I hope your 2021 has begun in a way that has brought you joy and growth. I am still here, writing this monthly letter that is loosely about cities and stuff, and I am glad to have you reading it.

For much of last year, I was posting these up on Tuesdays but for this one, I’ve decided to send them out on the last Saturday of the month instead. There is no optimisation logic to this, just a thought of mine that it may be nicer to receive and read these electronic letters on a weekend instead. I have also changed the email service I use to send my newsletter out to you subscribers, but this should be rather imperceptible on your end. In short, things are the same yet different.

○ ○ ○ ○ ○

My Apple Health app tells me that I’ve walked more than 200km in January, a distance many multiples more than anything I’ve clocked over the last 12 months. Bound by restrictions to travel beyond the borders of my little city-state, my weekend routine now features being a walker within its bounds. I’ve also become that friend where everywhere is walk-able. Take a walk at the beach? Sure I’ll walk to the beach first. Go have lunch at the mall at the airport? Sure, I’ll walk and see you there. In the James Clear’s Atomic Habitssense of the word, it feels like I have embraced a new identity to become a ‘walker’. I’ve also included it in my IG bio so it must be true, right?

This act of placing rubber soles on pavement surfaces started as a way to get some literal momentum in my life but it has now become part of an exercise routine. It has also become an exploration of foot routes that will lead me to parts of the island that I’ve only ever accessed by car or public transport. Often, I have walked through a few urban blocks and a couple of streets to find myself at the boundaries of what used to appear to me as large neighbourhoods. Sometimes, a 10-minutes walk along some drains and canals would bring me to a place that seemed so far away when experienced as a car drive. My concept of ‘near-ness’ is not the same anymore.

All this walking has also shifted my appreciation of distance at a more intimate level. How far is 1 kilometre? How far is a 10 minutes walk for me, and for others? How far does the same distance feel when walking at 6 A.M as compared to 6 P.M? I’ve always intellectually known that Singapore measures less than 50km across, but these walks have made me viscerally feel the smallness of the island and the compactness of its neighbourhoods.

Even as walking have given me a new appreciation for routes and distances alongside clearing my head and building stamina, there are other dimensions to walking that I have yet to put my mind to. There are experiences along the walk that I don’t feel like I’ve truly paid attention to. I know that there are layers of stories and history underneath my feet that have not percolated beyond the surface. This is where navigation and tracking apps like Google Maps and Strava isn’t adequate for the job of telling me about tree canopy, natural features, street life, people, histories, and myths of the city. This is where I may need to do more research work before and after my walks.

Walking has always been a simple joy for me but these months of walking have led me to uncover a different complexity to it. This act of putting one foot in front of the other again and again is repetitive but not boring, quiet but not uneventful, and simple but not always easy. I hope that there’ll be more walking for me in 2021 and I am already thinking of coastal stretches and pan-island routes to embark upon in the coming weeks. I may even send a few of these dispatches from the pavements this year.

○ ○ ○ ○ ○

In a previous dispatch, I mentioned my intention to start a new initiative to support new talent and ideas for a better city. Over the last month, I have put some attention to this, speaking to potential partners, peers, and ultimately shaping and crystallising the project. 

While I am not ready to share further yet at this point, I wanted to let you know that there is a separate mailing list for that initiative. It will have more specificity about the project and will only be sent occassionally.

Lastly, if you know someone who might be keen to support ideas for a better city in any shape or form, do send them my way through hello@adibjalal.com or through IG @adibjalal.  

Thank you so much for being here. Till then, be safe, and maybe I’ll just bump into you on one of my walks.