Another in a 2014 guest column series which builds on the one in 2009 where 50+ had written about how science/tech has evolved their hobby/interest.
This time it is Giovanni Rodriguez, a business consultant and blogger for Forbes, and an avid walker, talker, and observer of public life. He is co-author of The Pax Urbana, an upcoming book about the application of peace technology for the sustainable development of urban environments.
Back in the 80s -- in my final years as a resident of New York City -- I rented an apartment at the very tip of Upper Manhattan. Turned out to be a big mistake for me, and it marked the beginning of the end of my romance with the city. For what made city life -- New York City life -- so appreciable, had suddenly become elusive. I was cut off, in a number of ways. The most profound way: I no longer had walkable city streets at my doorstep.
I did not realize this about New York until I made my move far uptown: a walkable street is one of the things that define city life, and not just for me.
I was reminded of that on a trip back recently. On a Friday afternoon, I was scheduled to meet up with someone I am interviewing for a business story this Spring. It was a cold day, but the sun had just come out, and she suggested we go for a walk. We paced the streets for a bit, but the target was a route inside Central Park, in the 70s, in the region just below the Great Lawn, with the storybook Belvedere Castle overlooking it.
It was an interesting choice. Background: before I moved to California. and left New York City for good, Central Park had become one of my destinations on long runs that I would take from Upper Manhattan. But I never walked it very much. At the time, running through Central Park was safer. But because walking and hiking is again a big part of my life -- I have picked it up again in suburban Silicon Valley, with the assistance of a smartphone -- I welcomed the opportunity to do it in NYC in a less urban context and see what if felt like.
As on many walks, I got the opportunity to reflect on the unique quality of the setting. But it was not Central Park itself that kept our attention, but the conversation and the context. If you are walking alone in the city -- whether it's in a park or on busy streets -- you leave yourself open to the sounds of the city -- cars, constructions, the conversations of strangers. But when you are with someone, you leave yourself open to one another. I wrote about how this works in remote settings, in a piece for Forbes, where the scene was a hiking party on Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, California. I coined a term -- social archaeology -- to describe what happens when you get to know someone on a trail. And, yes, the smartphone can be a wonderful aid in checking out the numerous historical notes and connections that come up randomly, assuming your companions are OK with the tech interruptions/assistance, and you are within range of a good signal.
What was different about the jaunt on Friday was that it happened in a city. That you can enrich your life in an urban setting with such a simple routine is not just useful information, but a critical clue for the future of cities. The purpose of this blog is to collect and reflect on the things that can make city life more peaceful and sustainable as the world's population continues its march -- unstoppably -- toward urbanization. Let's put walking and talking front and center of the urban experience. And let's make New York City and Central Park one of the case studies -- what's working and isn't working -- on walking and talking. Not only because it's a walking city (it is). And not only because the diversity and history of the city and its people provide so much material for social archaeology (I took several long walks on my recent NY visit, and Google Maps helped me navigate the journeys with extreme precision and context). More, I am interested in something else that New York City is known for: the home of psychotherapy. My companion on Friday is a psychiatrist who happens to be part of a movement -- positive psychology, which focuses more on the work of promoting mental wellness than on the analysis of mental illness -- that could very well transform the business of psychotherapy and make it more accessible to the millions of people who call this city home.
And the walk we took on Friday is a fitting metaphor for that transformation. When I left the city, several decades ago, the physical position for psychotherapy was supine on a sofa, eyes averted from the therapist. Today, the posture is upright, in motion, alongside a companion. It used to be about the "talking cure," and there will always be a market for that. But now we also have the "walking cure," and the market for that and other hacks on urban life is bigger. Writer/critic Vivian Gornick -- a famous walker of the streets of New York City -- once wrote: "the streets are filled with people escaping the prison sentence of personal history into the promise of an open destiny." Peace in the city starts with each of its people. A new brand of psychology from New York City -- mindful of the past, but leaning toward the future, and assisted, thoughtfully, with new technologies -- might help.
Three great walks in NYC. Bring a friend.
Brooklyn Bridge. You can get on the bridge in Manhattan starting at a small park adjacent to the Manhattan Municipal Building. Walk it back and forth. It's probably the most spectacular view of New York. Do not forget your camera.
Central Park, Belvedere Castle. Enter the park on East 79th Street, and let Google Maps on your phone be your guide.Wander around the circular paths for a while before you get to the castle.Best view of The Great Lawn in one of the greatest urban parks in the world.
The Great White Way 2.0: Never mind what I said earlier about Upper Manhattan. It needs to be experienced in the context of everything else. Take the 1 Train to 207th Street, the last stop in Manhattan, and walk entire the length of the island, all the way to South Ferry. No better way to take in the city in all its grit and glory. Using Google Maps, use Broadway as your most constant road, but allow yourself to enjoy 5th Avenue below 14th Street until Washington Square, and Thompson Street below the park. When you get to the bottom of Manhattan, take the ferry to Staten Island. Nice way to cool the soles of your feet. When you get back to Manhattan you'll feel as though you immigrated there.