Event Recap: Walking and the Life of the City Symposium


The Walking and the Life of the City symposium was held last Thursday at the Rudin Center. The event put walking back at the center of urban life by presenting research from six transportation scholars on why people walk, its role in urban life, and how walking is likely to change in the future.

The event was led off by journalist Tom Vanderbilt, who gave a keynote about the challenges of walking in America, while showing that even in the suburbs, the need for more walking and better pedestrian infrastructure exists. He set the stage for the research presentations, which presented some of the latest findings on walking in transportation research:

- Kevin Manaugh from McGill University in Montreal described the relationship between walking and socioeconomic status, showing a complex relationship between income and walking, where those at the high end of the spectrum walk when they want to fulfill a personal attitude or desire, but those at the low end walk far more because they have to.

- Dick Ettema, Associate Professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, explored the relationship between walking and personal feelings of well-being, showing the close relationship between walking and quality of life.

- David King, Assistant Professor of Urban Planning at Columbia University, presented an argument for refocusing transportation policy and finance on walking, relative to our current focus on other modes such as cars and transit.

- Andrew Mondschein, research fellow at the NYU Rudin Center, described how information and communication technologies (ICTs) may facilitate walking in previously unexplored neighborhoods, while still presenting a potential threat to the quality of our personal cognitive maps that we traditional have relied on to travel.

- Sarah Kaufman, also an NYU Rudin Center research associate, extended the discussion on ICT and walking with a presentation on augmented reality (AR). She showed that AR has already arrived with smartphones, and she discussed the positive and negative potential consequences of augmenting a life on the street with so much new information.

- Robert Schneider, a post-doctoral researcher at UC Berkeley and UC Davis, wrapped the symposium by describing future walking research needs. He described the need for going beyond traditional travel surveys and counting all walking trips, including the ones that often get missed.

Overall, the presentations and the audience’s response showed that walking is a central part of urban life, and that transportation research and policy is just now beginning to catch up to that fact.

Thank you to all the presenters and attendees! The six research presentations, as well as an event summary, will be compiled into an edited book, which will be available later this summer. Please check back for more information, and in the meantime, check out our event photos here, and the Storify summary here.

The event was excellently summarized by The Atlantic Cities here.

Posted by Andrew Mondschein