Book Club: Taking a walk changes everything

Heather Allen reviews Dan Rubinstein's new book, Born to Walk: The Transformative Power of a Pedestrian Act.

Heather Allen reviews Dan Rubinstein’s new book, Born to Walk: The Transformative Power of a Pedestrian Act.

Heather Allen

My kids just wandered off through the cherry orchard in our backyard to head downtown. Even though their journey to buy iced tea is little more than a kilometre down hill, it would have been unimaginable two years ago, before our road had a sidewalk.

Before that time, kids balanced precariously on concrete abutments and elderly walkers hopped into the ditch when a dump truck swept past. You’d think a road would be designed with pedestrians in mind, but in reality, most of our cities and rural areas are exclusively designed for cars.

According to Ontario author Dan Rubinstein, we need to start walking more. In his new book, Born to Walk: The Transformative Power of a Pedestrian Act, he outlines a clear, engaging and thoroughly researched treatise on the power of walking. Simply put, walking is one of the easiest, healthiest, most economical and environmentally friendly modes of transportation available.

Although loaded with convincing research about how everything from depression to climate change can be eased with walking, Born to Walk is a spellbinding page turner. Rubinstein weaves fact with humble yet inspiring personal stories: recounting a trek through northern Quebec with an Innu doctor, an idyllic walk through Wales, and a stroll to school turned nightmare when he and his daughter were hit by a car.

Although we haven’t stayed in touch, Rubinstein and I went to journalism school together 20 years ago in Halifax. We both lived half an hour from the university and would walk to our classes, whatever the crazy windy, snowy or sleety conditions the Atlantic city brought down on us.

Even though I was taking investigative journalism classes, I never paused to consider why — even with the raging elements — I loved that walk. I didn’t consider that it might be clearing my mind, adjusting my thoughts and getting me ready for the day.

But after reading Rubinstein’s book, I look at all kinds of walking, including on our new sidewalk, in a different light. Rubinstein would note that our sidewalk has quickly become more than a safe way to get to the school and downtown. It’s helping kids gain a sense of independence, and fostering a new sense of community. Just yesterday a group of us got together to plan a progressive walking party, which isn’t so much about using the sidewalk, as about the fact that walking has become an accepted and credible means of moving around our neighbourhood.

I got itchy feet reading Rubinstein’s book. It’s hard to read such great descriptions of walking, and not just get up and head out the door – — on foot.

Heather Allen is a writer and reader living  in Penticton.