Wandering around a city should be a special experience.
People buzzing around, fashion choices being noticed, architecture and art being observed, and a constant wonder at our surroundings.
I imagine there are a few cities in America where this occurs but not many. I’ve lived most of my life in Houston, Philadelphia, and Dallas. All three are major cities and Houston is the 4th largest in the nation.
I never had these experiences in any of these places.
America is designed around the car and our highways. As people move to a city, the highways grow larger. The never-ending process of road construction making sure to ruin every driving experience no matter the day or time.
It’s laughable because the promise that one project will solve the problem is quickly replaced with a new project because growth has been faster than construction. Orange cones blocking lanes and signs announcing road work ahead become part of our lives.
Even in our neighborhoods, the sidewalks are small. Outdoor dining doesn’t exist because there’s no space unless it’s a patio. So again it ends up with get in the car to drive to a place, park, and go inside.
No time or opportunity to walk and wander. No chance to see the fashion choices of other members of our community walking around us. No buzz or electricity from conversations among friends.
In the show Making the Cut on Amazon Prime, Heidi Klum sends designers across the world to find different inspiration from the city itself. Tokyo, Paris, and yes New York. Some of the designers came from Berlin and you could feel it in the clothes. Each city had unique characteristics to pull inspiration from and the way the designers did it was to wander the city. Sketch people, sculptures, stores, and so much more.
And yes, I love fashion and fashion shows. Not only that but the show also used music beautifully. One of my favorite songs of 2020 came out of that show. Make it out alive by Emma Hughes and Nick Kingsley. I point that out because once again when I consume I do so with the intention to find inspiration and lead to creation.
I remember when I told the people close to me at the District Attorney’s office that I was planning to leave. They all looked at me very surprised and asked if I was sure.
The career plan from my bosses looked very promising for me. A quick rise inside of the organization and a real leadership role. But I knew, work is part of life. It’s not life.
My explanation always included the fact that I wanted to live overseas. Not just visit, live.
Because every time I travel I find cities who don’t make everything about the car and highways. They take the opposite approach. Design for the pedestrian.
When I went to Portugal, I ate more Pasteis De Nata that I needed but that’s because the cities were walkable and little shops with that beautiful sight and the incredible smell filled the air. On every corner, another pastry called my name.
Locals dipped in and out of stores because that was part of the cadence of life.
In Tokyo, my travels included large groups of people dressed impeccably even though it was the height of summer. All walking the streets or riding the trains. Taking in the neon signs, the anime characters, and the pure sensory overload.
I walked in the streets of Kyoto because cars were hardly present. Meanwhile in Dallas, even in the most walkable neighborhoods, there is still the risk of danger on the tiny sidewalks.
Every city I’ve been to outside of the US embraces a pedestrian-friendly approach. Sure I haven’t been to them all but my sample size is enough. I still remember walking the streets of Rome, Florence, and Paris. Gelato and pastries. Italian wine and French wine. People sitting outside at little tables having real conversations with friends and family.
These experiences allowed me to take in a city. To see the architecture and to marvel at the city design. I smelled the local cuisines and took note of local fashion.
I saw Parisians smoking like it was the era of Mad Men in America and Don Draper had convinced them that smoking was good.
In 2019 America was still stuck traveling from place to place. Never experiencing the city that we live in. Never taking in what we have built.
2020 forced everyone back inside. A perfect opportunity to change some of our design and yet I watched as Dallas continued to fail.
Regulation hurdles prevented meaningful expansion for outdoor seating. Cars continued to park on the street a mere 4-5 feet away from the entrance to a restaurant. Congested and ugly.
All of this is to say that wandering most American cities is not enjoyable at best, and not possible in most cases. It makes sense when we trace our history with major car manufacturers based here in America. When America went all-in on cars and roads, Japan went all-in on trains.
By removing our ability to wander we lose our ability to absorb our inspiration. We have to house all of our art in museums and book tickets to go and see it. Without a museum, we would never wander by it.
Musicians need venues to be found instead of just playing in a park and inspiring a young child. A parent needs to buy tickets and hope their child is entertained.
While most of my art has been bought while wandering the streets of other countries, I have yet to come across artists painting or drawing in any city I’ve wandered in the US. Instead, I need to go to an art gallery or show where hordes of people eating fried foods point and stare at their once a year exposure to artists.
I wish we embraced more wandering.
Tolkien told us not all who wander are lost.
In my opinion, those who don’t wander are lost.
I'm the Founder of Performative Speaking. In December, On Deck acquired my startup and I now serve as the Program Director for On Deck Performative Speaking.
On Deck Performative Speaking is the place for founders, creators, and leaders in industry to turn their speaking into a superpower.
If you want to learn more, email me: Robbie@beondeck.com
Follow me on Twitter @robbiecrab