On this day, Tuesday 3rd of August, we encourage everybody to walk at least part of the way to, or from, work. And why not post a picture of the experience, with the hashtag: #walktowork, and #ViennaWalkingWeek? It would help if you post your route and how long it takes, plus any reflections you have on the walk. You may well find that it takes less time than you expected.
Learning to walk is one of the first milestones we celebrate in a young person’s life. After that, it is largely forgotten as a skill.
For many people, the journey to and from work are a boring daily grind. But how we choose to travel to the office (or college) is also one of the biggest day-to-day climate decisions we face. In countries like the UK and Austria, the transport sector is now responsible for emitting more greenhouse gases than any other. Globally, transport accounts for around a quarter of CO2 emissions. Too much of the world’s transport networks still remain focused around the car. Road vehicles – cars, trucks, buses and motorbikes – account for nearly three quarters of the emissions that come from transport.
So, the way you get around each day can make a big difference to your own carbon footprint.
The Walk to Work Day movement was born in Australia in 1999, and has included the prime minister, among others. In the US, it occurs on the first Friday in May, however this is not practical in Vienna, since that is often a holiday or Fenstertag, and indeed many locals do not do so much work on a Friday! If you walk to a meeting or appointment, you know you will be on time, unlike with cars or public transport which can break down. And walking to work leaves more room for others on the U-Bahn, which is good for everybody.
To make this easier, we recommend you download this excellent application, which will tell you how long your walk takes, and some suggestions for different routes: wienzufuss.at/app
A second element of our week of events, Vienna Walking Week, apart from #TourismForLocals, is why we should all walk more. Exploring the city on foot is often neglected by residents, but once we go on holiday, people will often enjoy walking all day, around a new city or up a mountain. Why is it that we enjoy walking only when away from home? Maybe because it is so easy in Vienna, that we just don’t notice we are doing it? Or that it is free, and therefore undervalued? It is certainly not boring, with so much to look at in our beautiful, varied city. We will show you what walking means, for mental health, for building community, for physical health, for the ecological health of the planet, and also, less well-known, for developing creative ideas. Or are we all too busy and stressed to walk?
Let’s look at a few reasons why people choose not to walk – they see it as slow, unhealthy, boring or that the weather is a problem. If you check an app, Vienna is a dense city and you can walk right across it in around 4 hours. Most distances can comfortably be covered on foot, but more importantly, walking is a way to prepare for meetings, develop ideas or solve problems. Once you see it as a way to work more creatively – that walking is working – then walking is not the slowest way through the city, but the most productive. Walking is far from unhealthy. Car drivers face much more pollution than walkers, since we know shorter ways through the city, far away from angry traffic. It only rains in Wien for 3.5% of the year, and we enjoy 1900 hours of sunshine.
And since walking is a metaphor for independence and courage, there are many great songs about it, which you can treat as your motivating soundtrack: Walk this way, You’ll never walk alone, Radetzky Marsch, I would walk 500 miles, Walk on the wild side, Walk like an Egyptian, Walk the line, Walking on the moon, These boots are made for walking, and Eugene’s favourite: Led Zeppelin’s Ramble on. And there are many other words for walking, showing the different uses it can have: pilgrimage, promenade, protest march, passeggiata, park ramble.
And then there are silly walks – plenty of them. From the fast walkers at olympics, to walking with sticks for sport. And babies have funny walks, also dogs with three legs, Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks, my friend Billy, George Clooney and footballer Arjen Robben. Your style of walk says a lot about who you are. Remember that. There are many more ways to walk than most people realise.
All you need to walk is a good pair of shoes. It is free. Less well-known is that walkers, as a group, vote differently to car drivers. They know their city much better than car drivers, and have more trust, since they encounter the real city every day, far away from all that depressing news which drivers listen to while getting stressed inside their cars, typically on their own. Walkers feel less angst. They meet people as they move through their community, whereas drivers are limited in their communications to a loud horn. Walking is part of the new mobility strategy in progressive cities. It is the greenest form of transport, and also the healthiest. 1.5 million people die in car accidents every year. And walking accounts for more kilometres travelled than airplanes or any other form of transport.
Walkers live longer than car drivers. As a group, they are also wealthier, on average, than car drivers, and better-educated. Walkable neighbourhoods are some of the most attractive in any city. And walkers have more friends than car drivers. Going for a stroll is also an opportunity to escape from the addictive quality of social media. Although it seems appealing to many to check their accounts frequently, when their smartphone buzzes, this is often wasted time which could be used doing more productive things.
Put simply, walking produces ideas, offers time for reflection, planning and problem-solving. With more oxygen flow to your brain than sitting in front of a laptop, and more blood pumping around your body, you will be stimulated into bigger and better thinking. It’s a technique to optimise your body and mind, and is therefore good for your mental health, as well as the obvious physical benefits. Geographers can now estimate how overweight a district is, using satellite images to measure the distance between key resources (school, park, shop, public transport, cafe). Sprawl is bad for you, density good. 21% of drivers in the Innere Stadt are not going anywhere, simply circling looking for a parking space. Walkers spend no time at all looking for a parking space, they just walk in the door when they arrive (on time!). Americans now spend more money on driving than on housing, which is madness. Walking is free.
When people plan a walk, alone or with friends, most will choose nature – rivers, forests, parks, but Eugene finds this a mistake. There are more choices offered by urban spaces – layers of architecture, cafes, music and quite simply: people living their lives in their own district. If you need a toilet or to escape the rain, or sun, or get something to eat, that is much easier in the built environment. But more importantly, you are building community when you stroll around your own Grätzl. And maybe adding to the local economy also. Walking builds the sense of togetherness, of networks and security and the buzzy social life which most people value. It’s important to remember that when travellers arrive in a new city, what do they do all day? That’s right, they walk around, getting the feel of a place and exploring it, the smells and tastes, people and mood.
Italian film director Federico Fellini understood the appeal of street theatre. space and place co-creator, Eugene Quinn, is also passionate about public space, and how to animate and celebrate it. Through watching Fellini films and teaching spatial-planning at Vienna Technical University, he developed the theory of street capital. This is a measure of how much theatre and joy we find on some city streets, and the reverse – how dull and cold so many other streets are, because they lack people and interactions and a sense of play. Next time you walk along a city footpath, try to measure how much fun you see, and you will be applying the concept of street capital to your hometown. Poorer, more diverse, colourful vierteln usually score higher than rich, empty, parked-car streets, and in this sense it is a new way of judging which part of town we might enjoy living in. People living inside the Gürtel walk twice as those outside it. 30% of trips in Wien are made on foot.
Eugene enjoys the hustle and flow of big city streets – just think about how it feels to move through Siena or Brooklyn. The Italians in particular understand that walking is not just a way to get from A to B, but an opportunity for personal marketing and joy. It often resembles a catwalk, and is super entertaining. In Paris, all the bar chairs are arranged to face the river – and therefore the people walking by. Locals go for colourful performance and sexy strolling, but in self-conscious Wien, almost nobody puts on a show or turns the space into a catwalk. A missed opportunity! People watching has long been one of the key attractions of walking, even if some walkers may not recognise this fact. Just take away the people and you realise what a joy other people – in all their colourful, crazy, sexy oddness – can be. There is a carnival element to life, of play on the streets, and we should never forget this theatre that plays out, every single day.
The great Danish urbanist Jan Gehl says there are 60 km/h- and 5 km/h-cities, and the difference is that the faster ones were built in 20th century, for cars, and the slower ones earlier, and on a more human-scale, for an age of walking, and so are more full of details to enjoy, whereas car cities are boring, because at 60km/h, you do not have time to take in the richness of place. Vienna is very much a 5km/h, cinematic metropole.
When Eugene is leading walks around Vienna, local people often ask him what his real job is. They simply don’t believe that walking could be a job. But it is one of the best jobs in the world, to explore this city on foot, creating urban adventures to start debates. One walk which he does not recommend to the average person is our Lange Marsch, where we visit all 23 Vienna districts in a single day. That nine hour walk is only for the crazy ones. A practical recommendation to start, is simply to walk out of your front door one Saturday morning, and head off in a new direction, getting lost a couple of times. Leave your phone in your pocket, and just see what happens, as you move…
Another useful tip is to put your postal code into walkscore.com, which will rate your neighbourhood for its walkability (criteria include good footpaths, street lighting, weather, steepness, safety, how near you are to useful things, and how attractive the place looks). Walking gives you the opportunity to connect with each new day, watch the seasons change, have adventures to tell your workmates once you arrive at the office, and of really belonging to your city. The street is where people meet, not just drive by. Walkers have a greater intimacy with the city, a more emotional, intellectual and spiritual connection to it. Walkers know the city. They know its back ways and side streets, its different rhythms and how it fits together. To walk it is to own it.
Urban walking has a certain poetic aesthetic to it. Just think of flaneurs, and psychogeographers. Walking can be art, with people like Francis Alys and Richard Long turning urban odyssies into culture. Walking some distance is about marking the contrasts between neighbourhoods, and understanding the connections and geography, which you don’t experience on the U-bahn, while it is underground.
Famous walkers in history included Aristotle who would make his lectures as walks around Athens, because he wanted his students to concentrate on the real world, and found they learned more when standing up and more active than the passive university seating. Beethoven would walk for five hours every day, around west Vienna, always with musical sheets, and compose as he moved. It was a central part of his way of working, and you can hear it in his music, with its rhythms and contrasts. Charles Dickens struggled to sleep at night, instead walking through Victorian London, listening to ordinary conversations for research, but also, as a committed socialist, to understand the poverty and reflect this in his stories. Steve Jobs turned job interviews into walks around Palo Alto in Silicon Valley. He was interested in discovering how potential colleagues approached the walk, psychologically – how often they looked at him, how they crossed at lights, but also how they reacted to things which happened on the streets, in terms of empathy and spontaneity. For confirmation of the importance of walking to thinking, consider how many philosophers and poets used it as a central part of their practice: Nietzsche, Rimbaud, Kant, Roussaud and Thoreau.
Repeated academic studies show the improvement in quality and creativity of ideas developed, but also in memory tests, in participants who went for a walk, compared to those who were sitting at desks.
There are fewer rules for walkers than with any other form of transport. And therefore we get less stressed than cyclists. Walking is not competitive, but collective and social. One of the ways you see this lack of formality is in the Desire Paths (Trampelpfad/ Wunschweg) which walkers create when an official path does not go where they want to. You see these as patterns on grass, but also as footprints in snow. They are a form of resistance to city-planners, and a show of independent thinking. Another mental benefit of walking is that you get to anticipate good things that are coming up in your life, rather than the constant stress. Get ready for a holiday, meeting a friend for dinner, or a film you are about to see. And being in public space is the best way to burst your social media bubble, the risk of believing that everybody thinks like you do, because your friends reflect your own views back at you in an echo chamber.
Walking is seen as boring because we do it everyday. You only come to value it, when you are not able to do it, because of injury, or corona lockdown. No other animal walks on two legs, but it gives us the opportunity to write things down while we walk. Even the best animation cannot recreate walking as we do, since it’s such a complex interaction of so many parts of our body.
While we mentioned earlier how cool walking sounds in pop songs, and it undoubtedly can motivate people in their days, it is recommended that you walk without earphones, since this adds to the atomised sense of modern life, with too many individuals and not enough social engagement. Those who walk around with loud music miss out on a lot of the humour and spontaneity and possibilities of the streets. They are saying fuck you to the rest of the world, I don’t want to speak to you, or think about you, or be here. Try listening to the rhythm of the city and its fascinating urban soundtrack, engage with the world and respond to stimuli. And in the city, there is plenty of music around you anyway, from cars, apartment windows, buskers, from clothes shops. So please, let the city be yr soundtrack, not something alien, from outside. Be ready to chat to those who would like to. Wearing earfones isolates you & says ‚I don’t want to be right here, right now‘, or the city is not interesting enough to listen to. Or that you are anti-social.
In many countries, even short journeys which could often be made on foot or by bike are usually made by car. In Austria, 60% of 1-2km trips are made by car. Like slow food, this is partly a celebration of the possibility of slowing down our world, of taking time to reflect on each day, but also to smell the day, sense the weather, the people around you, the shops, bars & street life (and yes, the cars and advertisements) but also the 1.9m people who live in their rhythm around you. The Viennese pass each other on the right when walking, but in London there is no corresponding drift to the left – it is more chaotic and freestyle. At the same time, many Viennese are over-educated and live more in their head than their body – and would benefit from being less nervy and self-conscious and instead just release themselves to the purely physical, like walking (or dancing).
Here is a personal anecdote from Eugene in his previous job as a tour manager for Great Rail Journeys. I used to move from city to city with a group of travellers, and each time we arrived in a new town – always by train – I would say as we arrived at our hotel, ‘ok, there’s the spa, there’s the bar (a priority for the Brits), and for anyone interested, meet me back here in the lobby in 20mins and we’ll go for an orientation stroll and to get a feeling for our new location before dinner together’. And through this, I’d discover the most curious and often the brightest in the group, those who valued a sense of place and more belonging, had their eyes open and really wanted to experience a place (roughly 40% of each group).
Even if you don’t have a commute, because you work from home or are retired, this is still a manifesto for you to recognise what a useful tool walking can be. There is a great value in family walks, even if children are at first sceptical. Younger children can walk for seven hours, no problem. Maybe teens get bored with the monotony, but before that they see things we don’t because they’re closer to the ground & see insects, money, little details. A picnic will always taste better if you’ve walked to get there with your bottle of wine, good tasty bread and strawberries. They say that a child learns more from walking through a forest than any other experience or lesson they have, up to six years old. It really engages all five senses – if you find something to eat like blackberries or wild mushrooms. While kids rarely get excited when asked to join a family walk, they usually enjoy the experience, and Eugene regularly manipulates school classes (14 years and up) into having a walk, by suggesting the teacher ask her group if they would prefer to have next week’s English lesson in the classroom, or as an open-air event, on one of Eugene’s smart city walks.
Who hasn’t had a memorable walk with a partner? There is an undeniable romance in walking – let’s call it strolling or rambling. Walking is now rebellious in the context of a culture of speed. And you are much more likely to meet someone new while walking with friends in the streets, than cycling them. The image of an odyssey or exodus – an extended journey on foot – is biblical and epic and out of time. See the reaction to this woman in black and her 1500km walk. She would not have got this attention as a car driver, or even on a bike. It is the slowness and time that is striking. Snow allows you to break the rules of where paths used to be, should be, usually go. You can literally make tracks which others will follow. It’s a special and romantic feeling, and the sound of walking on snow is truly magical. Walkers break many rules and are rebellious in several practical ways. Walkers are in the place itself, rather than in an unchanging vehicle, and so are open to more immediate and more varied external stimulus. Examples include when you are surprised to find a green space or beautiful vista or piece of street art. Walking offers a contemplative engagement with the city.
Among walkers, it is sometimes appropriate to say ‚hallo‘ to your fellow walkers, who are strangers. There are no rules, but most people feel it instinctively. Cyclists almost never do that. And there is more community among walkers when they are fewer, and in the night time or very early morning. It’s like you have joined a little club and so greet each other. Like being in a lift, it can be more comfy to say something than to walk by.
Eugene loves that sensation at the end of a big walk where you know that the minute your head hits the pillow, you will fall asleep. So our advice is to walk the city, walk to work, to college, to markets, to parties, to the cinema, to meetings. And also home again. And walk with curiosity, courage & friendship.
This Walk to Work Day is part of the Whoosh event, Vienna Walking Week, to celebrate urban walking, and also the concept of #TourismForLocals.
Wir freuen uns sehr über die finanzielle Unterstützung der Wirtschaftsagentur Wien und über die Förderung von Wien Tourismus, der Mobilitätsagentur und diversen Mediengruppen (inklusiv ORF). Außerdem sind wir stolz, dass wir in die Initiative Reparatur der Zukunft aufgenommen wurden, eine Kooperation von Ö1, Forum Alpbach, Ars Electronica und Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien.