Growing up in suburbia, walking was beyond safe. To say the small town that raised me, Lemont, was protected would be an understatement. However, even though it was safe, it wasn’t the accepted norm. You typically only walked to school there if you lived within a close proximity, you took your car to the store even though it was less than 2 miles away, and if you were walking at night police would stop you to make sure everything was alright. My parents recently invested in a condo in Chicago and my dad jokingly noted that the distance from our Lemont house to Target is minuscule compared to the walking he’s been doing downtown. Conversely, he said if he were to walk in Lemont people would think he’s out of a job.
Moving to Chicago at 18, I experienced a role reversal in my perception of walking; now it was widely accepted but potentially lacked safety and security. I could indefinitely choose to walk the short distances of my daily routines however, my head was on a continuous swivel. Safe Passage Routes are being enacted to help children in high crime areas walk to school safely in Chicago. A deficit in safe routes leads to reliance on public transit or driving which decreases physical activity levels and negatively impacts health outcomes. Planned routes are necessary to avoid shady neighborhoods and intentionally seeking an unplanned journey through dérive might be judged as ignorant and naïve.
Walking in Barcelona has been an entirely distinctive version of walking to me; the combination of both acceptance and safety behind the action. I could never comfortably pursue dérive before coming here. Walking without a goal and letting my mind move freely with my body is an enlightening experience. I am significantly more active in this city which is positively affected my mood. Here, I am okay with getting lost and comfortable not having clear navigation because it doesn’t compromise my safety, it allows an outlet of exploration. Choosing walking as my method of transport offers opportunity for spontaneity, opportunity to change my route and discover what catches my eye. Only 2 walking projects here have allowed me to pick up on parts of Barcelona that seemingly have cultural majorities different from Spanish and Catalonian and the ability to get back to those areas. This is something I haven’t even fully mapped in the city I permanently reside because at home, with grasping this knowledge comes possibility for dangerous risk.