The secret to understanding a city’s energy and essence lies in exploring it via sneakers on the ground
If you want to know a city’s essence, there’s no better way to do it than on foot: run (or walk) through a city as soon as you get there to note what piques your interest. When you move through a city on foot, nearly all of it is open to you: you can wander into a park, towards a landmark, into a gallery. The cadence that new stimuli hit you offers the perfect amount of in-between time to absorb, think, and reflect on it before the next one arrives.
A car is fine for getting out of a city, the double decker bus tours are actually great for getting your bearings and a high level overview of the city, and a motorcycle or bike is great to get through it. But if you really want to get to know a city’s vibrancy and be enveloped within it, run through its streets. Feel where it’s paved and where it’s cobblestone. Catch snippets of sidewalk cafe conversations and take the time to appreciate the way people speak, gesture, and move differently from home.
Every city offers its own minutiae and peculiarities, and they’re all at arm’s reach when you run. Each impromptu turn offers entirely new possibilities in the narrative of your course, and you’re not just close enough to witness it — you’re engulfed within it.
Put your face close to the side of the graffitied buildings; squint to focus on the texture of their facades and how the color covers them. Breathe in everything, from whatever they just made at the corner bakery to the cigarette waft from the woman sitting outside it.
Feel the dry heat or biting cold, the sideways rain or summer breeze on you. Appreciate that there’s no windshield between you and all of it — the elements and the raw energy of the city, and all the simultaneous lives playing out around you. Alternately relish or lament your own anonymity.
Embrace your disconnection; acknowledge the inevitable pang of existential loneliness. Stay in it as long it lasts — maybe longer than feels comfortable — and then let it go when it naturally passes. Look into the apartment windows and imagine the stories of the people who live there. And of everyone who’s ever lived there. Consider for a moment whether it’s strange that no person knows all those stories (let alone all those people), but the city does.
Stop when you feel like; start up again if you feel so compelled. Revel in how absolutely incredible it is that your body is capable of this — you were born somewhere across the world and grew into this body that you’re now propelling through the streets of a city that you never knew you’d get to experience.
When you run through a city, you’re observer and actor, and each of those moments you witness and partake in creates the fabric of the city in that irreplaceable instant, and before you know it, it’s swallowed itself and spit itself out and gone ahead and reinvented itself again because cities aren’t stagnant, they’re living and breathing and exciting and lonely and wonderful.
Know that no matter how amazing the resolution is on the newest iPhone or how incredibly life-like the latest state-of-the-art VR experience may be, at its best, it will still only be like life — the world’s greatest facsimile of the world will still be a facsimile. There’s nothing quite like actually being there, feet on the ground and body careening through streets and avenues and alleys, running through a new city and inhaling the thrill of its infinite possibility.