Lyttelton – Do Something Beautiful

Well now, it’s June already which for those of us living in Aotearoa means we are entering into Matariki, sometimes referred to as the Maori New Year.   I might post more about Matariki shortly but for now I want to point out that it is a time for reflection, remembrance, connection with family/whanau and new beginnings.  We will make a couple of posts on this theme this month as those of you who have been following our trials and tribulations might have realised that we have passed our 12 month goal of being a car-free family during May.  More on that soon, as well as the end of the experiment… So in the spirit of Matariki I’m reprinting here the following article I wrote for the Lyttelton News – our local newspaper which comes monthly as part of the Akaroa Mail.  It appeared on the front page of the Friday 11th March edition.  Thank you to Margaret Jefferies for inviting me to submit.

Last year Margaret Jefferies of Project Lyttelton sent me a superbly eloquent definition of sustainability: the possibility of life flourishing forever.  In its simplicity it summed up perfectly for me, what I believe is a worthy aspiration for our community.  Inherent in the concept of flourishing are all the ingredients of a life well lived, and a strong community, such as: sustainability, engagement, inclusiveness, meaning,  resilience and well-being.  I like the definition also because there is room for doubt.  The possibility of flourishing.  It’s not a given, it suggests we must take responsibility and approach the goal of sustainability (flourishing) with purpose.  It is possible, there is hope.  How we do it is up to us.  It is in the act of seeking that we may indeed flourish.

Right now, as a community we have been faced with a crisis of major proportions.  We will move through the stages of emergency response, recovery and eventually, revitalisation.  It is how we approach these stages and frame our perspective that determines the quality of the experiences we will have.  You could say that this is the measure of our resilience.  To put it simply, we can choose to see the earthquake either as purely a catastrophe – the end of many things – rebuilding in haste, without vision, walking backwards into the future or we can acknowledge the tragedy and begin to approach it as an opportunity to re-imagine our community and work to create the flourishing Lyttelton of our dreams.  There is no right time for this to happen.  No rules or timeframes, it is up to us, together to work it out.

Lyttelton is resilient.  I know this because we have so far made it through two major earthquakes, the second a genuine disaster for our town, and still, here we are – working together, helping each other, asking questions, talking about the future.  If we are to not only endure and survive but to flourish, we must mix in the best of our resilience with a sustainable approach.  Moving forward in a considered way, with vision, be bold and with nothing less than flourishing as our goal.  And while we are waiting to get on that bus – let’s do something beautiful.

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Go-By-Bike Day!

Yes yes, you say.  We get all this good stuff about why active transport is so great yada yada. So what are we doing about all this?  Aha!  I’m glad you/I asked!

Obviously I’m not the only one who sees the importance of getting people active (obviously).  I’m just the only active blogger promoting active transport who’s actually ‘bone idle’ (as my brother would say).  It’s a strange claim to fame, but I’ll take it.  I’ve just noticed that my bike has mysteriously become covered in cobwebs…

IT’S BIKE WISE MONTH!

Anyway.  I wanted to shine a light on this great event which is part of Bike Wise Month held every year in NZ during February.  Implemented and promoted by Bike Wise, a government initiative funded by the NZ Transport Agency and the Ministry of Health.  I hope that doesn’t make it somehow less sexy, I just wanted to say ‘fair go’, the G-men are actually trying to do something positive.

This coming Wednesday 16th February is Go-By-Bike Day nationwide.  By my reckoning on the Bike Wise website there are about 80 events planned for Wednesday alone.  Let alone the rest of the month.  Go-By-Bike Day events tend to involve enticing commuters to cycle by offering free breakfasts to cyclists.

Here’s a link to the Christchurch event, they’re offering brekkie at 4 different locations in the central city.  I’m gonna try and get my whole team to bike to work and meet for a breakfast together so if you’re in ChCh bike along and I’ll see you there!  I’ll be giving away free subscriptions to ToC 😉  And while we’re at it maybe we’ll all wear our best ‘bib n’ tucker’ and make it a real cycle chic event.  Boss-Lady recently purchased a rather fabulous reconditioned granny-style, sit-up-and-beg (love that name) bike, complete with basket on the front.  Puts my mountain bike to shame.  But wait til they get a load of my retro suit!

Need some inspiration?  Look no further.  Well no, do look further but here’s a good start…

How to Make Biking Mainstream: Urban Planning Lessons from the Dutch

How to Make Biking Mainstream: Urban Planning Lessons from the Dutch by Jay Walljasper.

Another interesting article in Yes! Magazine.  The Netherlands have a story to tell when it comes to getting more people onto bikes and out of cars.

A commitment to biking is not uniquely imprinted in the Dutch DNA. It is the result of a conscious push to promote biking.

So it’s not easy but it is possible.  We just need the will to do it.

Some amazing stats in here:

In the Netherlands 27 % of all daily trips are made by bicycle. Doesn’t sound like much?  Compare it to the best of Europe: Denmark is 18 %, Germany 12 % and the U.S.? Try 1 %.  Oh dear…

Get on yer bike!

(Now where did I put my copy of ‘Learning how to Practice what you Preach in 10 easy steps…’)

And another thing… Pedestrian Thinking?

Following on from the last post – no wonder we have such a hard time convincing people to consider the creation of a walking city (note: a walking city includes our rollin’ brothers & sisters).

The word ‘pedestrian’ has become in our society a kind of insult, meaning: slow, stulted, non-creative, inefficient and a bit lame.  In other words not fast, not sexy, not cool.  Which is why I love the work of Living Streets Aotearoa. From their website:

We want more people walking and enjoying public spaces be they young or old, fast or slow, whether walking, sitting, commuting, shopping, between appointments, or out on the streets for exercise, for leisure or for pleasure.

Let’s take back our public spaces!

This is from the page I linked to in the previous post: the Traffic Transport & Road Safety Associates (Ireland) website.  But it was so compelling I just wanted to give it a post all to itself.  Here’s the link again:

Pedestrianisation.

Why Pedestrianise?
  • Improving Road Safety – reducing the potential for conflict between vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists and motor vehicles creates a significant reduction in the number of accidents within the pedestrianised area.  In Odda in Norway accident reductions of over 80% were reported.
  • Improving Economic Vitality – most retailers, at least in town centres, appreciate that the number of people walking past their shop and not the number of people driving past their shop is key to getting people inside to spend money.  Pedestrians comparison shop, and research conducted in the United Kingdom reported increases in sales of upto 20% per year in the first few years following pedestrianisation. Research from 11 cities in Germany showed average rent increases of 50% after pedestrianisation. Chartered Surveyor Weekly reported that following the introduction of the footstreets concept in York, United Kingdom, a boom in retail sales was accompanied by rent increases of upto 400%.
  • Improving Social Interaction – increasing the amount that people meet, talk and interact, has been shown to have health benefits, but also creates a sense of community and a pride in the space or place.
  • Improving Health – in the same way that providing streets to drive on has been shown to increase traffic levels, providing a good walking environment has been shown to increase the number of people walking. Studies tend to show that the number of people walking within the immediate area will increase by over 50%.
  • Improving the environment – It is over 30 years since the OECD studied the link between environmental improvement and the removal of traffic.  Whilst some of the noted benefits such as reductions in Carbon Monoxide have now been addressed through the introduction of catalytic converters to vehicles, creating a modal shift from the car to walking reduces the level of CO2 helping the country to meet its emissions targets. Noise levels are also reduced by up to 15 decibels.

 

So, what kind of city do you want to live in?

Paying for sex, Seinfeld and the tyranny of … Free Parking

 

Free Parking: sounds like some kind of recreational creative picnic sport

 

He aha te mea nui o te ao?
He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

What is the most important thing in the world?
It is people! It is people! It is people!

In the ‘Good Living’ supplement as part of filthy Christchurch rag The Press the other week was an interesting article on international parking guru Donald Shoup.

Headlined, in one of those sub-editor pun wet dream moments, as ‘Free parking’s true toll’ (I can’t hyperlink to it as it’s pay-to-view only, courtesy of unFairfax so not much point and anyway I’m going to discuss the thing intelligently myself.  And you can visit Mr Shoup’s website above, which is far more useful) the article is reprinted from the Los Angeles Times.  Not sure why I’m telling you that but when I get my serious blog voice on it feels proper to start acknowledging sources.  Actually, one should always acknowledge sources.  Anyway…

Why I’m writing about this is that Donald Shoup struck me as someone who fully grasps the double-edged sword of convenience, right way round of course.  He also gets the counter-intuitive concept of how the most convenient option is often the least helpful.  He’s talking about car parking and the problems it presents to town planning and designing for urban revitalisation.

Now for those of you in danger of nodding off at this stage in a riveting post about parking cars and wondering when the hookers are getting here.  Stay with me.

I’m not sure what I like more about Mr Shoup – being 72 and still riding a bike everywhere or the fact he quotes Seinfeld to illustrate his ideas.  Here’s where we get to paying for sex.  Shoup quotes George Costanza from Seinfeld who likened using a car park building to “going to a prostitute”.

“Why should I pay when, if I apply myself, maybe I could get it for free?”

This line of thinking, in the context of parking, leads to people driving around the block several times waiting for that magical parking space right outside their destination, expending time and fuel in the process.  “Maybe if I go round once more there’ll be a free one this time!”  Shoup argues that when street parking is free or inexpensive as is the case in many towns and cities, that demand soon outstrips supply and people cruising for parks waste time and fuel polluting the air and congesting the streets.  My pet hate is the slow cruise along the line of parked cars, holding up the flow of traffic while searching for a space, usually without the use of indication.  Oh yeah, baby…

Is that one? No... Oh! There! No...

Efforts to revitalise town centres often focus on parking – more of it and cheaper please.  This is very pertinent in Christchurch, a car-centric city.  The central city is constantly under threat from the proliferation of suburban malls with their thousand free car parks above, below and around their monolithic edifices.  These places are veritable Cathedrals of Convenience.  Central city retailers and the City Council are forever racking their brains about how to stop things falling apart, the centre cannot hold etc. etc.  This inevitably rolls around to the retailers bleating at the Council about cars and parking i.e. more and cheaper please.  They even managed to convince the Council (despite international research and evidence to the contrary) to allow cars through previously pedestrian-only inner city malls.  S’funny really, when what the shops really want is more people inside them not cars cruising past looking for parks.

After ‘The Event’ of September 4th last year, there was a considerable drop in the numbers of people visiting the central city.  Not surprising really, even after the cordoned off ‘exclusion zone’ and curfew was lifted, every available space in the media was taken up with images of the ‘catastrophic destruction’ in the central city.  After all a fallen down old building makes for a better lead image or back-drop when doing a live news report than the 50 other ones and entire suburbs behind it that are untouched.  No wonder people were jittery about going there – everything was apt to fall on their heads.  Except for the 99.9% of buildings that were not.  Leading up to Christmas this had retailers crying into their lattes with expected crashing sales figures.  The City Council responded with making all street parking free for a couple of weeks following the major quake and then over the Christmas build-up giving the first 2 hours free in all buildings and street parking.  To me this didn’t seem to make much difference – I noted a lot less cars around and plenty of parking spaces.  I’d wager it wasn’t the cost of parking keeping people away from town.

Est celui-là là ? Non... Oh! La? Non...

Shoup’s work harmonises with plenty of international research that demonstrates the more spaces you open up to cars (either driving or parking) then cars just fill them up again.  It’s just like those ‘awesome’ tax cuts that bribed a change of government in NZ– how much are you noticing that extra $15 dollars per week even a month after you start getting it?  You simply expand your living to absorb the extra ‘dollarspace’.  Hopeless.  No disrespect to the many economist readers of ToC but tax cuts do NOT improve and enhance our quality of life.  Just as cars do not revitalise cities – people do.  He tangata, he tangata, he tangata!

Speaking as someone guilty (now reformed) of cruising around looking for free parking, hoping to hit that little jackpot, I get what Donald Shoup is talking about.  He advocates for ‘fair-market’ pricing on street parking and making Park & Ride and various other options cheaper and more attractive.  Then using the revenue from parking directly for enhancing and revitalising the public space of central cities.  Encourage more walking, cycling and other forms of Active Transport.

And I’d throw in to the mix perhaps not allowing any more soul-destroying suburban malls to be built.  The tyranny of convenience eh?  But that’s another post all in itself.

And by the way, there is no such thing as the Free Parking jackpot in Monopoly.  Look it up.

A Design for Life*

Just a quick post about some cool stuff I’ve seen – actually ‘on-topic’ too…

The Riversimple Car: for those who've always wanted a sort of Pixar-animated flying beetle car.

As seen in this years Brit Insurance Designs of the Year nominations.

Now we’ve got our thinking caps on.  Making the ‘Eco’ and ‘Human’ friendly options more convenient than the alternatives.

The Riversimple car can reach 80km/hr (50mph) with a range of 322km (200 miles), with fuel consumption claimed to be equivalent to 300 mpg (miles per gallon). The cars will be leased with fuel and repair costs included, at an estimated $315 (£200) per month. The company hopes to have the vehicles in production by 2013; next year, it will release 10 prototypes in an unconfirmed UK city.

Imagine sharing the lease between a couple of families living close together.  Or whole neighbourhoods getting together to lease several.

The second image after the jump is about the urban cycle hire project.  Also check out the awesome and somehow sci-fi ‘energy harvesting’ paving slabs!

Brit Insurance Designs of the Year 2011 award nominations

* Manic Street Preachers from the 1996 album ‘Everything Must Go’.  See a pattern emerging here?

What to give the planet for Christmas?

Saw this on one of our favourite websites World Sweet World.  It’s the precis for an article on building your own bike trailer – something we had our own feature on this year…

While around a quarter of all the energy we use in New Zealand is for transport, two thirds of the trips we actually make are less than six kilometres. If you calculate the embedded energy used to get your food on your table (how much energy is used for the farmer to fertilise the field, to run the tractor, package it, transport it to market, etc.), you are likely to double that amount by driving to the supermarket to do the shopping. It’s relatively easy to make big energy savings here and you’ll be better off health- and wallet-wise in the process.

–          World Sweet World – Steven Muir, Issue #9

So, what to give the planet for Christmas?

How about a break?

How do I know I’m Flourishing?

At the regular spoken word & poetry open mic night that I host we have a kind of unwritten rule about disclaimers.  That is, we don’t have no truck with them.  The people don’t want to hear your excuses.

I wonder if the blogosphere has the same principle.  That is, it’s poor form to start off a post apologising for not posting lately.  I suppose it’s a pretty boring and obvious thing to say isn’t it?  And there’s nothing more tedious than telling people all about how busy you’ve been.  Especially when they didn’t ask.

Especially if there’s no one reading…

But then again isn’t the entire blogosphere all about telling you stuff you didn’t ask about?

I bet you didn’t know you wanted to know all about it.

Weeelll.  Enough said.  Here we are.

So how has our little battle with convenience been going?  Thank you for asking.  It’s been sick.  And I don’t mean in the Australian use of the word ‘seeck’.  Not even ‘fully seeck’.  I mean the kind of sick that sees you making your nostrils raw while simultaneously destroying every hanky in the house and resorting to toilet paper, scrap paper and old t-shirts if necessary.  Also the kind of sick that has you exploding out every orifice normally reserved for more genteel activities.

Think Neil from The Young Ones.

Such has been the stuff of our winter.  Seraphine’s first winter attending pre-school where they should advertise free immune system load testing.  We’re now deep into spring and staring down the barrel of a good, hot summer and still I seem to be battling sore throats and leaky noses.  Not all my hankies have survived.

In real life, I spend a lot of time thinking, talking about and promoting wellbeing.  In particular us mental health promoters are taken with this idea of flourishing. What does it look like?  What does it mean for us and our society?  And how do we get there?  How do I know I’m flourishing?

Despite what I was saying earlier, I think I’m the fittest I’ve been in years.  At least, before the last week or so of flu-imposed inactivity.  I also find it doesn’t take much to set me back a notch, having now not played football for a couple of weeks.  I put the fitness down not only to playing the beautiful game again but having the hill walking routine imposed everyday, commiting to using the stairs at work and cycling more.  In fact I was feeling so good I volunteered to participate in this.  A little bit of fitness going to my head.  Sheesh.  But it’s a clue.

The point is, I do feel good.  And lately being car-free has not been easy.  We’ve seen off the worst that winter could throw at us (although no snow this year) but now the weather is picking up rapidly and the great wide open is beckoning.  The far-off, secluded little bays on the peninsula; the wild West Coast; my sister’s little slice of Rohan in the mountains.  Easy to survive not having a car when the best activity is red wine and a DVD.

It’s peak season now for renting cars so it’s not so cheap to get one to travel in.  Even so, we’re planning on renting something for a couple of weeks over Christmas while nearly the entire House of Davidson visits us.  It’s going to be a BIG family Christmas, and I’m looking forward to that too.  There’s so much to look forward to actually.  And that’s another clue.

Seraphine is a rambunctious little toddler now.  The days are getting hot.  There’s family coming to stay.  Christmas is approaching.  I’ve got a NEW tent (more on that).  I’ve only used my hanky twice today.  Yip, I’m feeling pretty positive.  It seems like ages ago now but it’s not that long since we started this blog and I wrote optimistically about Loving The Effort.  And it’s become a sort of personal mantra for the tough times.  In fact it’s the second most common tag for our posts (after ‘Car-Free’) and it’s kind of the apotheosis of our thesis around defying convenience.

Earlier in the week I was lying in a hot bath trying to revive myself enough to go to work and facilitate a workshop on this whole darn flourishing idea.  I’d initially thought to cancel the workshop but as I lay soaking in the hot, deep bath (oh, thank you Elizabeth!) and even though I was quite ill I kept thinking about the 20 or so people who were coming to the workshop and all the challenges they’d faced to get to where they were.  I thought about loving the effort and how, despite currently feeling a bit crook, I was actually doing OK and I realised that our message about flourishing was about just this kind of thing – regardless of the times when we get sick or the other limitations we might face, and we all face these at some point in our lives, we can and sometimes do, flourish.  But not enough of us.

Anyway, whether it was the force of this idea or the restorative power of a hot bath, strong coffee and paracetamol, I made it to the workshop.  We talked all about it and what it meant for each of us and decided we thought it a pretty damn good goal for society.

I then went home again and collapsed.

So.  My thoughts on some of the ways I know personally I’m flourishing:

When loving the effort means you’re not just gritting your teeth through what you must get through but actually seeking out new challenges and enlarging your efforts.

When despite currently being unwell you see the bigger picture of your overall wellbeing and fitness and it’s good and getting better.

When you feel like there’s lots to look forward to.

When you’re sick as a dog but you feel compelled to go out and talk to people and hear their good ideas.

When you’ve got no car but you can’t resist buying a flash new tent! Which we got for a song.  Actually that’s not really about flourishing but I’m looking forward to using it!

So anyway, it’s good to be back.

Biggest threat to Big Oil? The Kids these days just aren’t that into you…

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while.  Borrowed the title above from an intriguing post over on Carfree USA which references an article on that bastion of environmentalism the Advertising Age.

It seems that in the US, less and less young people are driving cars.  At least that’s the inference drawn from the statistics of driver licensing there.  If you can assume that doesn’t mean more and more young people are driving illegally, it’s really rather interesting. The Ad Age posits a variety of theories for why this is from various industry big wigs including the competition brought by the digital age vying for the teen dollar i.e. ‘should I buy the latest ipod or that big ol’ chevy to take Peggy-Sue to the drive-in for to get ‘er in the back seat h’yuk yuk‘.  And my personal favourite: ‘blaming the environment’, yes that ol’ chestnut, the pesky, interfering environment ruining our swell oil-swilling (spilling?) party.

Whatever it is, it’s heartening.  I’m not big on prohibition of any kind, I don’t want to ‘ban’ cars.  I just like the idea of people using them less.  Just like I don’t want to ban McDonalds, I’d just love to see them go out of business because the kids stopped going there.

Because it’s short I’m re-posting the whole post from Carfree USA (thanks guys!) here:

Certainly it’s hard to believe for anyone stuck in traffic on the way to O’Hare airport in Chicago, a bridge or tunnel into Manhattan, any freeway in Los Angeles, or the newly repaved four-lane highway to a suburban Walmart. But look around, and the people in the other cars are likely to be in their 40s or older.

In 1978, nearly half of 16-year-olds and three-quarters of 17-year-olds in the U.S. had their driver’s licenses, according to Department of Transportation data. By 2008, the most recent year data was available, only 31% of 16-year-olds and 49% of 17-year-olds had licenses, with the decline accelerating rapidly since 1998. Of course, many states have raised the minimum age for driver’s licenses or tightened restrictions; still, the downward trend holds true for 18- and 19-year-olds as well (see chart) and those in their 20s.

Here’s the link to the source article on the Advertising Age.

By the way, it’s been ten weeks and we’re surviving!

The boredom of the habitual procrastinator

My new favourite occupation in that precious hour when the beast lies sleeping is to ransack the web for inspirational blogs.

This doesn’t vary that much from the usual. To you, standing on our deck, looking in the window, I’d still be seated at my computer, my posture probably not all it should be, as I peer myopically at the screen. Usually I’d be working, or possibly just wasting time, in a mental slump, slurping up the worldwideinternetweb in a passive haze, before the thud thud thud of little feet alerts me to the fact that I’m on duty again.

But I’ve noted there’s been a bit too much mindless mousing. I’ve ignored my child’s requests for a cuddle to click through one more vacuous pop culture link, or have opted to crouch half on, half off my chair while surfing, because that means that any minute I could leap up and do something more productive. But of course I don’t, I just stay there, contorted, until my muscles start to protest furiously. I have an aching muscle in the small of my back that tells of too much sitting and a dull persistent annoyance with myself that I’m not using this valuable quiet time to better effect.

So here’s my new resolution regarding using my computer, which I’m making right here and now. Once a week I get to have a goof online and mess around checking out newspapers, auctions, Facebook, various favourite frivolous blogs and estate agents (house porn darlings). The rest of the time, if I sit down at my desk, it will only be to work, to write or to research for writing. If what I am reading does not feed my mind, giving me ideas, making my fingers itch to be typing, or my muscles flex to be doing, then I’m going to put it down and walk away.

Now I’ve just got to muster up the self discipline to apply this excellent resolution to my promiscuous book reading habits, but not right now. I’ve got two Inspector Rebus novels and a biography of Coco Chanel out the library and I’m not made of stone you know.

Thinking harder about how we live as a family and why we live that way; has made me start to question many of the habits I’ve fallen into. It’s one of those big fat self evident facts that if you keep on doing the same things, day in day out; you’ll keep on getting the same results. Before you know it you’re in a rut and then you start to get bored. When I get bored, I get into trouble. The catch for me is that I’m not very good at changing the way I do things. I’m a creature of habit even if that habit is stultifying. If this exercise jump starts me to do some new things and find some new paths, well, that would be very nice and not at all boring.