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Talking the walk: A field guide to Sydney’s footpaths

In his daily commute Sydney pedestrian, Liam Webster, has identified 5 types of walkers. Photo: Liam Webster

Opinion by LIAM WEBSTER

About two months ago now I embarked on a new chapter in the book of life – beginning a new office job in Pyrmont. Now, one of the bigger changes stemming from this has been the commute. Every day, about an hour door to door, with twenty minutes on foot.

The commute I could give or take, but I enjoy the walk for what it is, a space for deciphering the thoughts of the day. In a word – the walk is meditative. A serene space to breathe before the beginning of another day. 

But this brilliant space of serenity was interrupted when I began to take notice of the other pedestrians.

Whether we know it or not, we all have a style and cadence in which we walk. We all have a gait and a rhythm that we carry ourselves with. It just so happens that these rhythms, often, are shared. Now, I love to observe, so when I realised this, I became obsessed. I wanted to burrow as far as the rabbit hole would lead. It led me to one eternal question: What does our walking pattern say about us?

Well wonder no more, over the course of these next paragraphs I’ll illustrate the five key types of walkers I’ve noticed on Sydney’s footpaths, and what type of people they typify.

  1. Speed Walkers (getoutof mywayvious)
    Let us begin at the most identifiable of the bunch. This creature makes itself known by its merciless pace. Nothing can survive in its path, with head and shoulders always squared forward, one’s only option is to stay out of its way.

    Now, this creature is unique in that it is not bound by conventional laws – no red light can slow it down as even traffic must bend to its will. It thrives off competition and cannot stand for anything less than breakneck speed.Keep a look out for its constant overtaking and casual eye-rolls at amblers.
  2. Group Walkers (inseparatus lineaus)
    Next on this concrete safari is a natural enemy of the speed walker; the groups of three or more that insist walking in a perfectly straight line is the only acceptable mode of navigating the city.

    If the footpath is a monopoly board, then these creatures look to purchase as much real estate as possible, encroaching on the space of all who dare enter their vicinity – and don’t even think about disrupting their line!

    Note their synchronicity and the negative correlation between their pace and the volume of their conversation.
  3. Busy Walkers (multious taskous)
    Now, the city is a busy place full of busy people, however, these creatures find themselves to be the busiest of the bunch. These multi-taskers seem to be constantly occupied with one facet of modern life or another – the true figureheads of life in the CBD.

    Notable features include multiple (and often oversized) bags, takeaway coffee cups, and an over-active phone, into which they perpetually appear to be talking. One of the central mysteries of these creatures is what they are occupied with. Are the bags full? What about that coffee cup? It looks suspiciously light. And is the phone even on?

    In a busy world, it seems the other walkers have no time to ask these questions, and the multi-taskers certainly do not have any time to answer!
  4. Tourist Walkers (canyoutake ourpicturous)
    Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not seek to slander the tourism industry, nor do I argue Sydney’s attraction to those far and wide. That being said, Sydney invites a special breed of creature to its sidewalks.

    They travel in packs, slowly traversing the asphalt plains in search of the perfect photo. These creatures carry themselves with a blissful indifference to the goings on of the regular city folk. To them, every day is a holiday, and every view is worthy of the classic camera fumble as they yearn for the ideal snapshot of a pleasant vacation.

    Keep a look out for erratic movements as these creatures are unpredictable in their picture-taking behaviour. In other words, ensure you leave them a sufficient amount of room, particularly when in groups.Whilst these creatures are currently in hibernation, be sure they will return to the footpaths soon enough.
  5. DotCommuters (hearnoevilio seenoevilio)
    Finally, we arrive at the most curious, yet common of all. DotCommuters are simply the next evolution in the lineage of the original walker. What defines them, and also sticks out as their most prominent characteristic, is their ability to manoeuvre the footpaths without sight or hearing.

    With headphones in, and eyes glued to their phone, like blind moles, the DotCommuters rely on touch and sensory cues to guide them to their destination. We all have experienced those moments of awkward dance with strangers as we each try and figure out our direction. DotCommuters have no problem with this as they drone onwards, akin to speed walkers in that they move other commuters out of the way with sheer determination.

    We can run, we can hide, but someday we will all be DotCommuters, like it or not.

So, there you have it. As comprehensive a guide to the prominent types of walkers on Sydney’s streets and sidewalks as you’re ever going to get. I don’t expect people to fully appreciate the value of understanding these different creatures, but next time you happen to be strolling through Central, keep an eye out for any of the above. Who knows, maybe you can even identify with some of these creatures. 

Whatever the case, treat this as simply a handy guide to keep in mind on your next commute.

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