December 8th, 2010

Bicycle architecture in regional centers

I have been asked to be one of three main speakers at the annual convention of the country division of our state's peak body for architects, to be held in Coffs Harbour. In an exceptional demonstration of good faith, the organizers have even accepted my topic proposal: bicycles. Aren't I predictable! Anyhow, faced with the burden of making that topic relevant to an audience we stereotypically imagine driving utilities with bull horns mounted onto their bonnets, I was preparing to perform from behind wire. But I've had an idea! 
Headline in the Coffs Harbour Tattler: Honest drivers tell architect: "Get on your bike!" 

In major cities people think of bicycles as a cure for congestion. Cycling is researched, planned for, practiced and opposed under the cloud of a negative framework. Problems are ugly. Solutions may be elegant, but that doesn't mean they are beautiful. Ever fallen love with a band aid?

So if beauty is something toward which we yearn for its own sake, then the real beauty of cycling would be most apparent in places where it is not being used as a cure, but simply for pleasure. In coastal towns along Australia's East Coast, cycling is not so much done to beat traffic, lose weight, save money or save the planet. Where the livin' is easy, people tend to ride, simply because it is nice. Whether they are commuting, shopping, racing, mountain biking, or just out for some air, they are riding because riding is lovely.
The panics and crusades that embroil cyclists in cities, seem irrelevant in these less troubled places. Rates of obesity are lower, thanks to a smörgåsbord of recreational opportunities: surfing, bowls, beer at the bowls club, golf, those HUGE seafood platters they serve at the golf club. People think traffic jam is berries fallen onto the road, and nobody votes for The Greens! And they ride for that feeling of flying we've all known, from the moment our dads let go of the seat. (Dads, you are meant to run along side for a while. Don't be like my dad. And don't aim your nippers downhill).
Should bicyletecture ever give rise to a temple—you know, some iconic work to which everyone looks—it will not be wedged into the fabric of a city, as a quick fix for traffic congestion. Temples belong on acropolises, or better still tranquil places outside of cities. Fellow countrymen, see where my heart is! I would never say you are fat, or only cycle to avoid getting caught DUI. That can be our little secret.