- On Foot: A History of Walking
In the fall semester, 2006, I directed two projects studying the relationship between pedestrian behavior and vehicles over time in the city of Pittsburgh. We studied walking patterns, including issues such as the paths of pedestrians, their walking behavior, and the design of the built environment, and how these factors could bring them into high-risk situations in regard to vehicles. The library and the Internet provide many data bases and studies of themes concerning pedestrian behavior and walking today, but very little of it is historical material. Thus, Joseph Amato's monograph, On Foot: A History of Walking, provides a valuable background treatise for the enlightenment of students who more often prefer to drive their automobiles then walk for any trip that ranges more than a few blocks!
Amato's book ranges far back into human history and discusses from primarily a social history perspective the shift from walking as a necessary activity to walking as a matter of choice for most in the developed world and certainly in the United States. He explores who walked and why they walked, sprinkling his text with cases of famous walkers such as Thoreau who walked because he didn't like riding and Victor Hugo, a "love-stuck bipède." Amato explores these issues in different locations and in regard to different groups, noting how cities and the built environment provided different and varied environments and challenges for walkers than did rural pathways. To the pleasure of the reader, he scatters his text with pithy stories and comments: everywhere on Western streets, "walkers were bullied" from the beginning of World I to the end of World War II (227); the "shoe and tennis shoe industries" have grown, but society considers "not having to walk both a goal and an achievement" (231); "sitting" wins its battle over walking because of the 19th century industrial revolution (233); and, the suburbs in contemporary America have reduced walking, but suburban shopping malls have become "a new walking and talking haven for those isolated by suburban and city life (250)." Today, he notes, walking has become a commodity but it remains at the heart of "human life and movement (278)."
From my perspective, Amato's book is especially valuable for its chapters on city walking, the impact of the automobile ("the car has made the walker feel like a trespasser on the earth," 253), and the social and cultural changes in the meaning of walking. Thus, Joseph Amato continues to publish books on topics that are important to human life but often "off the beaten path." I consider it a [End Page 189] valuable addition to the literature dealing with the history of forms of mobility and transportation and an important addition to my students' reading list.