Friday, August 21, 2015

The day a city walked home

After 9/11, so the story goes, people in New York started to keep running sneakers under their desks. On the day of the tragedies, hundreds of thousands had no choice but to walk home, many for hours. Like most of us, those regular people were simply wearing their usual everyday outfit for work including their daily shoes. And those just made the evacuation of downtown Manhattan all that much harder.

A decade later there was an earthquake in Japan. Within minutes of the magnitude 9 the subways were at a standstill, the elevated highways were in automatic shutdown and gridlock hit, bringing the city to a halt. And in a re-enactment of that day in 2001, a city started to walk home. Millions of people had no option but to start a long journey. Women in heels, men in leather flats. For many it was too far, home being days rather than hours away by foot. And for many others, they simply didn't know how to get home, living their lives underground, they didn't know which way to go.

Japan is an organised, consensual culture. As the city closed and people started to move there was no panic despite the continued aftershocks, the first of which, in its own right, was greater than the one that had razed Kobe to the ground. But as the traffic lights turned red, people waited patiently, no pushing and no jostling until the lights turned green again. And then the mass, as one, moved on. And as the city started to slowly recover in the weeks and months to follow, people started to keep running sneakers under their desks.

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