What’s on my desk?

Whatever pathology it is that makes some people write doctorates, must be the same one that finds we academics bunking down the moment our marking is done for the year, to conduct research during our Summer vacations. A year ago, I was a little disillusioned with my life in architectural history and theory. Yes, I kno-o-ow, if no one took the time to theorise architecture, we might all be back living in brick veneer houses, and wearing trousers with pleats. But I had reached a point where I had nothing, personally, to say to the topic, that was worth working all Summer to get my voice heard. My bent at the time was a preference for the pluralism of the art world, over the normative nature of architecture as an art form, but I didn’t care so much, that I would start a blog on the subject. No, the blog I was writing, was all about bikes.

Why bikes? Because I am a cyclist. I gain esteem from using my body as a crude 300 Watt motor, to win races, explore foreign countries, show my kids scenery, commute, gather groceries, and now to race avatars on virtual islands with my Tacx indoor training thingamajiggy. It’s another kind of pathology, that in varying degrees, I’m seeing more and more people are beginning to share. Most are sufficiently proud of what they can do with 100 or 200 Watt motors, and that’s fine by me. V8 or 4 cylinder; super fit or just healthy: I don’t see any difference. They’re not racing me, and I’m not racing Lance Armstrong (who, I now read, can generate 500W for a whole hour!)

So this Summer, I’m examining ways these small motors of ours, ran through pedals and cranks to fast-rolling modern day tires, might be used to fix a particular kind of wrecked city. Almost all cities are wrecked, thanks to cars, but the kind of wrecked city I’m looking at, is the kind where industrial functions have moved elsewhere, leaving land vacant for bike paths, and developments that target the people who use that particular infrastructure. It helps that I live in a text-book example of a post-industrial city myself: Newcastle, Australia.

I’m proposing the city experiment with a new mixed-use zoning classification, to allow higher density near to a bike path, provided car parking is minimised, and a suitable compliment of commercial, public or light industrial space is provided. Developer infrastructure contributions would be spent solely on upgrades or extensions to bike paths. While these might include a few protected bike lanes following the course of the road network, most would follow alternative networks, such as rail lines (current and past), waterways (canals, harbours, coastlines), and some would cross parks.

I’m joined by some wonderfully capable students, who won scholarships to be involved in this project. We’ll publish the case study in one of the major international journals of urban design, and a summarised version (with my students’ incredible graphics) as a free to download eBook on issuu. So that is what I have on my desk.

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