When you’re advocating for better cycling infrastructure, you quickly realize it’s about much more than just cycling. It’s really about everything that makes a city a desirable place to live. The most livable cities in the world are generally the same cities that are great for walking and cycling.
What makes a city ‘livable’? I think that it depends for a good part on how a city is designed. Truly livable cities are
As people were able to travel longer distances, it was no longer necessary to mix shops, offices and factories with housing. So all the different uses were neatly separated. This of course meant that people had to travel farther every day to go to school, go to work, do their shopping, etc.
Cities became less desirable places to be. Even though they were convenient, housing became more expensive, and cars were noisy and caused pollution. Living outside the city meant being able to afford a bigger house and a large private backyard. The suburbs were born. And the distances to drive to work increased.
People wanted quiet, private streets, so cities started designing street patterns with lots of cul-de-sacs and loops, without paths for pedestrians and people on bikes to cut through. More car-dependence.
In recent decades ‘big box’ shopping has become more popular. These types of shopping malls serve much larger areas than local mom-and-pop stores, and encourage people to drive even longer distances. Small local businesses are struggling to compete, and local farmers can’t deliver the volume that big box stores are looking for, so our food needs to be shipped over long distances.
We no longer feel the need or have the time to socialize much with our neighbours. We spend more of our waking hours driving to where we need or want to go. Instead of letting their kids play on streets that aren’t safe, parents keep them busy with ‘after school activities’, to which they need to.…drive.
The world is now facing some major problems that we’ve helped create. Global warming and peak oil are issues that many people would rather ignore, because it’s all happening at a scale that we feel we have no control over. It’s at the local level though that we should be able to have some influence and build more resilience, to which livability and connectedness are strongly linked.
One of the things that stood out in my mind during the election campaign in 2011 was voter discontent in east Maple Ridge and Silver Valley. What we see happening in both those areas, is the continued construction of more and more residential housing, much of it single family, without the addition of more amenities. These new neighbourhoods are not ‘complete’ without shops, meeting places, enough schools, etc. Which means that not only for work, but also for everything else, the people who live there are totally car-dependent. A facebook page was started soon after the election in Albion, but it’s been quiet since.
In the old neighbourhood of Hammond, wonderful things are happening. Groups of neighbours are connecting over garage sales, barbeques, clean-up parties and other events. The Hammond Neighbourhood Group has expressed an interest in improving their neighbourhood. Council has been listening, and the District wants to do an area plan. Another successful active group are the people who have been lobbying for a recreational roadway on 132nd Ave.
I think these kinds of trends are very encouraging, and I think we really need more of these grassroots movements to put in motion the changes that are needed to make our neighbourhoods more livable, and in the process make them more bikeable as well!