Exporting a sustainable vision

I’m no economist, but as far as I can ascertain, the Australian government gets beads from other countries in exchange for coal, iron ore and fancy looking degrees.

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Our government then distributes those beads to Australian citizens (through direct payments and public sector “jobs”) so we can use them to buy foreign amusements, like cars and oil to make the cars go. We don’t need the cars. The foreign countries could send their own workers to get the coal and iron ore, and the degrees could be offered online by computers. Our government would still get the beads.

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But it’s nice to pretend that our labour is needed, and that the car trips have purpose, and that we need lots of beads. We can exchange the beads with each other for restaurant meals or tickets to hear each other sing songs, or use them to outbid each other for houses in neighbourhoods where there are shit loads of beads, or use them to buy outdoor settees. Here’s a nice one; very modern; won’t last a week in the weather:

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What do you call twenty million people, living near the beach, feeding from such a chance bounty? That’s a real question. There is a comments box at the bottom if you have an answer.

The best we can do, I think, is show the world how to live. We have an opportunity to redefine idle hedonism as something the whole world can strive to partake of, without humanity’s consumption destroying the planet.

In my life, old houses, old surf boards, and of course vintage bikes, are the signs I use to tell others to look somewhere else if what they want is cheap labour. I have the right balance of wealth and cheap tastes that I can afford to do nothing. It is what has allowed me to give notice to leave my safe university job, where they have been paying me one hundred thousand beads every year pretty much just to smile and greet customers. But beads are not great enticements for someone who does not want a car or petrol to drive it around, who has travelled the world and not found a beach as nice as the one he looks at from his kitchen window, who sings his own songs, and who has no wish to own a settee.

What I want is a platform to show emerging nations, and over consumers in my own nation, an alternative to the way of life presented to them by advertising. I want to advertise the delight of doing F.A., but more importantly, planning cities in ways that accentuate fun without spending. Having lived in Singapore and New York, and travelled just about everywhere else for my work, I know the east coast of Australia, from Sydney to Brisbane, leads the world on this front. But the emerging world knows nothing about it! They get on aeroplanes and travel as tourists to western cities to buy Gucci handbags, in the mistaken belief that that’s how people live when they have every option. It’s not! We ride old surfboards and restore vintage bikes.

12 Comments

  1. Nick zintilis says:

    You have gone “White Cargo” as they used to say….

  2. crank says:

    “I’m no economist…” – that’s why we like you.

  3. Jimm Pratt says:

    Great content as always, Steven. But I do have a minor bone to pick regarding your “Unite d’Bicycle Nation, Copenhagen” article..- specifically: “Door-to-door trips from Ørestad to the city are faster by bike than by train.” Unfortunately this is about 90% untrue. If your destination door in the city center is within 1000 m of the nearest metro station or S-Tøg station (and that covers *a lot of doors*), the trains will *always* be faster (unless it’s broken down). This is why the city is dense – many things in many places. Ørestad is too far out to allow all but the speediest of riders who don’t mind breaking quite a few traffic rules and sweating like pigs upon arrival to get in ahead of the trains. I know this and have proven this many times – I live in that area (Ørestad/Island Brygge) after all. There are just too many traffic stops between Ørestad and the city is not really ‘local’ – roughly 2-5 km away depending on where you intend to go. There will need to be severe changes in infrastructure – such as more dedicated non-stop cycle roads – before you beat the Metro into the city for destinations within reach. Now if you mean places where the trains do not reach, then it’s not really a contest against the trains. Of course cycling is faster in that case (unless busses go your route, and then it’s a toss up depending on time of day and traffic patterns). Probably easier to start a city from scratch.

    • Steven says:

      Hi Jimm, I spent a bit over a week in Daniel Libeskind’s hotel… can’t remember the name. I called it the Holocaust Hotel. So I’ve been reading a bit about transport geography lately—a slippery science crawling with advocates sponsored by lobbies. What I’ve leanred though is that in this case you should measure the average door-to-door time from any randomly selected address in Ørestad to any randomly selected address in the city, and not can’t account for people knowing the exact times of the trains. In practice, a few hundred subjects would keep travel diaries and we’d average their results. Two things: do you take the bike on the train? That would certainly help things. Second, do you cut across “Amager fælled” (the big reserve). I swear I was doing the trip in 10 minutes after I figured out that particular short cut, maybe averaging 20kph. In summary: I’ve not doubt you could beat me between certain addresses with your knowledge of the train. But I’m not quite ready to concede that a train can be quicker, between randomly selected addresses, over such a short distance.

    • Steven says:

      Jimm, I’ve amended the text to read “Door-to-door trips from some parts of Ørestad to some parts of the city.” Hope that works. Thanks for the feedback!

    • Jimm Pratt says:

      Ha – well you didn’t need to go that far. You are entitled to your facts and opinions as much as the next person! But perhaps something along the lines of “Door-to-door trips from Ørestad to the city can be faster…” would be more accurate yet still convey your intent – I feel that using ‘some parts’ still muddies the water a bit.

      I did not mean to come off as standing on a soap-box of righteousness, but I think “measurement of transport time between two random points” is a slippery science at best when using it to help improve transportation options. In principle cycling will be faster than public transport over given distances and certain road types and traffic patterns The reality is that this is not regularly the case. Such measurements rarely take into account inconsistent stop lights due to traffic pattern changes, different traffic flow at different times of day, detours, obstructions, known/unknown shortcuts, weather conditions, the penchant for some cyclists to break the road rules to get to their destination faster (running stop lights, riding on the sidewalk, etc.), non-standard use of 20 kph (not all Danes drive like that…it’s closer to 16 kph as an average for the general population) *and* that daily commuting life isn’t all that random after all. We have set routines and routes that we hone over time to be as efficient as possible, regardless of transportation used. Going from random point to random point isn’t how practical “measurement of transport time” should be done. You must look at routes for all transport modes for commuting, shopping, school, and so on and will find out that the cycle loses in a car-centric infrastructure, especially for routes longer than 4-5 km.

      For example, it makes sense for my wife and I to leave for work at the same time to reduce separation anxiety for our dog. As we live in Islands Brygge just north of Ørestad and being only 2 Metro stops away from our work places in Kongens Nytorv / Nyhavn, I can cycle and arrive 5-6 minutes ahead of her if traffic conditions favor me because she needs extra time to walk to and from the relative Metro stations. Now if we move to a place farther out towards the end of the Metro line (Ørestad -something we are considering), the situation becomes reversed. It becomes nearly 8-9 kilometers to the same destination and I have many round-abouts and stop lights added to my commute (if I take the park you mentioned it’s actually longer for me) and she arrives about ten minutes before I do.

      Personally I consider it mostly the fault of the existing infrastructure that has become too car-centric. Oh, sure, we try to make up for it be making sure the cycles get their spaces, but it doesn’t actually improve the cycling. We end up crossing the same spaces as private and public transport so we are not really gaining much. For cycling to flourish again, a city needs to be developed for cycles from the start.

    • Steven says:

      You could move to the 8-House and furnish me with regular photos and blog posts. Not sure what you do for a living Jimm, but we could give ol’ Mikael a run for his money. Reckon he’s running out of steam for this bike caper anyway 🙂

  4. Jimm Pratt says:

    With our rental contract expiring next year (owner wants to give the place to her daughter who plans to go to University in Cph), we are looking for new digs. I would love to move to 8 House – but currently everything is sold there. We would have to settle for something on either side of it. But as the wife prefers to be closer to the city center we will probably stay in Islands Brygge. Will depend on the housing market in the next few months. Ørestad is developing nicely, but still has that ‘new construction smell’.

    A summary of what I do can be found at http://about.me/jimm.pratt, but basically I teach web development stuff or support bike stuff in a variety of ways.

    Not sure if Mikael is running out of steam just yet, but he’s probably getting tired of talking to people who just do not listen. Or people are getting tired of being told “you’re doing it wrong”. And I don’t think we need to compete against him – the more voices out there, the better.

    • Steven says:

      Website design must be in the water where you are! You’re site looks amazing.
      But yeah, I was joking about Mikael. He’s a good mate with very broad shoulders—not literally, but you know. My point of difference from his practice, and Gehl’s, is I think what cities like Copenhagen are doing outside the 19th century core (ie, where you live) is of more more interest to the developing world. I’d be delighted if you felt like joining me in documenting life in redevelopment districts!

    • Jimm Pratt says:

      It will continue to be interesting only if Ørestad can continue to develop on it’s own and is able to sever many of the umbilical ties with Copenhagen – still lots of things you can’t do or get in Ørestad. Then I think it has a chance to become a very interesting city for cyclists. Unfortunately, it is so far out from the places where people work to afford such expensive housing, that the car is pretty much the only way to get to where they need to go. This is why there are large parking lots and a giant parking garage within walking distance from the 8 House – developers understand that only people with deep pockets will live there, and of course those deep pockets can afford private vehicles too.

      Ørestad needs to be self-sustaining *first* and as quickly as possible so that cycling infrastructure can take hold, then the cyclists will come. Again unfortunately that means that development during the next 10 years will continue to revolve around private transport, and by the time it is self-sustaining, it will have a transportation infrastructure biased against the cycle – traffic control lights, roundabouts, and intersections because developers will be too lazy to build overpasses/underpasses. We have to start with a city design that provides no chance of private motor vehicle infrastructure – none, nada, uhuh, no-way, zero, zilch, nein, nyet. Only support for emergency vehicles or construction vehicles or publicly shared electric vehicles. Housing, hospitals, schools, commercial, governmental, and recreational needs must be planned for in advance within a range of say… 3-5 kilometers from end to end with cyclists as the primary transport in mind, followed perhaps by public transport or publicly shared electric vehicle rental as a secondary transport need. We do have to admit that not everyone can cycle, and transporting of large quantities of goods is still better with larger van/truck-like vehicles. This is such a great undertaking to begin with that I feel that ‘re-development’ of existing cities will be too little, too late unless we can get a majority of the people to agree on the same solutions.

      I would be happy to lend a voice of support or counterpoint to your documenting efforts. I travel regularly in the areas you often cite – as well as cycle long distance to far away lands like Holland – so I would like to think I have an “on the ground / in the trenches” perspective of how redevelopment and new development progresses. Just let me know where and when to start!

    • Steven says:

      Hi Jimm, just sent you an email. Anyone eves dropping, wanting to live in a cycling utopia, keep an eye on future developments in Orestad 🙂

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