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Let’s say one absolutely needs shoes to get anywhere — that shoes can make or break one’s ability to get around. Then shoes would become to the walker what cars have become to most American drivers — essential to the trip, and part of their identity. It stands to reason that if you feel that strongly about a form of mobility, you’re going to invest a lot in it, right?

Walking in Paris. Photo courtesy of TristanL.

The French like shoes so much because they walk everywhere. It makes so much sense to me now.

I don’t mean that in a cliché kind of way. The French, and Parisians in particular, statistically walk a lot. Walking is actually the mode of transportation that Parisians use the most. On average, a typical Parisian takes 4.15 trips per day; 2.17 of those trips are on foot, which is a bit over 50% (“Enquête globale transport,” Sept. 2012).

(Curiously, I went hunting for comparable U.S. data, and the closest comparison I could find was that with commuting, which is very different from trips taken per day. For instance, when I lived in San Francisco,  I would probably claim that my primary mode of commuting was by bike. But a standard day’s assortment of Sara-trips would be to ride to the office, work a bit, walk to buy a cookie :), walk back to the office, work a little more very hard, and commute home by bike. If you’re counting, 50% of my trips were on foot, but you wouldn’t count those cookie trips as commuting. 

Just looking at the American commute, the walkiest place in the U.S.? New York, duh, with 6.3% of commutes taking place by foot. Paris by contrast walks to work 10% of the time. Using my powers of statistical extrapolation, I’m willing to conclude that Paris is definitely walkier — commuting or not.)

What does all of this walking have to do with shoes? Everything! Because if you’re walking everywhere, you got to feel look good while doing it. And the French are really into shoes. How do I know this? Because I went to the free exhibition, “The Shoe: A French Passion,” sponsored by the Association of French Shoemakers (or something close to that).  Half museum exhibit, half real-life infomercial, “The Shoe” offered all kinds of fun facts like:

  • The average French person buys 6 pairs of shoes a year (3.5 for men, 7.3 for women)
  • 950,000 pairs of shoes are sold in France each day
  • France is the number 1 European market for shoes.

I also got to take in such edifying exhibits as “A gallery of shoe types”:

Types of environments in which one might wear shoes:

Right! The great outdoors …

“Green” shoes:

Of course they’re ugly.

Urban shoes: 

The little black shoe:

And, slippers according to your family’s personality:

That’s “Mama Bimbo” and “Papa Nouveau Riche.” These are members of the “Bling Bling Family.”

Thus, I posit, fellow transportation policy wonks that what the U.S. needs to encourage walking in the U.S., is not better sidewalks, crosswalks, tree-lined avenues, benches, or walkable destinations. No, I think the U.S. needs better minimum standards in footwear. We need cheap-shoe boundary zones, where policy dictates that footwear must be durable, classy, or else. Proceeds from citations will seed local shoe businesses who will single-handedly revive ailing rustbelt towns with size-8 Mary Janes. Economic stimulus à la Manolo Blahnik.

I think I have great ideas.

And if anyone needs ideas of what to get me for Christmas, I’ll take these grey boots in a size 8.5 U.S:

After all, I live in Paris now. I got to get around.

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