Optimising the knowledge-based city

The networks of land that were forged from farmlands and wilderness in the industrial age, so our ancestors could move and process commodities, have the potential of now becoming networks for moving and processing knowledge.

A route first forged to distribute commodities, could now be used to distribute knowledge

That old rail corridor in your city, that was built for transferring coal from a mine site, could allow a young man to cycle to town on his hip bike from affordable housing built where the mine was. The waterways that once brought iron ore to your city’s steelworks, could have bike paths on their banks, so a girl on her Dutch bike could visit the steelworks. But it isn’t a steelworks any longer. Now there’s a college there, and performance venues, bars, galleries, boutique offices, and new bike-friendly apartments.
Our boy on his hip bike coming in on the railtrail asks our girl for directions. She rides alongside to show him the way. He says she has a nice basket. She likes his toe straps. They have some complimentary ideas worth stopping to talk about over a drink. The network that once moved and processed commodities, has shown itself capable of moving and processing knowledge. It does that in its new guise: a network of greenways and brownfield redevelopment sites, designed to optimise bicycle transport.
Although cars provided people with a way to communicate tastes, they did not facilitate random encounter. Walking and transit don’t either, because they don’t provide people, who are naturally shy, with the ice-breakers most of us need. There is a harmlessness about meeting on bikes, matched only by meeting at dog runs. Brownfield redevelopment sites, linked by waterside bike paths and rail trails, can optimise meeting, if they are redeveloped in ways that optimising conditions for cycling.
Malmo’s Western Harbour has well designed housing and offices where there used to be industry, so is naturally described in terms of the industrial-to-knowledge based city metanarrative, as it has been in this piece.

However, Malmo’s Western Harbour would be a more effective knowledge factory, if bikes were not just an add on, but the primary consideration in a much wider masterplan. If, for example, this project could be re-conceived as a main terminus of the proposed bike super highway that will connect Malmo to the college town Lund, it would be brimming with those bright young creative class members that it aims to attract.

The Malmo to Lund bike super highway is planned to take what some have said is an expedient course, straight down the rail corridor. Opponents argue the 4-lane bicycle highway aught to be aligned to main roads, and therefore take cyclists through established neighbourhoods, and shopping streets. If it did—so the argument goes—business owners along the bike route would more likely contribute some funding. What is not being seen, is the potential for bicycle oriented redevelopment of some of the under-utilised industrial sites along the rail corridor.
These could be sites for affordable housing, student housing, and housing for the actively ageing, as well as public facilities. Where Malmo’s Western Harbour has camouflaged basement car parks (camouflaged to conceal the lie that Western Harbour is connected to the rest of the city), future development along that bike super highway would only need parking for bikes. What developers will save by not having to provide buried parking, they could spend upgrading the bike path—giving the bike path a roof, for example, or solar heating.
Cities with knowledge based economies, that were planned around industrial networks, need to preserve these as non-vehicylar networks. The commodity that advanced cities now trade in, knowledge, is trapped and stymied by cars. It flows most freely on bikes. Keeping cars out, and encouraging people to cycle, is a way of keeping knowledge based cities well oiled—an analogy I’m stealing from Mikael Colville-Andersen, a keen observer of cycling’s impact on Copenhagen.

Mikael Colville Andersen writes on ways bikes facilitate socialising in Copenhagen

Today’s yuppies know bikes increase their interactions, so are using bikes to move between home and work, and socialise more freely outside of work hours. But in cities where most voters drive, and vote for car access and parking (London, Paris, New York, etc.) creative young bike riders are made to run the gauntlet with cars, mopeds, buses and taxis. The people whose productivity is most important to our knowledge based economies, and are doing all they can to meet and share knowledge, are being harassed, injured and killed. Crying about this injustice won’t change things. It is better that cyclists be relocated.
That’s enough for a blog post. My forthcoming book Cycle-Space (see publisher’s catalogue) offers advice for purpose-designing former industrial networks to ideally accommodate cyclists.


  1. Lucy says:

    You are such a romantic! Toe straps? Does that really work?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *