Mark, from I Bike London, published a few days ago a fantastic blog post about Enrique PeÃ±alosa's talk at the LSE. I think both Mark's post, and Enrique's vision of how to build better cities for the people who inhabit them, are worth sharing.
Us bicycle enthusiasts, bloggers et cetera often put so much passion behind our arguments -and we are so often confronted with many opposing views- that I personally feel we sometimes miss sight of why we want more bikes on the streets. In other words, we sometimes sound like we no longer remember that the bicycle is a just a tool, a means, but most certainly not an end. The end must remain clear: livable cities. In this regard, Enrique's talk was refreshing. He is talking as the former major of a 7 million people city -that's half the population of The Netherlands- in a developing country. A city with very pressing issues, like social and economic inequality or widespread violence. And he has a vision. A vision of what democracy means and how to achieve it. This vision materialises in the form of a city were people can be happy. Isn't it wonderful? How simple is this. By the 2050 70% of people in this planet will live in cities. Thus, what happens in cities will be more relevant to people than countries and nations. Decision making in their city will affect their life more directly than anything else. If 70% of humanity lives in cities, the best way to bring social change, to actively enforce democracy and human rights, will be, more than even before, through urban policy and urban planning. Majors and urban planners in developing countries have the opportunity to reflect on how cities have evolved in developed countries and learn fron all that went wrong in the 20th century. We now understand that the vision of such planners as Le Corbusier, of cities criss-crossed with motorways and one way multilane streets, brings socially exclusion and worse living standards for everyone. In PeÃ±alosa's vision, the bicycle can be instrumental in creating a more democratic city. It empowers citizens to travel large distances and carry heavy loads at will, without many of the problems associated with car culture. It is a tool for creating a liveable city, nothing else, and certainly nothing less. It deserves therefore public promotion, quality infrastructure and proper investments.
A city that caters for the majority must offer quality common spaces, not quality roads. (Enrique PeÃ±alosa's Photo credit: Calitexican, via Flickr)