Happy World Sauntering Day

Gustave Caillebotte
Public Domain Gustave Caillebotte

There is a holiday for everything, and today is, believe it or not, World Sauntering Day. According to its Facebook site, " The purpose is to remind us to take it easy, smell the roses, to slow down and enjoy life as opposed to rushing through it."

To saunter is different than to walk. An urban saunterer is more of a flâneur, an urban explorer. It's a term revived by Toronto author Shawn Mccallef, but originally popularized by Baudelaire, who described a flâneur in the 1860s:

The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite.

But what is it that makes you want to saunter, to be a flâneur, rather than just be a pedestrian? You really want and need to have something to look at. Once again, it's all about design. Brooks Rainwater just wrote in Metropolis:

So many places across this country are poorly designed: they encourage sedentary, not active lifestyles. Good design creates opportunities to walk without extra effort as part of our daily lives.

Kaid Benfield says much the same thing:

We also need the right design, with connected streets, a pleasant environment that incorporates a variety of places to go and things to do, and that includes nature. We need our community to feel and be safe for us to be out and about.

Steve Mouzon tries to measure it, to calculate the "walk appeal."

Streets and the streetscapes that surround them have several measurable things that can tell us which standard of Walk Appeal the street provides.

Steve goes on to describe features like view changes, street enclosure, the designs of storefronts. However these are not for purposeful walkers, these attract flâneurs. Perhaps walkability and what I will call flaneurability are two different things.

calgaryLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

One might call Calgary doubly walkable; it's got wide empty sidewalks and an entire pedestrian network 15 feet up in the air for winter. It gets you from A to B efficiently in all kinds of weather. But it has zero flâneur appeal. You have no desire to be there, to slow down, to look around.

On this World Sauntering Day, we should think about those things that make us want to be, as Baudelaire called flâneurs, "passionate spectators" in a sport where the city is our playing field.

Happy World Sauntering Day
Walkability is important, but there has to be more: Flâneurability

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