The sacrifices we make for family cycling

The average city has very little land left that has not been given over to driving, and all the activism in the world will not change that fact while my children are still in my care. So wherever I move with my brood, I need to find accommodation that gives the kids easy access to safe routes for cycling, to school, on family outings, or just for their own sense of freedom. If you have followed my blog for while, you will know this idea—that devotees to bicycle transport are limited in where they can live—is central to my theory of urban design. 

But here’s where it gets tricky. I have moved to a steep basin-shaped city, where for a century people with means have been living on hilltops to be above the smog in the valley. For the first 60 years trams hauled people home, while for the past 60 years those tram routes have been used as screeching race tracks for cars. We have been renting at 70 meters elevation since June, and my wife and kids have barely left home on their bikes. I ride to work, but as a family we head out on foot, or more often in the car we bought when we moved here.

So I’m sorry, but by the time you come to visit, we will no longer be living at 70 meters elevation. Nor will we be able to welcome you to one of this city’s quintessential addresses, with bay windows and finials, perched on a 30% gradient, costing $8 in petrol to reach from the valley.

You will more likely find us 8km out along the river side bike track, in a seventies growth area, waving from behind aluminium windows with canvas sun shades. Forget about polished tassie oak floors. We’ll have ride-on vacuum cleaners on every floor, quilted brown vinyl bars for entertaining, a dug-under rumpus room for you to reconnect with your asthma, a country-style kitchen that only serves meat…

Our sons with have names like Elijah or Josh, and go to evangelical schools. We’ll have jet skis and drum kits and a shed full of shit, including, of course, our collection of bikes, that at least we’ll be able to ride. Oh god I wish architects and developers would hurry up and build better housing on land with good access to bike tracks.

About Steven

I'm on a mission to put cycling on the agendas of architects, urban designers and fellow academics, who see the potential for bicycles to change cities and buildings. My PhD is in architectural history and my interdisciplinary research spans art theory, philosophy and cultural studies. I teach architectural history and theory and design studio at The University of Tasmania, Australia, and formerly worked as an architect designing large public housing projects in Singapore.
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4 Responses to The sacrifices we make for family cycling

  1. perthbiker says:

    You got me laughing out loud.

  2. Lucy says:

    You should have the architect bit covered, and if you sell lots of books you can then do the developing yourself!
    So I have a plan for you: Fill up your paniers with books and strap a megaphone to your helmet, and then race down the tramtrack shouting:”Books for saleeee…..”, all the way to the local markets. Record it and put up on youtube & crowd fund a sample development following the ideas of your book. Eazy. Move in to test your theories. Good luck! Otherwise you can always paint a moustache over the garage doors of your new temporary brick veneer abode, to cheer you up whenever you arrive home.

    • Steven says:

      no wonder that husband and son of yours look so happy in that photo you took of them heading out to do Bike Hour. They have an imaginative and caring woman taking care of their financial and emotional needs.

  3. Luke says:

    Slow to respond, but I do feel for you Steven. The downside of being an architect is not being able to afford the places your sensibilities should entitle you to live….that is the cross you bear. But to be able to afford it, but to have to sacrifice it for principles? Neither Sisyphus nor Prometheus suffered like you.

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