The View From 32


AUGUST 15, 2007  

Walking...who are these people?

People walking near Helsinki train stationIf you guessed almost any nationality but American you could be right. This happens to be a street in Helsinki, Finland one August afternoon during our recent visit.

You can see additional crowds in the distance around the train station, another scene you're unlikely to find in an American city.

One of the great things about travel is that you see how other people live. It helps put your own assumptions about how society operates into perspective.

As I mentioned a few days ago, I was struck on several occasions how often people in other countries walk in situations where we Americans would hop in a car and drive. Or they take public transportation—buses, trams, trains—leaving roads and highways in many areas uncrowded.

While in Helsinki, a fairly large city, I saw very few people jogging, unlike what you'd see in any big American city. I don't know for sure, but I'd also bet that fewer people join health clubs "to stay in shape." Yet as you can see in the picture, obesity isn't nearly as prevalent as in the U.S.

According to, recent increases in the prevalence of overweight and obesity are reflected across all ages, racial and ethnic groups, and education levels in the U.S. (more info)

So, prompted by a German friend's response to my remark about how much people walked in Finland —"Only an American can be surprised by that!"—I'm going to oversimplify an undoubtedly complex situation: we'd be a lot healthier if our first thought was to walk places rather than drive.

If we walked more, we wouldn't need expensive health clubs, diet plans and personal trainers to stay fit. Cities would benefit because they'd be more lively, businesses would have more walk-in traffic, and the air would be cleaner with fewer cars on the streets. Walking is easy, it's free, it's enjoyable when the weather cooperates, so why don't we do it more?

I think it boils down to more than simple laziness, although that may be a factor. Looking at my own life two big obstacles are time and convenience. For me to walk to today's work-related training at Tri-C Metro Campus would take about an hour. I'd have to get up early enough to be out of the house by 7:30.

As I considered this at 8 a.m. it was already too late to walk. It looked like it might rain, too, another problem. But both of these were easily solved this time: Joanne could drop me off on her way to work, and I put a waterproof parka and a pair of sunglasses into a backpack to cover all my bets.

At the end of the day I walked back via Carnegie Avenue. Along the way I passed Aladdin's Bakery where I picked up some fresh pita bread, a small container of baba ganoush to compare with Nate's, and a piece of French feta cheese. Walking home took me a little over an hour and tired me out enough to feel that I could skip my planned visit to Edgewater Park to run. Maybe I can do this more can too. If we all tried to walk instead of drive at least once a week we, our city and our planet would be better for it. Why not give it a try?

As for me, I'd like to thank Ulrike for her provocative comment, and Chuck who started me thinking about this with his article Walking to work is an hour saved.


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No time today to add anything from our vacation trip. Hopefully I'll get something posted tomorrow and more Friday when I don't have to go in to work.

Most recent addition is Aug. 5 (Helsinki). You can also see unedited photos & a few videos at my site.

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