Dreams really do come true. Look at Norman Bel Geddes’s dream of a world designed around cars. Predating widespread car ownership, and on the tail end of The Depression, it would certainly have caused naysayers in the late 1930s to call Bel Geddes a dreamer, fantasiser, wanker, or in today’s polite parlance, a “provocateur”. But compare Geddes’s scale model (left) with Dubai (right). Provocation implies an audience fixed on other voices. This provocateur was listened to, and dutifully followed.
Today’s dreamers (fantasisers, wankers, sleepers), are not people like me, with our eyes on designing bike cities, but the architects, planners, politicians and developers who worry about car parking and easy road access, as though they are trapped in the late 30s. Dinosaurs. I shudder to imagine their record collections.
When I was a lad, we still had a few old timers getting around riding horses. “Old Timer,” became a nickname for a lot of those blokes. Cranky alcoholics, as I recall. It was a term that could pass as one of endearment, while making it clear that you personally thought they were backward. “G’day Ol’ Timer,” my dad would say, flipping them a condescending wave from his car window. If my dad were alive, he would be the one I would be calling ol’ timer, for driving. It’s time anyone still concerned, in 2013, with cars and car parking was on the receiving end of this slur.
I’m thinking about horses today, because last night at an awards night in Sydney, I was named the recipient of the 2013 DARCH Horse award in the “Urban Provocateur,” category. I saw the news on facebook as I was going to bed. Pity I did not hear my phone a few hours earlier on. I might have been able to pant a few words to the crowd, thank mum and god, and especially thank the trophy designer—so much more classy than those cups I have won in handicap bike races. I’m told the jury was impressed that I don’t just whine about conditions for cyclists here in old-time Australia, where all the old-timers still love their jalopies. I was chosen because I offer solutions.
I am moved to share a sneak peak at design work on my desk at the moment, being developed with fellow designer Raphael Upcroft, and two senior students for whom I’ve found scholarships: Abdel Soudan and Rob Maver. This work will be presented at the National Museum of Australia two weeks from now, at a seminar arranged by my partner in global change, Professor Angelina Russo (who also designs and sells bike clothes).
We’re looking at a brownfield site in Fremantle (though the site could be any large brownfield), and proposing a new model of city planning, ground plane design and building block configuration, all designed to optimise cycling while secondarily showing fairness to walkers (an inversion of the usual non-vehicular paradigm). We don’t just make space for the bike; we design the city in a way that harnesses the inherent benefits of bicycle motion. My hypothesis is that bike-first design will optimise the population’s capacity to move and to meet. In the tradition of Le Corbusier’s Voisin plan, we start with a severe proposition that brings the salient aspects of our design to the fore. There is nothing here to interest advocates of a walkable city, or advocates of a transit based city, and there is certainly nothing here for old timers who want to know where the cars go. We’re starting a discussion around something entirely new, that in seventy years time, in some carbohydrates-rich nation (the future Dubai), may even be faithfully copied.