Thursday, October 2, 2014

Bicycling culture in the Netherlands

One of my graduate professors in the Netherlands was fond of pointing out to visiting students that bicycle infrastructure didn't precede mass bicycling in the Netherlands. It was the other way around. While we often think that bicycle infrastructure is critical to bicycle growth, that's not the route the Netherlands took. It had mass bicycling and then it had great bicycle infrastructure.

I do think that good, protected bike lanes are critical. But I also think that a motivated citizenry that wants to take back its streets can do so without the infrastructure coming first. There are many ways to build a culture of bicycling in your community, and through that you can drive the expansion of bicycle infrastructure.

And one key to that, in my opinion, is making bicycling something that you do without any special clothing or style. Biking should be like walking, something you do in your normal work clothes, dress clothes, or casual wear.

Many people think that Holland has always been covered in bike lanes. It hasn't, but that never stop the masses from bicycling.

1950 Holland, before its cities were lined with bike lanes (Treehugger)

Biophilic Cities

‘Biophilia’ might not yet be part of your daily lingo, but the concept of biophilic cities, which puts nature at the heart of urban development, is inspiring innovative minds around the globe. Alongside ‘green’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘energy-efficient’, ‘biophilia’ is entering the vocabulary of the ecologically minded and is changing lives for the better amongst urban populations.

Philia means a ‘fondness of’, so the word biophilia could be defined as ‘a love of nature’. Initially described by noted zoologist and conservationist E.O. Wilson as, ‘…the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms’, the growth of biophilia in urban areas reflects our evolved, instinctive human need to connect with the natural world. Nature is predominantly seen as separate and distinct from the urban landscape, but around the world, nature is being woven back into the fabric of cities, restored and celebrated in a myriad of ways: from vertical gardens in Paris, growing organic food in a London skip, and an app that maps the urban harvest globally, to the crowds that gather to watch 1.5 million bats emerge from under Congress Avenue bridge in Austin, Texas each nightfall and the volunteer bushcare groups throughout Australia’s urban and coastal areas.

The concept of biophilic cities emerged out of biophilic design in sustainable architecture, which aims to integrate nature into buildings. Urban and environmental planning expert, Tim Beatley, a professor at the University of Virginia, created the Biophilic Cities project four years ago, because he wanted to take this a step further and make nature a priority in urban development. ‘All the good things incorporated into green design for healthy spaces weren’t being connected to a wider context. We need to put nature first in city design, planning and management.’ Even sustainable cities, which aspire to reduce environmental impact in terms of energy efficiency, sustainable transport and eco design, can overlook physical opportunities to connect with nature. ‘We’ve got to inspire people with uplifting places all around us on a daily basis, integrated into our normal lives, not in some park far away.’ In an excerpt of his book ‘Imagining Biophilic Cities’, Tim outlines the dimensions of a city which, as well as being quantified by the amount of vegetation, ‘green space’ and access to nature, measures the ‘sensibilities’ of the populace and city governance in terms of how it values nature and actively seeks to develop urban-nature related projects to participate in. Biophilic cities: Going beyond green (Sustainable Food Trust)