Last weekend, I was supposed to go to the Brainwash Festival. I had bought a ticket for last year when they had a Covid-special: Wanderlust. With a small group, we’d experience a program of random speakers at various locations in Amsterdam. A lovely concept that was canceled last-minute because of increasingly strict limitations. This year, they were back to sitting in a theatre in silence surrounded by strangers on their phones. Business as usual.
So I was supposed to but didn’t go. Also, at least one of their board members has slipped into the easy populist anti-intellectualism that the pandemic has made popular. Good riddance.
Wandering – walking, hiking, trekking, plodding, strolling, etc.ing – has never been more popular in the Netherlands. 1.4 million people have downloaded Ommetje, an app developed by neuropsychologist Erik Scherder that helps people take a daily stroll. Think Strava, but for the brain as much as the body.
In 2020, 11 million people in the Netherlands took a combined total of 539 million walks of 7 kilometers on average. That’s enough distance to walk to Saturn and back via the sun. (And they don’t seem to count walking the dog.)
No country is as densely packed in walking trails as the Netherlands, I’m sure. The regional and long-distance trails alone add up to 12,000 kilometers in a land of just over 310 by 260 km. They make up two of at least twenty ‘brands’ of trails for easily 42,000 km in total. Most tracks are superbly maintained, clearly signposted, and there’s always a place to grab a coffee or beer.
And people keep adding routes. Last week, I received the beautifully designed booklet Leidse Routes by Leiden city architect Hilde Blank. In a few walks with selected people, she explores the cityscape of Leiden. Wandering as a design tool. It has been done before, often, and always to my satisfaction.
You know the drill. I wouldn’t have brought up wandering if it hadn’t been for a few walks I participated in last week. Twice, we walked Time to turn — with teachers and students of different institutions. And on Thursday, we had the kick-off and try-out of a new project we’re participating in: the Climate Walk.
The Climate Walk is a European research, arts, and education project. Starting in the summer of next year, an ever-changing group of academics, artists, and educators will walk from the north of Norway to the south of Portugal to raise awareness for the climate and its lesser-heard stories. We are intent to organize their tour through the Netherlands in late 2022.
On Thursday, we walked just about three kilometers through Leiden, exploring the many angles of the climate crisis. First, we visited a neighborhood where the streets were redesigned for a changing climate. Next, we went by the Textile Research Center, where they try to reinvigorate the craft of textiles to make us less dependent on global trade. Then we visited the Children’s Rights Home to hear about efforts to make the climate a children’s right. Finally, we debated how to make the Climate Walk happen in The Field, Leiden’s circular meeting hotspot.
Each of the visits was amazing, albeit much too short. Obviously, the best part was what happened in between each location: time to reflect on the visits, together, in ever-changing groups. A walk through town with a group may be the best workshop format there is.
I’ve always loved the word ‘wander.’ It sounds like wonder. And it is. I’m glad to be one of the eleven million Dutch people trudging along neat paths regularly. I’m happy to have found a way to make walking, art and culture, and social and environmental activism part of my working life. So walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart…
See you next week,