October 25th, 2010

Cyclespace and zoning laws.

I spent my rainy Sunday morning (hmmph, no racing!) googling in search of synergies between the worlds of architecture and cycling, and discovered it was the school of architecture at the University of Melbourne, who hosted a public forum with the Bicycle Coordinator for the City of Portland, Roger Geller, two weeks ago. It's a great lecture. Just skip all the intros. 
Click to view lecture. 

What interested me most is that Portland has introduced a zoning classification akin to what I'm calling cyclespace. The dark grey areas on the map are what Geller calls "Bicycle districts". This causes me to ask what need, if any, there is for this term I'm promoting.

Firstly, I see a need for a term that describes individual, phenomenological, perceptions of space, rather than ways governments might seek to order the world. I decide when I'm in cyclespace, depending on whether I would rather be cycling there. It may just so happen that politicians saw it that was as well. But I didn't wait for their lead.

The other special thing about the word cyclespace, is it describes areas where cycling culture rubs off onto all aspects of design. Such things as clothing fashions, architecture, consumer habits, food, lifestyle choices and work patterns are all influenced by bicycle culture, in cyclespace.

"Bicycle districts" are planned for. Cyclespace happens. Non-cycling planners can see "bicycle districts". Only cyclists see cyclespace. A parallel can be drawn with the concept of queer space, that cannot be planned for, but which is made by gay users of space. I'm therefore retracting an earlier remark I made, that cyclespace might be zoned.  

A history of cafe styles, from Googie to the "Aware Style".

The 1950s car craze had its own distinct form of architecture: Googie. In drivers' imaginations, cars were a step on the interplanetary highway to that future date when all of us would own spaceships, and fly around like The Jetsons. What better image in which to conceive a road side cafe, therefore, than that of a flying saucer!
Urban cycling culture has adopted cafes that belong to a new architectural style, unnamed, so I will name it: The Aware Style. The furniture all came from St Vincent de Paul's, because we are aware of the damage to Sarawak wrought by the new stuff. A shot of espresso would not fill a teaspoon, because we are aware it should be less than a mug full. On weekly rotations they use dozens of blends, each crafted to relieve poverty when and where it most hurts the third world. Free wireless keeps patrons in touch with their coworkers for awareness, out in the field (eg Khao San Road in Bangkok), and is only compatible with macintosh products purchased this week. Aware style cafes occupy cheaply converted low rent spaces on busy streets that must have no parking, to underline the point that you walked there, or cycled, because you are aware.

Key to the Aware Style, is a contrived shambolic air to belie carefully placed cues telling of the owners' awareness. Odd gaps between Kitchen fixtures tell us they were all bought secondhand, rather than being made for the space. The banning of real plumbers, carpenters or sign writers tells you its all been done by discerning rich kids who studied something flaky like graphic design. Whole sheets of plywood and exposed concrete floors are a reminder that ingenuity trumps thoughtless buying of stuff.

We are all so aware, because of the new super highway, the one carrying info; info about fair trade ice cream, how companion animals lower our blood pressure, free-ranging our kids! It's all too much to take in. The so called Aware Style (so called, because that's what I've called it), produces buildings (mostly cafes) serving as proxies for all the awareness we have no time to accumulate personally. From my own limited awareness of Buddhism—a sacred cow among the aware—I can say the The Aware Style cafe is a Bodhisattva, something to which you can pay a donation, when you don't have time to say your own oms.
The other way of quickly assuaging your middle class guilt, is by showing up on a non-aluminium bike. If it has a flat tire, just walk it around.