I love to walk. Meandering, slowly and without a destination. For me, walking is thinking, day-dreaming, watching … even praying. As a city resident, I do mine mostly at night and, often, I’m restored. However, when it comes to the more daily pedestrian journeys—from home to work or from office to meeting—I notice my impatience. Meanderers drive me up the wall. I have places to be.
A few years back, the British psychologist Robert Wiseman measured the speed at which people walk in thirty-two city centres across the world. He then compared his findings with similar research conducted a decade earlier and found an average 10% increase in walking speed. It seems the fast lane is getting faster.
According to Wiseman, the outcomes are concerning. Other research shows that people in fast-moving cities are far less inclined to help those in need and significantly more prone to heart disease and other health related problems. The faster our pace, the less healthy we and our communities are likely to be.
‘This simple measurement provides a significant insight into the physical and social health of a city. The pace of life in our major cities is now much quicker than before. This increase in speed will affect more people than ever, because for the first time in history the majority of the world’s population are now living in urban centre.’
The psychology, in Wiseman’s thinking, is that people’s walking pace is determined by ‘how much they think they’re in a hurry—how quickly they think they should be doing things’—yet often bears little resemblance to the real urgency of daily life. He concludes that we need to be asking ourselves some important questions about the attitudes and assumptions that colour our daily routines and, ultimately, impact our neighbourhoods.
Some questions worth asking:
1) Do you seem to glance at your watch or mobile phone more than others?
2) When someone takes too long to get to the point, do you feel like hurrying them along?
3) Are you often the first person to finish at meal times?
4) When walking, do you get frustrated if stuck behind others?
5) Would you be irritable if you sat for an hour doing nothing?
6) Do you walk out of shops if you encounter a short queue?
7) In slow-moving traffic, do you seem to get more annoyed than other drivers?
If the ‘yes’ list outweighs the negative, perhaps it’s time to take a slow walk and do some rethinking. It certainly is for me.
Richard Wiseman, Quirkology: The Curious Science of Everyday Lives, Macmillan, 2007.
Image: Melbourne Street (melbournestreet.net)