When Richard Florida’s speaking fee hit UDS$35,000, he was accepting invitations to speak in cities no creative young hot-shot would deign to step foot in. (That story here). Speakers in demand quickly turn into pied pipers. For these kinds of “ideas men”, the paid public address is the pay-off for all those unpaid hours, putting teeth on their ideas, with facts and figures. They can be forgiven for selling talks to anyone willing to pay, and for coming to the lectern with silver-bullet prescriptions.
This city I have moved to in Tasmania is a world lagger when it comes to moving out cars to make way for people. Never mind building bike paths: in the hilly parts of this city, you can’t really say there are footpaths. Kids on bikes, blind people with canes or guide dogs, or people in wheelchairs, are forced onto arterial roads because it is acceptable here, to block footpaths with parked cars. If this blog were read by local parking inspectors, politicians, or just about anyone, I’m sure they would say: “blocking the what?”
Emboldened by their local bike bashing newspaper, groups of pedestrians walk 4-abreast in royal processions on paths marked with stencils of bikes, pretending to be deaf when we ring our bike bells. Evidently no one on council has been to Italy, as the local pedestrian mall still has signs banning bikes. I have it on the authority of my own children that none of their classmates cycle to school, even though most of their dads would own new 29ers.
The four lane highway that dissects this city has fewer safe places to cross than a main road in Bangkok. The historic down town, lauded for being “intact”, looks like LA on maps google, with dangerous driveway crossings effectively giving cars right-of-way over anyone using the footpath.
I question the value of bringing Jan Gehl to a city like this, as my new university and a few exiled visionaries on Launceston council, recently did. The prescriptions in Gehl’s medicine box are designed for top athletes in the race to build liveable cities; cities with a visible groundswell of political will for something better, like New York for example. Launceston needs a brain transplant, not a prescription. It needs to become to ghost town in order to erase all memory of how it has been acceptable to exit here. Its best hope is the economy here continues to fall, until the majority simply can’t afford cars or fuel.
The city I have just left, Newcastle, isn’t so fortunate. Mining boom money looks set to fill that place with even more “fossil fools”. Before long I’m sure they will have many more coal fired power stations, or nuclear ones, to keep the roads purring with electric sports cars. At least Tasmanians will be poor enough to switch to walking and bikes when oil prices skyrocket, and they can no longer get their V8 Holden utes back up those hills. Most live in houses dating from the height of auto mania, at 80 or 100 meters elevation from any work place or shops.
When he’s speaking in cities that he has identified as hot-spots for creatives, Florida makes no bones about the fate of those other cities that are dependent on cars. His take-home message: if you own any real-estate there, sell up, while you can.
Many Greeks are turning to cycling, and seeing the lifestyle dividends of falling behind economically. Similarly, Cuba and Argentina have been innovators with regards to urban farming and bicycle transport. If there is anyone else here in Tassie who shares my annoyance regarding car domination, let’s wait for better times, shall we? When oil prices rise, we might be the only ones left here.