Tag Archives: Chris Turner

Bicycles and the city

Many cities are investing in bicycle infrastructure such as expanded bike lanes or subsidized bicycle sharing programs, and this is increasing bicycle traffic. InfraNet Lab blog writes that in Montreal and New York City ridership has increase about 30% since 2008. London has more than doubled since 2000. London’s new large capacity bike lanes have lead to a 70% increase in cycle traffic into the city reports UK’s Bikehub in one year.

This big city provides a list of a few example cities, and Streetfilms, which is a NGO that creates short films on how transportation policy can improve city life,  has a number of films on urban bicycling and bicycle infrastructure.  For example,

Cycling Copenhagen, Through North American Eyes

There is lots of discussion over how to do incorporate bicycles in cities is intense and diverse. For example,

1) James Schwartz argues that it is good for urban businesses.

2) Canadian sustainability write Chris Turner on bike lanes (parts 1, 2, and 3)

3) Evan Osnos in his New York blog post Bicycle lanes of Beijing compares the history of bike lines in Beijing with recent debates over bike lanes in new york

But an article on Sustainable Cities Collective by Kasey Klimes The Real Reason Why Bicycles are the Key to Better Cities argues that urban cycling is important, not just because it’s healthier, uses less energy and pollutes less than other transport, but that they provide a means for becoming engaged in city life. Klimes writes:

Invite a motorist for a bike ride through your city and you’ll be cycling with an urbanist by the end of the day. Even the most eloquent of lectures about livable cities and sustainable design can’t compete with the experience from atop a bicycle saddle.

“These cars are going way too fast,” they may mutter beneath their breath.

“How are we supposed to get across the highway?”

“Wow, look at that cathedral! I didn’t know that was there.”

“I didn’t realize there were so many vacant lots in this part of town.”

“Hey, let’s stop at this cafe for a drink.”

Suddenly livability isn’t an abstract concept, it’s an experience. Human scale, connectivity, land use efficiency, urban fabric, complete streets… all the codewords, catchphrases, and academic jargon can be tossed out the window because now they are one synthesized moment of appreciation. Bicycles matter because they are a catalyst of understanding – become hooked on the thrill of cycling, and everything else follows. Now a new freeway isn’t a convenience but an impediment. Mixed-use development isn’t a threat to privacy but an opportunity for community. And maybe, just maybe, car-free living will eventually be seen not as restrictive, but as a door to newfound freedom.

The real reason why bicycles are the key to better cities?

Some might call it enlightenment.

And BBC reports on research that suggests that cyclists are happier people.

Hopefully the indirect consequences of this regrowth of urban cycling will be positive. I know I’ll be looking at the city differently on my bike to work.

Living in the Anthropocene

On Yale360 Paul Crutzen and Christian Schwägerl write that Living in the Anthropocene:

Living up to the Anthropocene means building a culture that grows with Earth’s biological wealth instead of depleting it. Remember, in this new era, nature is us.

In the March 2011 National Geographic, environmental journalist Elizabeth Kolbert writes Enter the Anthropocene—Age of Man, which describes the idea and the geological changes being produced by humanity.  This article looks at the anthropocene more from the point of view as damage to the biosphere, rather than what we can do to reduce that damage and increase human wellbeing. It is illustrated by photos two of which are shown above.

For more on living in the anthropocene, see our 2009 post resilience as an operating system for the anthropocene on Chris Turner‘s article Age of Breathing Underwater on the anthropocene in the Walrus, as well as our recent article on the Environmentalist’s Paradox.

Resilience as an operating system for sustainability in the anthropocene

Chris Turner, author of Geography of Hope: A Tour of the World We Need, writing in the Walrus about the Anthropocene and the coral reef crisis in his long article Age of Breathing Underwater:

I first heard tell of “resilience” — not as a simple descriptive term but as the cornerstone of an entire ecological philosophy — just a couple of days before I met Charlie Veron on the pages of Melbourne’s most respected newspaper. I was onstage for the opening session of the Alfred Deakin Innovation Lectures in an auditorium at the University of Ballarat at the time. The evening had begun with a literal lament — a grieving folk song performed by an aboriginal musician. I’d then presented a slide show of what I considered to be the rough contours of an Anthropocene map of hope, after which a gentleman I’d just met, a research fellow at Australia’s prestigious Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation named Brian Walker, placed my work in the broader context of resilience theory.

I had to follow Veron all the way to the edge of the abyss his research had uncovered before I could come back around to resilience. The concept, it turns out, emerged from the research of a Canadian-born academic named Buzz Holling at the University of Florida, and has since been expanded by a global research network called the Resilience Alliance. “Ecosystem resilience” — this in the Resilience Alliance website’s definition — “is the capacity of an ecosystem to tolerate disturbance without collapsing into a qualitatively different state that is controlled by a different set of processes. A resilient ecosystem can withstand shocks and rebuild itself when necessary.” It’s a concept I encountered repeatedly in my conversations with reef researchers.

…This points to the broader implications of the resilience concept — the stuff Brian Walker likes to talk about. He and his colleagues in the Resilience Alliance often refer to their field of study as “social-ecological resilience,” suggesting that people are as essential to the process as reefs or any other ecosystem, and that real resilience is created in the complex, unpredictable interplay between systems. “With resilience,” Walker told me, “not only do we acknowledge uncertainty, but we kind of embrace uncertainty. And we try to say that the minute you get too certain, as if you know what the answer is, you’re likely to come unstuck. You need slack in the system. You need to have the messiness that enables self-organization in the system in ways that are not predictable. The best goal is to try to build a general resilience. Things like having strong connectivity, but also some modularity in the system so it’s not all highly connected everywhere. And lots of diversity.”

Resilience, then, embraces change as the natural state of being on earth. It values adaptation over stasis, diffuse systems over centralized ones, loosely interconnected webs over strict hierarchies. If the Anthropocene is the ecological base condition of twenty-first-century life and sustainability is the goal, or bottom line, of a human society within that chaotic ecology, then resilience might be best understood as the operating system Paul Hawken was on about — one with an architecture that encourages sustainability in this rapidly changing epoch.

This new operating system will, by necessity, be comfortable with loss. There is, after all, much to be gained from epochal, transformative change. In the midst of chaos and devastation on the scale of a world war, for example, we might discover how to breathe underwater.