Friday, 4 March 2011

Stand on your own two feet.

You can tell a lot about people by the way they walk. Some progress with purposeful tread, others amble and meander with no apparent goal. My feeling is that the society in which you live is partially responsible for this. Take London and New York, for example. The pace is fast, the populace is going somewhere and wishes to achieve, close or progress. Countries where the State is preponderant do not move with the same verve or intent; their lives have been taken care of; all they need to do is avoid traffic and hold their hand out. I often think about this as I cycle through pedestrian masses on on my way to work. Many on foot, brandishing shopping bags full of rubbish they'll never need or use, are happy to stop and let the person coming towards them take responsibility for the safe conclusion of the momentary encounter. Rarely do you see people look up, assess the traffic and steer a path accordingly. Some do tend to slalom, keeping their momentum even if the resultant diversion means adding a few yards to their journey. Toulouse City Council has recently given me an unwitting extra agar plate for my studies: they've closed half of the main shopping street to begin remodeling the whole city centre area. Rue Alsace-Lorraine now has half the space for the same amount of people and, strangely, the people are starting to show more initiative: before the work started, with a wonderful, broad thoroughfare at their disposal, the various shoppers, businesspeople and terminal idlers would wander listlessly and aimlessly the length and breadth of the thoroughfare, their movements beyond interpretation and anticipation. Now, with half the space available to them they've become more observant. It's easier to make eye contact and broadcast directional intent as more and more people are aware of the lack of space. And this in a country where 35% of the working populace is sucking rapaciously on Marianne's shapely, munificent jugs.

A Harvard Economics professor recently published a book stating that 'Cities are civilisation's greatest achievement'. Apparently, they foster and nurture creativity, encourage interaction and raise awareness and tolerance. I can only imagine he's never been to Birmingham, but that's not the point, here. If we take the idea of a city as a place where people are huddled together, then I can only agree with him; given too much space, people lose the connection to others. Shoe-horn them into a sardine tin and they start to adapt to their surroundings. To push the analogy a step further, we can also cite the statistic, true or fictive, that racism is most marked amongst people who've had the least to do with foreigners.

A five-minute bike ride to work can do wonders for your tenuous grasp of shallow pop psychology, you know.

No comments: