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Why People in Cities Walk Fast

Researchers have proposed a number of theories over the years — from sensory overload to the economic value of time.
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Late last week our own Richard Florida wondered on Twitter whether pedestrian walking speeds might indicate a city's economic activity — reflecting some sort of "urban metabolism," as he put it. Turns out there's a rather long history of research into the speed of walking in cities, and that the evidence reveals, among other things, a strong connection between fleetness of foot and fatness of wallet. Call it a sign of the Cantering Class.

Most work on urban walking speed dates back to 1976, when psychologists Marc and Helen Bornstein published a provocative paper on the topic in the top-tier journal Nature. The Bornsteins wanted to understand the relationship between a growing human population and an individual person's behavior. So they planted themselves in major activity centers of 15 different cities and towns in six different countries on warm sunny days, and timed how fast a couple dozen solitary, unsuspecting pedestrians covered about 50 feet of space.