Last Tuesday evening I went to a meeting about lobbying city council to build a 4 km extension of a cycle lane on Bloor Street in Toronto’s west end. 4km of cycleway in 2019 sounds like such a puny demand but it’s also an indication of the level of consciousness that exists in Toronto that, as one of the more progressive city counsellors (who is a daily cycling commuter) put it, is a demand that is most likely to be rejected by council.
By the time I came out of the meeting, I’d been clearly reminded me of why I avoid them; the tactics, calculations, envy, ambition, the coldness, professionalism, manipulation, lack of sensitivity; all the alienation. The feeling that rather than toppling the status quo, you’re being disempowered and only strengthening it. Is it any wonder that most people disengaged long ago?
Now that’s not to say – well let’s not do anything, there’s no point, it all doom and gloom. I’m definitely not saying that. If there is a positive it is being reminded me of why the grassroots matters. To treat each person I meet for who they are – as friends, as neighbours, as authentic integrated individuals – not by how they can serve my interests.
We need to help each other to develop our understanding, to not be afraid of developing our critical faculties. If we’re not willing to wake up each morning with the realisation that today is an opportunity to grow and change as a person, then what’s the point? You’re already dead. Your just walking through the motions, a zombie, a dinosaur, the living dead.
Somehow it seems we’ve become so attached to things – ideas, opinions, beliefs, values. How are we going to listen to each other if we can’t let go of these? And if we’re not listening to each other, we don’t have much of a relationship do we?
So let’s discover the quality of our relationship. Is the need to understand (and necessity of change) a life or death situation for you or not?
Abandoned Bikes Series.
In case you missed it in a previous post, I’ve been taking some pictures of derelict bikes that are locked up all over Toronto. They are such an interesting reflection of urban decay – look out for more in the coming weeks.
As the world population rises and is increasingly drawn to cities, the issues of sprawl, congestion, pollution and obesity that have plagued developed cities are going to become more widespread. Some observers suggest that all cities must go through these growing pains – that all developments are long term projects and must pass through their dirty, brutal and painful phases before they can be graceful, complete, realised ones.
And perhaps that is true? But reading this article on London, when “You don’t feel like a citizen of your own city: it’s all so prohibitively expensive,” can’t help but think the three generations goal hasn’t come to pass. Whether its London or Paris or Toronto, it seems like we’re still going through these issues: we still haven’t realised the city’s true potential.
That some people are happy to exploit the situation in the vain hope that to profit out of it will bring happiness and meaning into their lives is a story as old as time. Conventionally we might refer to that group as being the elite, the moneyed class, the billionaires or even the aspiring, the remainder of the 1%.
For a lot of other people, the middle classes and probably a lot of the working classes – the city means keeping hearts hidden and disconnected. Buried under career, distractions and little luxuries; avoiding all entanglements. Unbreakable, impenetrable, safe. They see the homeless person in the street – know that society can permit such a fate to fall on another that could easily be themself – and, to varying degrees of hardness, bolt up the hatches. Varying degrees is an important point. Some hearts in this group – a considerable percentage even – may still be pliable. Hearts and minds still loveable, softenable, to be won!
Some people are already motivated to change things. Perhaps they’ve come to understand that the suffering, the exploitation and alienation, are the results of human action, derived from the fear that comes from an incomplete understanding of our true human situation. That what brings meaning into our lives is to understand our true situation and act rightly in response to that. I’m not saying that’s going to be easy. Just critical.
We’re all on this spectrum somewhere. It’s okay to argue that Loving could be the greatest aspiration and is achievable.
20 km/h speed limits for all vehicles in Toronto?
For the new megacities its not been lost in translation. Bad air quality, insufferable traffic jams in city streets, lack of proper infrastructure investments, – these are all examples set by the developed of the modern world. Yes, the current narrative has domineered for too long, but every one of us has it in us to bring something else to the table and change the ineffective script.
Being able to get more people on bikes would be a dramatic change in the plot. Just like The Netherlands and Denmark, Britain, Canada and the United States all have great internal resources to draw upon. This mission is feasible. The capacity exists. Now it is about coordinating will.
Well let me throw another hat into the ring. That there is not only infrastructure, but reducing speed limits in cities to 20km/h. Why not? I think most reasonable people will accept that discrimination has no place in a modern, civilised society. Racism, sexism, and homophobia are all unacceptable. Yet discrimination continues every minute every day on our streets when fast moving tonnes of steel speed by vulnerable human bodies with little thought or consequence.
A common speed limit for all traffic will begin to address this blatant discrimination on our streets. Won’t there be more traffic jams? Well perhaps there will be. But is the avoidance of traffic jams – which is hardly the case now anyway – a sound justification for tolerating discrimination in what is supposed to be an equal society, where every life is valued and respected equally?
In fact, not only will it bring long overdue fairness, it will make many journey more quickly achievable by bicycle. Space will be more equally distributed. Those afraid to do the healthier more responsible things – walk and cycle – will find the streets have suddenly become so much safer and pleasant. A certain proportion of them will shed their previous inhibitions. Highly visible, others can be inspired to ask themselves – why not me? The gap between the present and the future will close. Children, the elderly, dogs, squirrels and bird life will rejoice. Face to face contact, spontaneous meetings, actually noticing our streetscapes rather than rattling through them in alienated boxes will reconnect us with our humanity and overcome the common hostility and alienation of the rat race workerbot life, which almost every teenager knows and dreads. With the coming robot workforce – it needs to change anyway.
These objectives are feasible because we all know what a 20km/h means. We all know how to respect a speed limit. There probably will be infrastructure changes – but now it may be to accommodate cars as guests on city streets, rather than owners of it.
What has been absent is the political courage to make it happen. As the great majority of politicians are professional and career politicians, they are beholden to voters, to public opinion, to you and I, else they run the risk of not being re-elected. That’s puts them in a difficult position, a dependency – enough votes. So it’s important that we – everyday citizens – have the courage to understand the situation and make the changes – in attitudes, in actions. One of the signs of this will be the arrival of political courage.
A subject of sustainablity that really interests me is local food. With Saturday’s forecast a high of minus -9C with 60% chance of snow, its a good time to think about the coming farmers market season in Toronto, which starts in the middle of May. Yes, there are Saturday markets at St Lawrence, Wychwood Barns and at Evergreen Brickworks, where I will be. But for most people, farmers markets really come alive in May, as the first strawberries and rhubarb hit the stands. So this weekend, I’m planning to look into Ontario’s Local Food Strategy.
There may be more musings on local food and the subject of strategy in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for that!
Thanks for coming back to this still brand new blog.if you haven’t already, I hope you will consider bookmarking it and checking in again next week – there will be a new post every Thursday. Thanks again, and feel free to share your feedback.
First of all, welcome to my new blog! I hope to write honestly and intimately and not to be afraid of sharing the truth as I see it, even if it is hard and contrary to general opinions. Let me aim and hit the target of giving my best.
New Megacities, Same Old Problems?
By 2035 another 15 cities will have populations above 10 million. The Guardian is currently publishing a series on these starting with Baghdad, Dar es Salaam and Tehran.
Check it out here, but be warned. Reading about people grappling with the same old fallout of pollution, congestion, and dehumanising urban building is painful, especially when you know we have the capacity to be doing things so differently and without this unnecessary suffering. Our own cities could have been setting that different example.
Bright hopes in London, Manchester & Paris!
The ambitious (for now) and of course achievable Transport for London Cycle Plan came out in mid December. Even though there’s been some criticism that the plan doesn’t give more specifics I think we should also appreciate how much work has been put into this. Of course, I don’t want to just stop at bold statements and vision – I want to see the action follow through and the sooner the better. There may be flaws but let’s remember we’re in this together so what can we individually to help? Spreading the word and normalising what some people consider radical is a first step.
Chris Boardman really hits the nail on the head in Greater Manchester’s Beelines Cycling & Walking Proposal by highlighting that the proposed network is not for people who already cycle or walk for the majority of their journeys but to focus on enabling the two thirds of people who currently use their car as their main mode of transport.
Ideally, Beelines would do more than just tremendously inspire everyone in Toronto to join the new enlightenment, but I think at least 20 percent of drivers could be persuaded in the next three years.
If you haven’t heard this before, I’m happy to share this quote again;
“Cars no longer have a space in the big cities of our time.”
That’s from the former Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë. Current mayor Anne Hidalgo apparently has. initiatives to follow on from just right words; reducing parking spaces by 55,000 per year, city wide maximum speed limits of 30km/h, and investing €150m in cycling infrastructure.
30 km/h still sounds too fast though. I think we could show Paris their miscalculation by setting the example of reducing the speed limit to 20km an hour on the streets of Toronto.
Bike Sauce AGM feedback.
Yesterday, January 9th was the BikeSauce AGM. Seeing a such a healthy turnout and on a freezing dark January night with the wind howling and the snow blowing outside reminded me how much passion and initiative there is in this city – and why a sense of community matters so much.
Ideas were exchanged, plans were made. I’m particularly excited by the deeper advocacy and outreach ideas and the after meeting conversation I had with Anibal and John. A made in Toronto BikeSauce bike that also helps more people overcome the barriers of getting onto bikes and making Toronto the true, caring, inclusive city it’s going to be? Stay tuned!
In the meantime, Bike Build on Wednesday nights is a dedicated volunteer night and everyone is welcome, regardless of what you think your mechanical aptitude is. If you care about community, sustainability and resourcefulness, well doors open at 5.30pm – 341 Broadview Avenue is the address – and you are welcome.
Check out the About Page of the blog!
On Tuesday I wrote out the About page for this brand new blog which you are now reading. It took me more hours than I care to admit and I still doubt it’s finished. But I’m closer to explaining my intentions than when it was just a blank page. I really recommend you check it out if you haven’t already.
There is no reason for the old mentality of divide, exploit and profit over others to linger on with its putrid taste. Not unless you’ve lost all faith in the possibility of true happiness, lost faith in yourself. Humanity has never had the collective opportunity that we have now for actually being happy. We have the capacity, that is available, it’s now only a question of will.
Thanks for reading. I hope you join me again for future posts on mandeepscreative.com – and in the meantime, feel free to share your feedback.