Walking is my form of enlightenment.
I live in Newark. My city is generally ten degrees hotter than its neighboring environment. The airport. The port. The downtown. All are blanketed in asphalt that turns my city into a hot desert.
Tens of thousands of cars, and one of the largest garbage incinerators in the country, spew their fumes into my city. Returning home, the smell of burning garbage often greets me. As a child, I had asthma.
At night, I am alone. Nobody my age lives in my neighborhood. From my front window, I see a parking lot for corporate commuters. From my back window, I see a vast parking lot for university students. Both are desolate after dusk. As an infant, my first words were “demolition” and “truck.” As a child, I never had play dates; my suburban “friends” feared my city. As an adult, I hope to see my city’s vacant lots developed. I keep on dreaming.
The streets of my city are not made for walking. They are made for driving. I walk. I stop. I wait. Speeding traffic and interminable stoplights hinder my progress.
But I love walking in New York City.
When I walk, I am free to choose. Each street guides me forward. Each intersection is a choice. Each destination is irrelevant. When I walk, I sometimes choose a random order of directions, left, right, left, right, right, left, left, straight. I see where they lead me. I know not where.
When I walk, I am free to move. I love walking on the High Line. I float above the cars that prevent the city from realizing itself as a community. I see the crowded streets twenty feet below. I see the gardens on either side of me. I let the verdantly landscaped path channel me forward.
When I walk, I am no longer alone. I walk in the footsteps of the millions who passed before me. I am one among millions, all of us on our separate voyages. Lawyers. Butchers. Tourists. Homeless. We all walk alone. Yet, we are together in walking alone.
When I walk, I see the world. In Spanish Harlem, street fairs sell traditional Mexican foods. In college town Columbia, well-dressed university students amble on their way to class. In the Upper West Side, the shabby chic push their grocery prams. In Times Square, tourists lug their large shopping bags from theater to theater, store to store. Finally, after many neighborhoods, I reach the ceaseless bustle of Wall Street. Tired after many miles of walking, I descend the subway steps.
When I walk, I achieve tranquility. I am happy.
One of my recent projects is painting New York City, neighborhood by neighborhood. Each day, I choose a new district to stroll through. Then, equipped with my miniature watercolor palette and notepad, I walk and paint. I discover the city block by block. I aim to capture a fragment of what I see through painting.
Like a pianist who memorizes music by heart, the flâneur (or urban pedestrian) embraces the street symphony with his soul and feet. People’s voices and buildings serve different, but equally important, clefs in the symphony. As le Corbusier wrote, “… first to look, and then to observe, and finally to discover.” My countless urban walks enhance my passion for cities, their architecture, their history, and their planning.
Living in Newark inspires me to dream. Walking in New York City enlightens me to walk. I am ready to walk my next journey.