Exercise Note

Street Exercise:
Exercising on Forbidden Drive
by Desmond O'Donovan


​Re-PLACE-ing Philadelphia is building an expanded archive of cultural memory that includes multiple histories, re-place-ing the established with new narratives and understandings. Notes consider place via the street, sound, food, trees, and other portals.

In partnership with educator Joshua Block, students from Philadelphia's Science Leadership Academy are creating and publishing their Philadelphia Field Notes. Desmond O'Donovan shares his experience watching others exercise along forbidden Drive in the Wissahickon.


      After stretching my legs on the fence that runs along Forbidden Drive in the Wissahickon, I begin my run. An easy pace for today, an opportunity to take in my surroundings. At first I see almost no one, a couple of people here and there, walking or jogging. But as I get closer to Valley Green, the more popular part of the Wissahickon, the amount of people getting their afternoon exercise picks up. I’m constantly seeing people, walking, biking and running. Some are with friends and or pets, others are alone. Some wave to me as I pass, others ignore me, to invested in their workout to acknowledge other people.

      For some this is just a leisurely afternoon jog in the park, for others the run seems to be more intense. A group of college athletes zoom past everyone else, people don’t even try to keep up with the them. They run as a shirtless mob, despite the fact that it’s not even hot out. The cyclists still look cold though, they have to fight the wind because they go so fast.

      Animals are an important part of the Forbidden Drive scene. People walk, run and bike with their dogs. Some dogs are well behaved, running faithfully alongside their owners. Others are not so much, they run up to other dogs and fight and hump them. Some people have just one dog, others have four or more. One guy has a team of six huskies pulling a sled with wheels. Their are people riding horses along the drive. People avoid them as to not startle to horses. Piles of horse crap litter the path. Squirrels and chipmunks occasionally run across the path, while robins and blue jays fight overhead.

      Paces change once people reach the hill. Some runners start passing cyclists, whereas others stop and walk to the top. To some the hill is major obstacle, for others it is nothing, just another part of their usual run. People going down the hill, especially the cyclists, have to keep their speed in check so that they can swerve around the potholes at the bottom. This is a small section of Forbidden Drive where cars can drive on it. The speed limit is seven miles per hour, but I know that no driver is following it because they’re all going faster than me.

      I finish my run at the parking lot at the bottom of Kitchen’s Lane, near Forbidden Drive. As I do my finishing stretches, I watch as other people return to their cars from their runs and bike rides, or begin their runs late in the day. Dogs eagerly wait for their owners to tie their shoes or get their helmets on, they want to get going. The horses are returned to their stables, which are located up the hill. There's a map of the Wissahickon in the parking lot, people read it to map out their routes. They then ascend down hill, to begin their exercise routines on Forbidden Drive, taking advantage of the scenery, the soft ground, and perhaps most importantly, the adsense of cars.

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