One of the things that encouraged walking in the 1950s was the layout of the neighborhood. Everything was within walking distance because in Brooklyn that was the character of the neighborhood. Block after block of row houses punctuated by clusters of necessary support facilities like churches of all faiths, public schools, food stores, barber shops, shoemakers, bakeries, dry cleaners, candy stores, clothing shops, butchers, fish stores and any other kind of business that could make a living. Running errands for our parents meant a meandering walk around the neighborhood with friends if we could find them. The shop owners knew us by name because we were in there all the time. There were no Costcos, Home Depots, Walmarts or even super markets...it was all local merchants who lived in the neighborhood.
Another reason we walked is that it was relatively safe. Parents are terrified of letting their kids out on the street alone these days and that is truly a shame. We would walk a couple of miles to Highland Park in Jamaica to play ball for five hours and then walk home again. In the course of an average day, between playing games and just walking around, I bet we did ten miles without trying. It was like nothing to us and yet that level of activity kept us all slim and fit despite eating oily pepper and egg heros for lunch and ice cream every night when the truck pulled up. Also, elevators were unheard of. If a friend lived on the fourth floor of an apartment building, you walked up the four flights to call for him.
The point is we walked and never gave it a second thought...it was part of our daily routine. Nobody punked out of a ball game because it took 30 minutes to walk to the field; we just grabbed our gloves and did it. When we weren't walking we were riding bikes, racing on roller skates, sledding down hills or climbing the monkey bars in the playground. Maybe if we had color TV, video games, computers and i-pads we would have spent more time indoors, but we didn't and I think we were better for it. Scientists and nutritionists complain about how fast food and lack of fresh produce makes kids fat, but I guarantee you if they spent their days like we did, it wouldn't be a problem.
The decline of real neighborhoods and the flight to the suburbs was the death knell for casual walking. People today have to (or choose to) get in their cars to go anywhere. If I see someone walk past my house I might eye them suspiciously wondering what they're doing on foot. I wonder when the last time the phrase "walk me to the store" was uttered anywhere.
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