In Praise of WalkingA New Scientific Exploration
This popular science book is a brisk and pleasant read about the benefits of walking. Mr. O'Mara is a neuroscientist, so the book begins with evolutionary biology and the origins of bipedal walking, which is unique to humans but shared in part by many terrestrial and aquatic species.
From there it discusses the mechanics and mental work involved with walking, and how walking appears to be so native to what it means to be human that it actually facilitates our perception of time and our cognitive abilities. This is my favorite portion of the book.
The discussion then widens to the personal and social uses of walking. Mr. O'Mara spends considerable time discussing the need to design walkable cities, and I appreciated how this book ties that imperative to evolutionary and health reasoning. In the social purpose of walking I feel the text gets a bit too vague, and it seems to lack the research O'Mara put into the earlier parts of the book. Other than a few novel facts about how walking supports social cohesion—such as how a crowds steps will automatically sync up over time—this section failed to pin down the integral nature of walking in the same way that the biological discussion of walking did, though it states how critical it is.
My largest critique of this book is that Mr. O'Mara seems unequipped to discuss the politics and economics of walking. It is telling that he discusses protest marching only in the most vague terms, and admits to having attended very few. Because in the latter half of the book an entire component of walking that is critical to the kind of walking O'Mara is discussing is absent: free time.
Access to walking, access to walkable spaces, access to the amount of time that is required for the creative, allegedly depression-curing strolls O'Mara has the most praise for, is an economically guarded gate. Neighbors that are walkable are luxury neighborhoods. Citizens who have time during or outside of their work day to stroll are luxury citizens. I very much appreciated and agreed with O'Mara's advocacy of walking, but without advocating that time be given back to people for free walking, by praising walking he is only heaping onto its already high socially-defined value. The walkable neighborhoods are blessed with another 5-star review.
Maybe it's simply that this book is advocating for something I already agree with, and is really aimed at the suburban-dwelling driver. But if he's just trying to get middle America to agree that a walkable life is the best life, I feel like it reduces the work to an exceptionally-thorough advertisement for urban middle-class living. I'm far more interested in who has access to walking's benefits, and how we can grow that group.
O'Mara, Shane. In Praise of Walking: A New Scientific Exploration. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2019. Printed Book.