Week 1 Prompt: Walking (Paths)
Paths and trails, whether around a city or on a college campus, raise surprising ethical, moral, and practical questions. From an act-utilitarian perspective, almost any pathway is “good”–so long as it is pleasant to traverse or speeds people to their destination. But, from a Kantian perspective, the categorical imperative suggests we should only use paths than anyone can use–e.g., the more people who walk a dirt trail, the more the environment is damaged, and the less likely it is to remain passable. Meanwhile, landmark disability rights legislation, including the ADA in the United States, stipulate that all pathways must be accessible to people with limited mobility–suggesting it is immoral not to construct paths from durable surface materials. This week, pay attention to one of your usual walking paths. Notice its physical, moral, and social dynamics: Where does the path go, and whom does it help connect? Is it accessible to people with limited mobility? Can anyone walk it, or is its use controlled? What is the surface material? Does it take you directly to your destination, or is it a wandering route through a park, designed to maximize pleasure with beautiful views of nature?
The first half of my program was spent in the South African savanna, primarily on Kruger National Park. Kruger is home to the “Big 5” or the five most dangerous and difficult animals to hunt: lions, leopards, African buffalo, elephants and rhinos. Because of this, you cannot walk around freely within Kruger and instead have to be behind fences at all times. For the research I was assisting in, I got to be among the lucky few who have the opportunity to walk around the park on animal formed game trails, with rifle-armed guards called “game guards” for protection. Pictured here is my game guard Philly as he is directing us to slowly walk away from a territorial bull elephant. Walking within Kruger was a stressful experience while at the same time being pinned behind fences made me feel very cooped up, so my time spent in Kruger was a challenge!
All Colgate students have a special relationship with the hill. There are a few ways to climb it, including Persson Steps, the path by the library, the stairs behind up to Curtis behind Dana, and a couple others. Some junior and senior students walk up the hill every day for classes, some evade the climb by taking the Cruiser on most days. If you’re anything like me, you leave your room at the last minute and get to class just on time using the most efficient route you know. Any small increase in efficiency gives me an extra couple minutes of sleep, and that is something I value deeply. These extra sources of efficiency include cutting across patches of grass, taking the cruiser when available, and leaving on time
While Colgate’s hill can be a challenge on some mornings, it is quite small and its slope is quite shallow when compared to the hill at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. This sharp difference in hill size and steepness brings with it an interesting set of challenges and opportunities. Their network of pathways, staircases, and elevators is quite impressive. Slopes and sheer cliffs too steep to build a path on can be worked around by taking an elevator up to a walkway. One part of campus includes a series of escalators, similar to the Persson Steps of the future.
These escalators are at the bottom of the giant hill. Their main purpose is to help students overcome the psychological barrier to starting their climbs. Another part of campus boasts a staircase to nowhere, which I found when I thought I outsmarted Google Maps.
The above staircase ended at a cliff, where it was only a 20 to 30 foot drop to my destination. I swallowed my pride and hung my head in shame as I took the extra 10 minutes to go around the hill that had defeated me. The view going around the hill was nice, though.
Like any campus, it takes time to become familiar with the layout and best mode of transport to take: walking, their Cruiser equivalent, or elevators to pedestrian bridges. Building a campus on a hill and planning pathways around steep inclines is always a challenge. Accessibility here and at Colgate are in similar states. It is technically possible for someone with limited mobility to get anywhere on campus, but the physical setting and lack of resources dedicated to this issue make it very difficult. Like Colgate, everyone here has their own relationship to the hill, with some embracing it, and some able to avoid it.