Walking Class Hero: world cities for walking

Atlantic Crossing

Historically a world city is a city generally considered to be an important node in the global economic system. The concept comes from geography and urban studies and rests on the idea that globalization can be understood as largely created, facilitated, and enacted in strategic geographic locales according to a hierarchy of importance to the operation of the global system of finance and trade. Under this limited definition New York and London are undoubtedly the 2 leaders in this field.

These days a city’s culture is also an important ingredient in its status as a global city. Since 1985 to be designated the European Capital of Culture has usually been accompanied by a success that has seen social and economic benefits follow in its wake. Just think of the difference in Glasgow pre-1990 to today or Liverpool before and after 2008.

For me, though, a city’s environmental credentials are also an important factor in assessing its status. There’s Copenhagen and its bikes but as an urban walker it’s all about the walking routes for me. How accessible and user-friendly are they? Do they appeal to non-walkers? Are there flagship routes? Earlier this month I spent 2 consecutive weekends in New York and Glasgow which offered me an excellent opportunity to check this out.

Paradoxically, for an American city, New York's high rate of public transit use, over 200,000 daily cyclists and tens of thousands of pedestrian commuters make it one of the most energy-efficient major cities in the world. Journeys on foot account for just over 20% of trips in the city – nearly 4 times as many as other USA metropolitan areas. Organisation like Walk Score can find you an ideal apartment according to how long a walk away amenities are. Of course, the iconic Manhattan skyline view is actually found from the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. (Just like the best Liverpool view comes from the Twelve Quays walk on the Birkenhead side of the Mersey.)

Walking Class Hero looking at the New York skyline

Paris and New York both have Statues of Liberty, extensive Metro systems and parks in the sky. The New York High Line is a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. It runs for 1½ miles (2.35 km) from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues. The project has spurred real estate development in the neighbourhoods that lie along the line and the park gets 5 million visitors annually. The Paris High Line is the little known original that was opened 16 years before New York.

As well as spectacular views of the city and the Hudson River - portions of track are adaptively re-used for rolling lounges positioned for river views – New York’s High Line has naturalized plantings, art installations calibrated to exactly match the centre pixel of 700 digital pictures and plenty of places to rest and absorb the city. Its success in regenerating surrounding neighbourhoods – museums are keen to locate near there and restaurants offering every imaginable cuisine abound - has also spawned numerous imitators in several US cities. It is both steeped in history and achingly modern.

New York High Line

Ramblers Medal Routes are three short circular walking routes that start and finish at the same location. These routes are designed to take approximately 15, 30 and 60 minutes. The starting/finishing point is called a Hub and the ideal is to pick Hubs such as a café, sports centre, library, or health centre – somewhere that you can relax after your walk with a cup of tea or continue to do another activity or hobby. Inspired by the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games to be more active, the Medal Routes project was designed to help people get to know the paths and green spaces in their local areas.

Street art in Glasgow

By my count there are 19 Medal Routes in Glasgow alone and many more spread out across 30 other regions of Scotland. I chose the City Chambers route and made sure I downloaded the Medal Routes mobile app before setting off on what was frankly a drizzly overcast morning.

The route took me east to Glasgow Green, easily the city’s oldest park and possibly one of the oldest stretches of common land in Britain. In 1450, Bishop Turnbull gifted the common lands of Glasgow Green to the people of Glasgow. Initially it was used for washing, bleaching linen, grazing, drying fishing nets and for swimming. For centuries it functioned as the city's only green public open space. The park bears the thumbprint of many custodians and it was under their influences that the swampy flood plain crossed by the Camlachie Burn - in parts as wide as the Clyde - was converted into a levelled field/parkland.

I saw no fishing nets nor bleached linen and the site, generally credited, as the birthplace of Rangers FC had just a couple of kickabouts in progress. The People’s Palace and Winter Gardens are still going strong after over a century of use and renovation alongside the evolution of leisure pursuits means the Green is as relevant today as it was necessary years ago. The route returns back along the Clyde and like all good urban walks gives the user a marvellous sense of the city.

Both projects are truly ambitious in different ways. The High Line uses high specification materials and seeks to regenerate a whole area. Medal Routes create a simple model that allows duplication everywhere – indeed the app allows you to create your own medal route. It strikes me that both initiatives evoke the spirit of the 21st century flaneur in that they both pay homage to the idea of providing surprises, distractions, and sequences of events for walkers/pedestrians whether they are visitors or locals.

Watch this: Ramblers Scotland – At the Heart of Walking

Walking class hero’s playlist:

Make A Deal With The City – East River Pipe

English Rain – The Wake

Hinterland – Lonelady

On Broadway – Neil Young

People's Park – Plainsong

Follow On Your Own - Young Romance

Walking Class Hero is a regular blog contributor. Find out more about him, including his previous blog posts, and follow him on twitter @walkngclasshero.