May our streets have no names

Most people would remember the neighbourhood of their childhood being cut by something unusual. The neighbourhood in which I grew up had a 4 feet diameter steel pipeline running right through it. I remember laying on it, hugging it, pressing my ear to steel that always stayed cold no matter how hot the sun was, wondering how something so colossal as the water supply to my whole city could be gushing under my torso, yet not make a sound.

our pipeline

The lives of most kids revolved around that water pipe easement. On BMX bikes or 70s dragsters we rode on the actual pipe or just beside it, to the shops, to the back entrance of our local primary school, to the creek where we built dirt jumps and secret enclosures, and to all of our friend’s houses. Kids whose houses weren’t on our pipe-line, formed other gangs, around whatever unusual thing cut a slice through their part of town.

Part of North Milton Keynes network of redways

In planned British new towns like Milton Keynes, as many greenways (or “redways”) were provided as there were roads. By design, the material substance of every road had an equal portion of dark matter in the form of a bike path, somewhere, for balance. But planned routes for bikes are burdened with high expectations. No demands were put on our pipe easement. I almost died there from alcohol poisoning when I was 13, and have never levelled blame at the pipeline. I saw an 11 year old girl pinned down and dry humped by a gang of my 11 year old classmates, centre frame in the photo above, and would blame them, not the pipeline. I saw a new kid run for his life from a mob who didn’t like his long hair, all in this easement, that in and of itself is benign. Whenever newspapers learn of offences like these on the redways of Milton Keynes, conservatives decry the whole idea as a disaster, never to be repeated elsewhere. Never mind that adolescents aren’t only dry-humped but killed by cars on the road. Cars are of the establishment. They’re allowed to kill children.

As for cycling, that’s the black man with his eye on their daughters. It’s the pest they can’t poison or trap. The establishment says cycling is juvenile, and delinquent, and will never countenance routes being left for it. The makers of cars, heart medications, hospitals, and hearses, have a script they would like us to stick to, and not skid mark with our bicycle tires. The establishment is too invested in machines to afford not to fight to the end to discredit cheap green shortcuts to mobility, such as our bikes, or non-vehicular paths crossing cities.

So there is something to be said, I believe, for us making cycling a cult thing at first. Sure, I would love to see cycling becoming mainstream, just not by decree or design. It doesn’t have to be Stock Aitken Waterman’s new number one hit, based on a formula lifted from Holland. It can be like REM, who spent years just being an awesome underground band, before all my brainless contemporaries got on the bandwagon.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBVVtNnHeEg

2 Comments

  1. Tim says:

    There is that thing about pathways through bushland (“Hey, we’re investing in alternative infrastructure” – The Establishment) that harbours unseemly behaviour from time to time. I wonder if the Redways feel like the ‘town square’ or the ‘back lane’? It would be great if they felt like the former, a bit like the paths between the apartments where the Wool Sheds used to be in Newcastle, NSW. It would be great if the houses overlooked the Redways, with the front yards opening onto them, instead of overlooking the garage and a dual carriage-way. But from what I’ve seen on the Internet, it doesn’t seem that way.

    Perhaps you are being hyperbolic, or still in a Suigino Cranky mood, but I don’t think ‘The Establishment’ is as malignant as you understand (portray?) them to be. They, like all of us, are just lazy and busy, trying to keep afloat and win the approval of their father. Perhaps they like the idea of bikes in principle, but at the moment there are too many caveats: turning up to work sweaty (and they’re too disorganised to get there early enough to have a shower, or they don’t have the luxury of a workplace with a shower), sometimes the weather is bad, they couldn’t afford to buy a house in Hamilton or Merewether so they bought a house in Rutherford, etc. (Lame excuses I know. I would love a 40km each way, okay maybe I’m exaggerating, ahem, 20km each way ride to work). Like the guy from the Red Sox told Billy Beane in Moneyball, “The first guy through the wall always takes it in the teeth.” Or something like that. Most of the establishment are not interested in taking it in the teeth. At least not, as they perceive it to be, over riding bikes to work.

    I am under the impression that you are a very learned person in Architecture, so forgive me if I underestimate any of your understanding in what follows, about culture (I’m in Engineering, gah!). Cultures perpetuate themselves, and punish people/structures/lifestyles that challenge them. After all, a culture wouldn’t be still around if it didn’t do those things. WE, being the young country that we are, but along with North America, are a car-based society, so mass transport and energy consumption are at least as much cultural problems as they are design, infrastructure and engineering problems. The precedent in cultural change seems to be crisis-revolution. So I don’t think cycling will gradually become cool, the way perhaps R.E.M. became cool (are R.E.M. cool? I must have missed that memo. Maybe you want to choose a different band for your metaphor next time?). Some sort of crisis (fingers crossed), most likely a combination of energy prices and population density, will tip (I’m looking for a more violent verb than tip, but I can’t think of one) the balances of viability and social/personal/psychological sustainability (aka lifestyle), and new options will become preferable.

    Having said all that, it would be great if we could be ahead of the game. We know that global population is increasing, and global fossil fuel reserves are not, etc etc. There are authentically effective, and relatively cheap things that can be done now, but as you’ve pointed out, they will upset the establishment (even if I interpret their upset differently to you). It just seems to be a question of which is worse, the pain of change, or the pain of the fruit of our present systems/lifestyle. In case it needed to be said, it seems that, as measured by the establishment, the pain of change is more daunting at the moment.

    If you would condescend to such an precocious Philistine such as myself, I’d love to meet you and go for a ride before you move to Tasmania.

    • Steven says:

      Hi Tim, my contact details are here.
      http://www.newcastle.edu.au/staff/directory/fleming_steven_203.html
      Yep, let’s get together and work out that perfect 20km route into Newcastle!
      Thank you for your antidisestablishmentarianism this evening. This head cold has turned into a flu with the cold sweats the whole bit. I wrote that blog post today to take my mind off my sinuses, and as an experiment, to see if I write better or worse when I’m sick. I was leading to some genius point, that I forgot, so would have to say worse.

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