❝ There is so much more to walking than walking ❞
Sitting in a Moscow street side cafe, I witnessed an interesting event. Near the Kremlin the streets of Moscow embrace the character of the times in which they were made. Streets like Tverskaya present wide sidewalks, and a copious number of shops, cafes, offices and monuments. Originally there were 16 streets that radiated out from the Kremlin and towards the Garden Ring Road, once a gated wall. It protected the city and collected tolls. These streets were then, and largely remain today, as arteries for exchange. Their continuity, hierarchy and enclosure are often consistent for miles. They have a way of transforming themselves hour by hour, and give purpose for walking to and from activities that relate to ones needs from morning too evening. On this street I clearly understood that it is people who attract other people. At that moment on Tverskaya Street the public whelm seemed to be in perfect harmony with the private whelm, stimulating a constant exchange of activities.
Streets like Tverskaya, Moscow, La Rambla, Barcelona and Nanjing Road, Shanghai demonstrate to us that, given the right dynamics, walkable streets remain as viable today as any time in history. What has not changed is that truly walkable streets still serve as an important vehicle for social and commercial exchange, and provide platform to inspire and connect. The attributes of these three streets make them inherently walkable and the experience they offer to the individual has greatly contributed to raising their world-wide status.
It was that winter morning, on Tverskaya Street, that I was reminded of something important. There across the street from me was a recently modified building. Along the sidewalk the building had no windows, just a long continuous wall. On one side of the wall was a endless string of shops, and the other side, a cafe. There I witness that the pattern of walking changed from slow and engaging, too fast and resolute as pedestrians passed the uneventful wall. The wall contributed nothing to the street experience and reminded me that indeed engaging and walkable streets remain a critically important part of a livable and healthy city. Most importantly, that moment crystallized in my mind that the purpose for walking, is just as important to understand. The fact is that walking alone does not define a great street, but rather the purpose for walking. Therefore, in a way, a great walkable street should be defined by people not walking. I realized then that it was me getting the lesson on walkability – by sitting at a Tverskaya street side cafe. What makes a city street walkable is that along the way there is a plethora of “staying activities.” A walkable street should be defined by events and places worth walking to and staying for and defined by coffee, not walls, that give reason for being on the street.