Learning from the Romans and Apple

A cyclist running a stop sign, or using fowl language, stands to be accused of tarnishing the gentlemanly reputation of all fellow cyclists. Yet my reputation as a driver is not diminished every time some beast does something wrong in his car. Why the discrepancy? A cowardly snatching of a dear grandmother’s handbag, by someone using a bicycle as their getaway means, will likewise be reported in the media as an indictment on cyclists. All cyclists. Nothing of the kind is induced about all drivers when a car is used in a ram raid. Oh the injustice, but this is simply what happens to persecuted minorities. Their skin colour, bicycle, burka, mohawk or otherness of whatever kind, cannot avoid mention in the reportage of misdemeanors, no matter how petty.

The reason of course that we relish our minority status as cyclists, with over the top abuse yelled at drivers for instance, is for the delicious opportunity to stand on one’s high-horse. That we risk our sustainable corporeal motors on roads shared with gas guzzling motors that could cream us in a slip, only fills us the more with nourishing sanctimony, driving drivers to hate us beyond hate, and so the cycle of violence continues, until somebody dies, when it keeps on just the same.

Thankfully, the history of architecture offers an end to this insurgency struggle. As much as cyclists piss people off, the Romans pissed them off more. But do we read in the Bible of the Jews hating the Romans? Why Christ no! They had Stockholm syndrome, for God’s sake. Had the outnumbered Romans done nothing to their subjects but whip them into submission, they would have ran out of crosses. Better to breed awe and envy, to the point where many would even consider joining your army, if given the chance. The Romans won their battle for the hearts and minds of all of Europe, by building little versions of Rome in each town they invaded.

Roman style architecture boils down to big f…-off arches, of the kind they used to build bridges and aqueducts, with Greek temples drawn over the top, to make them look fancy. Banks and other institutions have been using the style to similar ends since the Renaissance in Florence. It says, "trust us, we’re better." Though architectural fashions may have changed in the last 80 years, the reason for building in sophisticated and incredibly overpriced styles, remains much the same. It’s a confidence trick.

So when someone sends me pictures of some wire cage for securely storing bikes near a train station, as though more should be encouraged, I do have to stop myself replying with hate mail. Bicycling facilities deserve the most sophisticated architecture possible. Cages, where they exist, need tearing down and replacing with storage facilities designed by Frank Gehry, venerable temples to the god of the cog. When neither logic or force will convince die-hards to accept change, regimes look to architecture.

Do you think the immensely expensive Apple-Store style was conceived to persuade long-term Apple users, who would be just as happy buying their new I-phone 4 via the net? It was conceived to win over luddites like me, who freak out when we see our kids with their fingers on the shop’s touch screens. Likewise, bicycletecture is not something cyclists will care so much about. It will be conceived to persuade late adopters, who presently drive, but who will cycle when see we get the best buildings.

2 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Cages, what a Zoo!

    Yes, when cages are provided as some sort of security for cyclists against those who don’t cycle it always amuses. The supposition that honest people only exist inside the cage and that thieves somehow only lurk around the cage perimeter always gives me a chuckle. I’m sure the unfortunate making off to the pawn shop with a 40-inch plasma screen on a slightly rusty MTB uses the cage to park his bike as well. If we just keep the bike rack as public as possible, where the hive of activity is ceaseless, where venders, newsagents, florists and the like are ever present, I feel our steeds will be safest. A cage is no place for old men, or bikes.

    • Steven says:

      Re: Cages, what a Zoo!

      Beautifully said! I recently suggested bikes racks at the bottom of our university library stairs. “Great idea”, they said, “thank you so much”, and promptly installed new bikes racks around the corner where nobody goes. Until this world we live in wakes from its car induced slumber, I will continue to chain my bike to whatever I like. I wonder if chaining to a police car would grant added security?

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