#44: Essential Walking

Plus, Podcast: Way of the Walk Episode 1 and A Butterfly in Cage

How are you? I can probably guess. I feel the same. Yet, here we are, taking it day by day, doing what we can.

I’m Bryan and this is my weekly newsletter on walking, photography, maps and New York City.

Walking & philosophy: What is essential and what is non-essential? This week we’ve learned a lot about that dichotomy, and the implications for the businesses and activities that fall into those categories.

Almost all forms of congregating for the purposes of leisure and entertainment have been shut down. No bars. No movies. No concerts. No art shows. No gyms. All deemed non-essential. Public health and safety come first. The risk of congregating is too deadly. So, what’s left?

Since we’re all housebound most of the day, the internet and social media have become a primary way of staying connected (always true, just amplified now.) Within a week, photographers and organizations like 10x10 Photobooks have experimented with Instagram Live to stay connected with their communities. There are Google and Zoom happy hours, and countless other innovations that haven’t even surfaced on my radar yet. I think we’re going to see even more marvelous and innovative ways to connect, and for many, those connections will be a lifeline.

We are told we should only go outside for the essentials: groceries, medications, emergencies…and exercise. We are still allowed to go out for a walk or a hike, as that is deemed essential (as long as we avoid density and stay six feet away! Follow the rules!)

When this crisis started to unroll with events cancelled and restaurants shuttered, I had a feeling that walking would suddenly become a topic of interest, since for many people, it would represent their only form of outside activity, offering a relief from the constant anxiety of the crisis.

Walking has become an essential part of daily life for many. It’s tough to talk about silver linings given the magnitude of this tragedy but I think we need to try. This focus and appreciation for walking is welcomed. It’s an activity that’s part of the fabric of New York and what makes it unique amongst American cities. For me, walking has been essential for many years, and I even consider it my primary form of entertainment.

I’ve always viewed my long weekend walks as somewhat akin to a performance or sporting event. The 15 mile walks have a beginning, middle and end. There’s a narrative arc to them, and a thrill in watching life unfold with each step. It’s energizing and activates my imagination in ways that I find difficult to articulate. In many ways, not being able to articulate that feeling or experience tells me that there’s really no need to try. The walk is the experience. The relationship between walking and meditation has a long history as well. For years, I never really thought about walking through the lens of meditation but in the last year, I’ve realized that this aspect might be central to why I’ve such a devotee. For me, walking is equal parts exercise, meditation, entertainment and creativity.

How’s your daily walking routine going? If you feel like sharing, drop me a line info@bryanformhals.com

Podcast: For the last year, Tom and I have been recording walks and studio sessions for a new podcast focusing on a larger project around pedestrian infrastructure in New York City. Last fall I started visiting all the pedestrian bridges in New York City, plotting out long walks that would connect multiple bridges and greenways.

We’ve been working the last few months on the first several episodes and were happy with our progress, finishing three complete episodes. Then the virus hit and everything changed. We debated whether or not to go forward but in the end decided we wanted to give it a try. These projects are all a work in progress and obviously we have no idea when or how we’ll proceed. But I hope so because I feel we’re onto something. If you’re feeling like listening to something experimental about walking and New York City, give a try here or on Spotify.

Stay healthy, stay inside, stay creative.

I’m a photographer, editor and creative collaborator working in New York City. You can email me at info@bryanformhals.com or follow me on Instagram & Twitter

This newsletter is a weekly digest mixing updates on my current projects with the articles and media that catch my attention during the week. Topics I’m focusing on these days include walking, urbanism, New York city history, news about photography and photobooks, the attention economy and existential dread.