangkok, Thailand and walk our way home to Barcelona, Catalonia. Our planned route will take us through about 20 countries and hundreds of cities, towns, villages and unheard of corners of the world. It won’t be a straight line, and there will be detours and places that are politically shut off to us or geographically too complicated to cross. But we intend to try and cover as much ground as possible on foot.
What are we looking for? We are seeking goodness in the world. It’s our anti-fear approach to living life well. The ubiquitous headlines screaming about all the wrong being done everywhere have created a world that seemingly wants to surround itself with fear—fear of uncertainty, fear of “those people,” fear of our neighbors. We don’t buy into that. Our live-our-best-lives intuition and longtime backpacking experience tell us that there is more good in the world than bad. And we believe that if we start with the humble (or perhaps lofty) ideas that the whole world belongs to each and every one of us (not just a chosen few in wealthy, developed countries), that we all belong to each other, and that everyone deserves respect, kindness and compassion, then something that looks like goodness naturally flows.
Goodness comes in an endless number of varieties. It’s that moment when a complete stranger invites you into their home and offers you tea, or walks with you to the place for which you’ve asked directions. It’s the helping hand, or the smile of understanding that breaks language barriers. It’s also birds singing in a tree-filled park where people stroll hand in hand and children play. It’s listening to waves roll in while strolling along a beachside pedestrian promenade, and watching and helping people plants seeds and harvest vegetables in community gardens. Goodness is appreciating the clean, potable water from your sink, and having a safe place to sleep every night.
Goodness, also, is the balance struck between accessibility, aesthetics, resourcefulness, sustainability and usefulness. This is where our Bangkok-to-Barcelona walk intersects with The Nature of Cities’ mission to encourage the development of just, resilient cities and to promote citizen equality, participation and stewardship.
As the borders between urban, rural and natural areas blend and fade, citizens the world over are hard pressed to find and invent new ways of living together while maintaining the core elements that keep us connected to the Earth. Urban planners, community activists and development organizations struggle to create sustainable footprints that accommodate the increasing needs of city dwellers while also protecting water supplies, natural resources, biodiversity and delicate ecosystems.
Globally, the expansion of urban boundaries brings with it dozens of questions. Who has access to green spaces in growing urban areas? How can livable spaces and industrial areas co-exist without harming residents? How is nature integrated into megacity and mid-size city plans? How are urban areas in emerging countries and developed nations making themselves resilient? What are cities and citizens throughout Asia and Europe doing to improve equity and inclusion among their residents? How are cities creating opportunities for their citizens and incorporating social justice while also balancing environmental needs and natural resources capacity?
As we travel across continents, we’ll explore the idea of Just Cities and share our perspectives, photos and podcasts of what we find in different corners of the world here on The Nature of Cities. We’ll submit stories and slideshows about parks and open spaces that would make great parks, and share insights about what we think urban graffiti says about a place. We’ll look at how urban life spills into rural areas, and what’s happening as more people move from farms to cities. We’ll walk with open eyes, ears and hearts and witness ways human connect to each other and the world around them.
We hope you’ll follow our footsteps and join the conversation. Maybe we’ll even meet some of you along the way.
See more about the trip here.
About the Writer:
Jennifer Baljko is an avid traveler, longtime walker and a lifetime learner. She’s a city dweller who recently became a tree hugger (literally, she throws her arms around trees and hugs them), but feels at home almost anywhere.
2 thoughts on “Where Walking and Just Cities Meet”
Thank you for the kind words, Patrick. We’ll carry your good thoughts with us. We have many miles to cover and we have no idea how far we’ll get, but we keep moving forward with backpacks filled with hope.
It would be great if more people took to the streets and walked, alone or in groups. It’s amazing what you see when you slow down the pace and actually look around. Like you said, it’s not about the distance… It’s about the intention you bring to it.
On that note, you may appreciate a couple of the recent posts we added to our site, http://bangkokbarcelonaonfoot.com. One is about the sense of belonging and another is about the acts of kindness that come to us when we look for a safe place to sleep. Now that we’ve reached Mae Sot, our end point on Thailand before crossing into Myanamr, I’ll be writing something for TNOC about some of the curious city things we’ve seen in our first month on the road. I hope that will be posted in a few weeks.
Jennifer. Beautiful project. The world needs more of this.
I hope that individuals can be inspired by your journey even if they don’t walk from Bangkok to Barcelona, because on the city and neighborhood level, it can encourage us to walk down the sidewalk and say hello to our neighbors, too. Something we don’t do enough of. In my travels, I’ve seen the truth in what you say, that there is indeed much more good in this world than bad, and that this good is within the relationships that we build, not on the evening news or a politician’s platform.
Your mindset is beautiful, the project is beautiful, and I look forward to keeping up with your journey and sharing it with others.
Keep up this beautiful work!