Sustainable Mobility Rolls On, Dutch Style (continued)

Most of all, we’ll need widespread acculturation. Implanting a cycling culture that’s essentially absent, historian Ruth Oldenziel noted, is harder than reviving one that just slipped for a few decades. And as Walter Hook, Ph.D., pointed out, the challenge of helping populations discover the advantages and joys of sustainable transportation is not a matter of leisure but a matter of global urgency. He predicts climate-change negotiations are likely to break down as developing countries resent developed countries’ expectations of sacrifices that the developed countries never had to make, but cycling and other low-impact transport options are among the most useful strategies the First World can learn from the Third. Some ideas moving in the opposite direction are counterproductive: China once built the world’s best bike facilities, then tore them down in the 1980s. Dutch planners like Hans Monderman (inventor of the signless, informally negotiated “living street” or woonerf) are joining colleagues elsewhere, particularly Copenhagen’s Jan Gehl and the New Yorkers who draw on his ideas, in building industrial-world cities that will be more constructive examples to nations that are now on the brink of industrializing — and, if they repeat our carbon-spewing habits, of rendering all our green commitments moot.

Ultimately, a sustainable mobility culture will have to arise from individual perceptions as well as collective decisions. AIANY’s Rick Bell, FAIA, observed that cycling is “also a way of looking at how things happen in the world,” connecting the rider with principles regarding urban space and time such as eurhythmy, symmetry, and symbiosis. That last concept — stressing one’s embeddedness in the wider urban organism, not isolation from it — seems well worth keeping in mind as cities and their residents consider ways to disengage from the 20th century’s technologies and move purposefully into the 21st.