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Can Smart Phones Ignite America's Passion for Walking?

Sarah Goodyear looks at how smart phones and augmented reality applications may hold the key to enriching urban exploration and getting Americans off their sofas and out exploring their environments.
June 12, 2012, 5am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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According to Goodyear, in 21st-century America, walking "has become an endangered form of locomotion." Saving it from extinction was the topic of a symposium called "Walking and the Life of the City" held last week by the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management.

Delivering the keynote address at the symposium was journalist Tom Vanderbilt, whose recent four-part series of articles in Slate tackled the crisis in American walking. In his address, Vanderbilt noted the sad fact that "people in the U.S. walk less than the citizens of any other industrialized nation."

Other presenters at the symposium looked at the potential for new technologies to facilitate a return to walking. Augmented Reality (AR), like Google's Project Glass wearable computer, was seen as one potential avenue for enriching urban exploration.

Sarah Kaufman, a research associate at the Rudin Center, "expects that in the not-too-distant future, information, navigation, social networking, and advertising related to our surrounding physical environment could all be integrated on devices that we carry with us or wear."

While AR expansion may be a few years off, another presenter addressed the changes that smart phones may already be having on how we view our surroundings, especially those unfamiliar to us.

"Andrew Mondschein, another Rudin Center fellow, presented research suggesting that people who have cell phones make social trips further afield than those who don't. While the findings are preliminary, Mondschein is researching the possible link between the availability of information -- not just on phones, but also online -- and a potential expansion of the city-dweller's horizons," notes Goodyear.

Thanks to Alesia Hsiao

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Published on Friday, June 8, 2012 in The Atlantic Cities
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