Yesterday I took my first walk to the supermarket on my own since my surgery. Over my six week recovery period I am supposed to build up to 30 minutes walking daily. However, I tend to walk as much as my body can stand so am easily managing to walk 20 minutes or so two weeks post-op. As someone who walks at what most people describe as a ‘cracking pace’ for hours and distances on end, my experience of the locality is markedly different at this slower pace. Other than feeling a little daunted as I confront multilane highways and main roads, this slower pace means I notice more of the environment around me. I don’t like it. Suburbia, I realise, is only tolerable and traversable at a higher than average speed even on foot.
In the end, I just felt vulnerable and exposed: unable to get across Gympie Road in one mad dash; turning vehicles with impatient drivers bearing down on me as I amble across roads or driveways; and plotting my paths so as to cross at lights, which never give me enough time, rather than taking more direct jaywalked routes in the spaces left by vehicles. This felt like it took forever as I walked mostly alone on the suburban roads. All I got was an earful and eyeful of a suburban highway, massive carparks, rundown buildings, and other suburban ugliness. I had to unnecessarily cross roads because pedestrian routes were poorly planned. There is no shelter from the rain or the sun, few street trees. As I recoil, it is apparent that a mere few kilometres per hour makes a difference to how you feel in, perceive and experience a place.
Clearly, cities and suburbs aren’t made for broken, wounded or slow bodies, such as children, the elderly, the disabled, the frail etc. Do they retreat to their cars or remain indoors because there is no invitation to participate in these spaces and no comfort afforded to their bodies? The environment itself feels disabling.