Night Walks Edit; Walkable City; Escape BUMMER; Codex NY

June 30, 2019

Bryan Formhals


A newsletter about walking, photography, media and NYC

When I was a kid, summer was my favorite season because I could be outside playing baseball every day. I had a much higher tolerance for the heat in those days compared to now, where I find it difficult to be out for more than an hour when it's above 85. It's interesting how our routines change with the seasons. In summer, I tend to take more night walks since it's more comfortable. I've been collecting photos from these walks in a Lightroom folder for several years and have put up an edit on my site that I've been working on. It feels like good material for a zine which is a format I've always been keen on.

Back to walking. Since this is the last month of the first half of the year, I decided to review my walking data from the pedometer app. So far this year I'm averaging 7.25 miles per day for a total of 1,305 miles, which breaks down to 15,435 steps per day. All that walking has been slimming and I feel healthier than I have in years. It's been enormously beneficial for my mental health and creativity as well. It's a good way to stay balanced, especially as I learn to navigate the gig economy which has presented some new challenges for me.

Here's what I've been reading and looking at this week.

Book: Walkable City - How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time by Jeff Speck


This book by City Planner Jeff Speck is a great introduction to walkability. The book is organized by 'The Ten Steps of Walkability' which he breaks down into five categories: The Useful Walk, The Safe Walks, The Comfortable Walk, The Interesting Walk. So, you learn about the different aspects of walkability and how they interrelate. He's a clear, direct writer with some great stories and examples of what has worked in certain cities and what more can be done across the country. I tend not to make notes when I'm reading a physical book so I don't have any killer quotes. There would be too many anyway, so if you're curious, just read it! It's a quick 253 pages.

Long Distance Walking


One aspect of walking that I'm keen to learn more about is the relationship to how we perceive time. Science tells us that fast walkers and joggers can add years to their lives, so that's one way time expands. Another way is when we're out walking. For me, it takes at least an hour before I start to notice the changes in how I perceive time. My longest walks tend to be about 5 hours (stopping a few times to rest on a bench) which breaks down to around 8 miles, give or take. The most miles I've done in a day is around 14 and that was challenging, so I'm not sure I'd be a good candidate for long distance walking. During my research I came across an article from Atlas Obscura long distance walking and the organization 'FreeWalkers.'

  • Walking became an American fad in 1963, thanks to President John F. Kennedy. President Kennedy often talked about the importance of physical fitness, pointing out that during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency marine officers were required to be able to walk 50 miles in 20 hours. Then-attorney general Robert F. Kennedy decided to back his brother up and in February 1963 he walked a 50 mile route that ended in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. A walking craze overtook the nation. According to an April 1963 New York Times article, teenagers, marines, Boy Scouts, government workers and “Sunday drivers” took to roads and walkways in droves, while department stores scrambled to meet the demand for pedometers. Interest in the 50-mile Kennedy March, as it came to be known, ignited globally, and today you can still attend an annual version in Sittard in the Netherlands. But the craze is mostly forgotten in the U.S. today

'FreeWalkers' organize around 40 long distance walks during the year, including the 'big walk' following RFKs route. From my initial reading, most members are doing it purely for the challenge and health benefits but I'm sure there are some artists making work amongst the group. More research is needed! For now, here's an older blog post with a list of 'walking artists.'

Escape the BUMMER platform


BUMMER stands for “Behaviors of Users Modified and Made into Empires for Rent" and it was developed by Jaron Lanier whose one of the more convincing skeptics of social media.

  • It’s just a way to summarize the business plan behind some of the largest companies in history, with the idea that money is made whenever two people exchange any value, whether it’s just one datum being measured from somebody that’s used to run a machine-learning application or people sending messages to each other, uploading videos, or whatever. The companies are not paying for it. It’s not being paid for by angels from the sky. It’s not a nonprofit charity. It is being paid for by customers — but the customers are not the people who are actually doing the thing. They are these other people who decide, called advertisers — or I prefer to call them manipulators, because they have been sold on the idea that they’re not just advertising. They’re not just getting a message in front of you, but are part of a mathematical scheme that will predictably addict you and then modify your behavior.

I've been talking to a few people recently about the negative effects of social media platforms and surveillance capitalism and I always end most concerned about the nexus between the data we share and what that tells these platforms about our health. That can take us into some dark territory which is why I firmly believe healthcare is a human right.

  • Greenberg’s New York is filled with the ordinary items that New Yorkers pass every day, and probably don’t spare a second glance: small, abandoned lots; tiny alleys and dead-end streets; cemeteries nestled in between buildings; exposed pieces of the schist that Manhattan is built upon; and dozens of squat parking sheds. Codex New York catalogs 19 such pieces of the landscape, which Greenberg refers to as “typologies”; in the book’s introduction, writer (and Curbed contributor) Karrie Jacobs calls it a “visual taxonomy of the city, an effort to isolate and appreciate some of its component parts.” While some of the typologies Greenberg identifies are no doubt familiar—it’s hard to miss bridges or the waterfront—it’s the way he captures them that he hopes will catch readers off guard.

This looks like an interesting book. You can read more about it on Curbed or listen to Greenberg on 'The Real Photo Show' podcast.

Further Reading


Why a hipster, vegan, green tech economy is not sustainable [Al Jazeera] / What does an artist coach do? [Artsy] /