Calder At Large

Peter Calder on life in New Zealand

Peter Calder: Walking the walk - map in hand

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Local govt veteran behind charts that provide wealth of information to the city's many walkers and cyclists.

Graeme Easte says  people walk for all sorts of reasons. Photo / Chris Gorman
Graeme Easte says people walk for all sorts of reasons. Photo / Chris Gorman

On a recent sunlit morning, Watling Reserve in Mt Eden was a pleasant place to wander. Along the path that curves through the few hectares of green in between St Leonard's Rd and Watling St, a couple of trim seventy-somethings in neatly pressed tracksuits said good morning to a much older woman easing herself along on a wheeled walking frame. A younger woman threw a tennis ball for a poodle, which returned from each muddy retrieval looking more in need of the bath that would presumably be coming when it got home.

It's unremarkable to see locals enjoying their local park. But the man who meets me there, map in hand, sees the tarsealed path as a potential route, and not simply a destination.

Graeme Easte, a member of the Albert-Eden Local Board and a veteran of 20 years in local government, is championing local walking and cycling maps that zoom in on patches of the city.

As a member of the Western Bays Board in the former Auckland City, he oversaw the production of a map of that area. Now relocated to Mt Albert, he has come up with two sets of maps that cover his new beat - and bits of the adjoining areas as well.

Zooming in three times closer than a street map - to 1:8000, so a centimetre on paper is a mere 80m on foot - it's a human-scale document on which cartographer Igor Drecki has even produced the ghostly outlines of buildings, including your place. In short, it's a map of a landscape that humans live in, rather than one they drive across.

In a street directory, roads are bulked up so their names can be reproduced more legibly; on a walking map, they shrink back to normal size and the emphasis is on a wealth of data that will be of interest to someone travelling by foot.

At the end of this street is a set of steps leading down to the water; on that stretch of busy arterial, the pedestrian crossings and pedestrian refuges are picked out; here's a stile that makes a fence no obstacle.

Better still, the map is festooned with little green squiggles that show short cuts (or maybe detours; the shortest distance is not always the best route) joining one road and another: walkways, easements, cycle tracks and parks.

"It's about putting the user in charge," Easte explains. "Let's say you want to get to the bus stop or the church. You can work out what is the most convenient way, but maybe you say: 'I've walked that way hundreds of times; what might make it a more interesting morning'."

The difficulty of getting around Auckland doesn't seem to be reflected in public transport patronage. Aucklanders talk about the traffic the way the English talk about the weather - constantly and in complaining terms - yet there is an almost dogged refusal to get out of the car; it's almost as if we're waiting for someone else to make the first move.

Against that backdrop, Easte's maps seem almost quaintly hopeful, predicated as they are on the assumption that people will use walking as a form of transport. But he's quite unabashed when I say that to him.

"People walk for all sorts of reasons. It may be because they want exercise, or want to clear their head. And when they do that they may want to go somewhere that they have never been before."

What's more, walking can be a component part of a longer journey.

"Every public transport journey involves a degree of walking," says Easte, "A lot of people don't have cars - children can't drive - and lot of travel is done on foot, whether you are just walking to the library or the dairy."

In an age when walkers plugged into iPods and the like pound the pavement with grim determination, walking has become a workout. We have largely lost the idea of moving through the world on foot, smelling wet pavements and lawn clippings, hearing the happy shrieks of children, stopping and having a yarn over a fence. Easte hopes other boards will picks up the map idea and that the whole database might one day be online - you could call up a map centred on your own house and print it out in colour for a couple of dollars at the library.

It seems a small price to pay for getting to know the small slice of the world in which you live.

*Contact Graeme Easte at Graeme.Easte@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz

- NZ Herald

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