And another thing… Pedestrian Thinking?

Following on from the last post – no wonder we have such a hard time convincing people to consider the creation of a walking city (note: a walking city includes our rollin’ brothers & sisters).

The word ‘pedestrian’ has become in our society a kind of insult, meaning: slow, stulted, non-creative, inefficient and a bit lame.  In other words not fast, not sexy, not cool.  Which is why I love the work of Living Streets Aotearoa. From their website:

We want more people walking and enjoying public spaces be they young or old, fast or slow, whether walking, sitting, commuting, shopping, between appointments, or out on the streets for exercise, for leisure or for pleasure.

Let’s take back our public spaces!

This is from the page I linked to in the previous post: the Traffic Transport & Road Safety Associates (Ireland) website.  But it was so compelling I just wanted to give it a post all to itself.  Here’s the link again:


Why Pedestrianise?
  • Improving Road Safety – reducing the potential for conflict between vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists and motor vehicles creates a significant reduction in the number of accidents within the pedestrianised area.  In Odda in Norway accident reductions of over 80% were reported.
  • Improving Economic Vitality – most retailers, at least in town centres, appreciate that the number of people walking past their shop and not the number of people driving past their shop is key to getting people inside to spend money.  Pedestrians comparison shop, and research conducted in the United Kingdom reported increases in sales of upto 20% per year in the first few years following pedestrianisation. Research from 11 cities in Germany showed average rent increases of 50% after pedestrianisation. Chartered Surveyor Weekly reported that following the introduction of the footstreets concept in York, United Kingdom, a boom in retail sales was accompanied by rent increases of upto 400%.
  • Improving Social Interaction – increasing the amount that people meet, talk and interact, has been shown to have health benefits, but also creates a sense of community and a pride in the space or place.
  • Improving Health – in the same way that providing streets to drive on has been shown to increase traffic levels, providing a good walking environment has been shown to increase the number of people walking. Studies tend to show that the number of people walking within the immediate area will increase by over 50%.
  • Improving the environment – It is over 30 years since the OECD studied the link between environmental improvement and the removal of traffic.  Whilst some of the noted benefits such as reductions in Carbon Monoxide have now been addressed through the introduction of catalytic converters to vehicles, creating a modal shift from the car to walking reduces the level of CO2 helping the country to meet its emissions targets. Noise levels are also reduced by up to 15 decibels.


So, what kind of city do you want to live in?


How do I know I’m Flourishing?

At the regular spoken word & poetry open mic night that I host we have a kind of unwritten rule about disclaimers.  That is, we don’t have no truck with them.  The people don’t want to hear your excuses.

I wonder if the blogosphere has the same principle.  That is, it’s poor form to start off a post apologising for not posting lately.  I suppose it’s a pretty boring and obvious thing to say isn’t it?  And there’s nothing more tedious than telling people all about how busy you’ve been.  Especially when they didn’t ask.

Especially if there’s no one reading…

But then again isn’t the entire blogosphere all about telling you stuff you didn’t ask about?

I bet you didn’t know you wanted to know all about it.

Weeelll.  Enough said.  Here we are.

So how has our little battle with convenience been going?  Thank you for asking.  It’s been sick.  And I don’t mean in the Australian use of the word ‘seeck’.  Not even ‘fully seeck’.  I mean the kind of sick that sees you making your nostrils raw while simultaneously destroying every hanky in the house and resorting to toilet paper, scrap paper and old t-shirts if necessary.  Also the kind of sick that has you exploding out every orifice normally reserved for more genteel activities.

Think Neil from The Young Ones.

Such has been the stuff of our winter.  Seraphine’s first winter attending pre-school where they should advertise free immune system load testing.  We’re now deep into spring and staring down the barrel of a good, hot summer and still I seem to be battling sore throats and leaky noses.  Not all my hankies have survived.

In real life, I spend a lot of time thinking, talking about and promoting wellbeing.  In particular us mental health promoters are taken with this idea of flourishing. What does it look like?  What does it mean for us and our society?  And how do we get there?  How do I know I’m flourishing?

Despite what I was saying earlier, I think I’m the fittest I’ve been in years.  At least, before the last week or so of flu-imposed inactivity.  I also find it doesn’t take much to set me back a notch, having now not played football for a couple of weeks.  I put the fitness down not only to playing the beautiful game again but having the hill walking routine imposed everyday, commiting to using the stairs at work and cycling more.  In fact I was feeling so good I volunteered to participate in this.  A little bit of fitness going to my head.  Sheesh.  But it’s a clue.

The point is, I do feel good.  And lately being car-free has not been easy.  We’ve seen off the worst that winter could throw at us (although no snow this year) but now the weather is picking up rapidly and the great wide open is beckoning.  The far-off, secluded little bays on the peninsula; the wild West Coast; my sister’s little slice of Rohan in the mountains.  Easy to survive not having a car when the best activity is red wine and a DVD.

It’s peak season now for renting cars so it’s not so cheap to get one to travel in.  Even so, we’re planning on renting something for a couple of weeks over Christmas while nearly the entire House of Davidson visits us.  It’s going to be a BIG family Christmas, and I’m looking forward to that too.  There’s so much to look forward to actually.  And that’s another clue.

Seraphine is a rambunctious little toddler now.  The days are getting hot.  There’s family coming to stay.  Christmas is approaching.  I’ve got a NEW tent (more on that).  I’ve only used my hanky twice today.  Yip, I’m feeling pretty positive.  It seems like ages ago now but it’s not that long since we started this blog and I wrote optimistically about Loving The Effort.  And it’s become a sort of personal mantra for the tough times.  In fact it’s the second most common tag for our posts (after ‘Car-Free’) and it’s kind of the apotheosis of our thesis around defying convenience.

Earlier in the week I was lying in a hot bath trying to revive myself enough to go to work and facilitate a workshop on this whole darn flourishing idea.  I’d initially thought to cancel the workshop but as I lay soaking in the hot, deep bath (oh, thank you Elizabeth!) and even though I was quite ill I kept thinking about the 20 or so people who were coming to the workshop and all the challenges they’d faced to get to where they were.  I thought about loving the effort and how, despite currently feeling a bit crook, I was actually doing OK and I realised that our message about flourishing was about just this kind of thing – regardless of the times when we get sick or the other limitations we might face, and we all face these at some point in our lives, we can and sometimes do, flourish.  But not enough of us.

Anyway, whether it was the force of this idea or the restorative power of a hot bath, strong coffee and paracetamol, I made it to the workshop.  We talked all about it and what it meant for each of us and decided we thought it a pretty damn good goal for society.

I then went home again and collapsed.

So.  My thoughts on some of the ways I know personally I’m flourishing:

When loving the effort means you’re not just gritting your teeth through what you must get through but actually seeking out new challenges and enlarging your efforts.

When despite currently being unwell you see the bigger picture of your overall wellbeing and fitness and it’s good and getting better.

When you feel like there’s lots to look forward to.

When you’re sick as a dog but you feel compelled to go out and talk to people and hear their good ideas.

When you’ve got no car but you can’t resist buying a flash new tent! Which we got for a song.  Actually that’s not really about flourishing but I’m looking forward to using it!

So anyway, it’s good to be back.

But what about the internet?

Family watching television, c. 1958

Family watching television, c. 1958

This little morsel was posted on Eat Smart Age Smart: (not a recommended website BTW)

Researchers found that how much time New Zealand children spend watching television is a better predictor of obesity than what they eat or how much they exercise. The study found that 41 percent of the children who were overweight by age 26 were those who had watched the most TV.

Well we’ve already been TV-free for more than 7 years.  But that was easy to give up…

My New Best Friend

Well, I’ve posted before about the joys of legging it, walking back to happiness yada yada yada.  I’ve also hinted at diminishing waistlines and heroics on the football field.

But what are the benefits of increased physical activity?  (oh dear, he’s setting us up for a boring post about health and wellbeing again…)

Not true.  This is about gadgets!

Well, it’s partly about gadgets.  OK, it’s about one gadget, but it’s pretty neat.  The gadget in question is a pedometer. (Oh, is that all? [yawn] click…)

Ahem.  I got all interested because A) I now had to walk (or bike) everywhere and B) I was keen to get fit for football.  It’s funny how righteous you can be when you don’t have any choice.  I’m now some sort of evangelical exercise advocate amongst my colleagues and friends as if I’ve always jogged up and down hills and cycled 20km per day.

So I’m a bit of a fraud, but hey, at least I’m being active.

I had seen pedometers of course and like most of us was mystified as to how it could actually work (I mean, how can it tell I’m walking and not lifting my legs on the spot?) well the answer is: it doesn’t because the effect on your body is almost the same.  Movement of any kind, even gentle movement is beneficial to the body and your general health.  The more the merrier though.  I had heard about this 10,000 steps business through various people and wondered what it was all about.  All I knew was that 10,000 steps was apparently a minimum target for maintaining good health and wellbeing.  But where did this come from?  Why the magic number?  Was this pedometer company marketing propaganda?  Nobody seemed to know the specifics.  But more on that later…

I needed to find out and the first thing I did was to get myself a pedometer.  Ah.

Well, I was fascinated.  I thought I must have been pretty close to doing 10,000 with the walks up and down the hill to the bus stop and then maybe throw in a stroll at lunchtime etc. etc.  Just how far was I walking every day?  One person did warn me that ten thou was a lot harder to achieve than you think – it’s a lot of steps.  Well, we’ll see – and so I got myself a new best friend.

Typically me, if I was going to buy one of these things I had to look at every possible option, work out the value and get to know the very best quality models blah blah blah.  Endless browsing on Trade Me ensued.  In the end just as I was to buy the very best (and most expensive) pedometer I could find (it measured heart rate, blood sugar, IQ, translated languages, calculated stock trends and did your homework for you) I had a sudden attack of common sense and bought the smallest half decent one I could find – it had occured to me that the lumpy, bulky, heavily-featured models would potentially be awkward and uncomfortable to wear all day – and I wanted to calculate every step I took including around the office and up and down the stairs.  I found one that was the size of a credit card and about 5mm thick.  It slipped right into my pocket and away we go.

First thing you have to do is set the pedometer for your own normal walking stride (or the stride you want measured – so if it’s for running you set it to your running stride) by counting your steps over precisely 10 metres.  This is just so the pedometer can calculate the distance you’re walking.  However the beauty of  ‘steps’ and therefore the beauty of the 10,000 steps campaign is that for each individual a step is a step is a step – it’s not about the distance, it’s about the movement.

Righto. Flushed with anticipation and righteousness I set out for work with my not-so-flexible friend.  Resisting the temptation to check it every 20 steps or so I arrived at the bus stop on Norwich Quay and duly checked my account so far – 1136 steps.  Oh dear.  That was a major chunk of my walking for the day, on a normal day.  I saw the magic 10,000 receding and waving into the distance over the hills and far away.

Resolving to ‘score’ as many steps as my little competitive virgo brain could conceive without actually exerting myself more than I had to, I considered reverse pick-pocketing one of Lyttelton’s many harrier hill runners as they trotted past like burnished leather mountain goats.  But no.  I just needed to know what a typical day looked like so I had a baseline to work on. Ho hum.  Everyone harbours secret ideas of their own super-ability – no-one likes being exposed for the average person they really are.  A few masochists blog about it.

Wearing the pedometer every day from as soon as I was dressed until I undressed at night, I measured the amount of movement I did in a typical and not-so-typical day. (oooo – tell us tell us!)

On average, a ‘good’ day for me, in and out of the office (but one that didn’t include football or cycling) could see me making somewhere between 6-7000 steps.

A ‘not-so-good’ day (one without extra activity and where I didn’t get to walk at lunchtime) where I was mostly desk-bound might see me do as little as 5500 steps.  (Hey 10,000 steps, wait up!! huff puff…)

According to the 10,000 steps campaign, a general assessment of levels of activity – between 5000 – 7000 steps is considered ‘low active’.  Anything less than 5000 is considered ‘sedentary’.  Oh dear indeed…

I will post shortly on the references for this information and the 10,000 steps campaign which originated in Australia I discovered.  Of course it did, that land of tanned and buff beach bunnies right?

Wrong.  Latest World Health Organisation statistics on prevalence of obesity peg Australia at 12th out of 192 nations for the prevalence of obesity in the population of males aged 15+ – about 75.7% of that population is considered overweight.  The female population is acquitting itself quite a bit better ranking Australia at 41st with 66.5% of that population considered overweight.  Perhaps that’s where their good reputation comes from…

And for all you kiwis feeling a little smug right now: here’s a little pin to pop your bubble…

New Zealand is right behind our ‘bigger’ cousins with females aged 15+ seeing NZ ranked 17th for overweight or obesity (74.2% of that population) and 14th for males aged 15+ with about 73.9% of the population considered overweight or obese.  (And our National government is concerned with ‘closing the gap with Australia’.  No thanks).

Elizabeth began to take an interest in my little step obsession.

“I wonder how many steps I do every day?  Especially those days when I take the Bobbin to Busy C’s – there and back twice in a day.”  Busy C’s is across the other side of Lyttelton and up quite a steep hill.

“Well, 10,000 steps is quite a lot to achieve in one day” I said sagely.

“Still I’d like to know how I’m doing.”

“Of course you do, dear.” So I gave her the pedometer.  How’d she do?  Well, you can see for yourself:

My new best friend and I aren’t talking at the moment.