There are days when my husband and I may walk 10 or more miles across the city before we realize how much distance we’ve covered. If it’s a nice weekend day, walking is the activity, and we might cross all of northern Brooklyn, make our way to Manhattan, and then keep walking until it’s time to go home or meet up with friends. We try to choose routes we’ve never taken and streets we’ve never traversed. After 12 years as NYC residents, we find there’s still so much to see. (Like a historic Jewish cemetery on West 21st we first noticed a few months ago.) We’re not superhuman–we get tired eventually, but it’s usually after we’ve already logged more than 25,000 steps.
Last month, while on vacation in South Carolina, I thought about how much easier it is to walk in the city than elsewhere. My husband and I went for a stroll in our beachside neighborhood. After about 30 minutes, my energy began to wane. The houses were beautiful, but they were similar and, at least per New York City standards, spaced far apart.
It’s about stimuli, I soon realized. In the city, especially in NYC, there is so much to look at. And it’s all different. The stimuli–the variation–of a city streetscape can infuse us with energy. This effect was clearly evident when I walked the 25-block length of a street festival in my neighborhood, then turned down a parallel avenue and walked back home along a residential block. After the visual bombardment of the festival, the walk along the rows of brownstones, especially since it was one I’d made many times, felt like a slog.
And while a city walk may not be as ideal as a nature stroll for those wishing to focus or meditate, it’s a nearly unbeatable activity for those hoping to be inspired–writers, especially.
In an experience that echoes my own, a waitress interviewed by The New York Times in 2009 speaks about how she easily walks 20 miles a day in the city. “It’s different to walk here than it is to walk in the country,” she said. After only 5 miles of walking along a road in rural Pennsylvania, she had to call a cab to pick her up. She was exhausted and couldn’t go on. “There was nothing, just fields.”