When students ask the tough questions

If you caught my earlier posts titled Healthy Green Transport for a Small City, parts 1 to 4, you will know I am leading a design studio at the University of Tasmania with about 70 senior students, all working on a bicycle oriented dockland redevelopment project. I’m sure their impressions of me range from “man possessed” to “total loon”. My impressions of them are fantastic. Most are reading Jane Jacobs for the first time. I was a fourth year architecture student when I first read Death and Life too. It is a great moment in a young architect’s life, when they realise the importance to cities of buildings that have no importance whatsoever to architectural awards panels and magazines.

I especially like the questions students are coming to me to have answered. Since I rarely answer questions so well in the throws of a lecture or site visit, I’m going to use blog posts to respond more sincerely. I was asked how, if we’re planning for bike dependence, we can make it possible for people to do things like moving furniture. It is only now that I can recall Marrickville Council’s cargo bike library. Every street block should have one. Ideally each would have as wide a range as we see on the streets of Copenhagen:

I also had a student object to my predictable claim that suburbia is unsustainable and we need to consolidate city centres. He reminded me that suburbia allows people to grow their own food in their yards. It would be easy to respond to such a student by saying yards aren’t nearly big enough to feed a family and at best supplement grocery store eating with token herbs and some gluts of tomatoes. The next part of the response would be to say those herbs and tomatoes are only made possible thanks to all the car travel on which suburbs depend.

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I think now the student was right to pull me up. He probably had a right to throw rotten eggs. A study by Nico Larco from the school of architecture at the University of Oregon has found cycling and walking thriving in suburban Portland, so long as there are non-vehicular links acting as shortcuts to town centres. And when suburbia is designed from the outset with extensive networks of bike paths, as happened in the British new town of Milton Keynes with its “redways”, conditions for cyclists are at least as good as they would be in denser settings.

I face the troops again on Tuesday morning, and hope that by then they will have made a start on large context models, city-wide bike plans, and urban morphology studies inspired by Jane Jacobs, Gordon Cullen, Le Corbusier, Robert Venturi, and me—the 5 authors I’m asking them all to read for this unit.

infallible bike choices

And if I may change the subject entirely, I want to be Pope. Just look at the presents he gets! The second is a gold plated Colnago Mexico. Yet another infallible choice.