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Walking: a way to know one's neighborhood

section of the Berkeley Pathways map, produced by BPWA 

Brian Donahue, in his book Reclaiming the Commons, contends that walking is an essential element of "knowing and caring for particular places." He writes, "to know a place, first get out in all weathers. Walk the land at least; at best work the land. In this way the subtleties of place become familiar."

The Berkeley Path Wanderers Association (BPWA) preserves and restores existing pathways as well as creates new paths in the City of Berkeley. Walking is the only way to experience many of these pathways. About a month ago, we went on a BPWA walk. We had a choice of three (fitness, leisure, and trails). We chose the fitness walk hoping to scope out a route for an upcoming lecture series. The walk began at Glendale-La Loma Park in Northeast Berkeley.

According to Wikipedia (we did not think to ask about the history of the park), the park was a former quarry, located at the head of Cordonices Creek. The active (solid line) and historic sections (dotted line) of the creek are indicated on the map. Over the course of the two-hour walk, we discovered a secret path to a waterfall, magnificent views of the bay and Mt. Tamalpais, and fruit-laden plum trees (fruit we had been afraid to eat). The particulars of place also include people. We learned that some neighbors dislike the pathways because they are adjacent to their property or they have built gardens onto the pathways (public property) and have had to remove these gardens. Walking, with others, has definitely generated knowledge about place.

Here are several books on walking:

  • The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau (translated by Steven Rendell, 1984) 
  • Walking in Britain, Lonely Planet (1997) 
  • A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson (1999) 
  • Wanderlust : A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit (1999) 
  • On Foot : A History of Walking, Joseph A. Amato (2004)