Monday, 25 November 2013

Fairy tales aren't just for kids, you know.

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away there was a massive, magical city teeming with millions of happy, beautiful citizens.  People from every walk of life enjoyed the city's many green spaces and outdoor plazas in a charming atmosphere of intimacy and interaction. Commuters grinned at one another as they made their way to work, and they always arrived intact, so that the toe-tagger at the morgue was every bit as bored as the Maytag repair man.  

Alien city by Joaquin Riz
Can you imagine?!

Oh hang on. Come back to earth for a moment.  You don't have to imagine it.  This is not some fairy-tale utopia we're talking about.  It's not even a futuristic wee gated, pie-in-the-sky, fossil fuel free, zero waste, zero carbon, sustainable dream city, courtesy rather ironically, of the United Arab Emirates' immense oil and gas revenue.

Go figure.

Nope.  Our fairy tale city is a real place that already exists.  It's an honest-to-goodness city of six million people in the developing world no less. The man responsible for this remarkable state of affairs, Enrique Penalosa, did so much to change the very nature of Bogata, Columbia during his mayoral tenure there that he is now known as the Mayor of Happiness, bless his heart. "We might not be able to fix the economy. But we can design the city to give people dignity, to make them feel rich. The city can make them happier,"  said he to The Guardian`s Charles Montgomery.  And that`s exactly what he did.  His programs changed the very nature of a notoriously dangerous city.

How DID he do it? 

Simple. He was the anti Rob Ford.  

The moment he came to power Penalosa declared war on the car
and THAT is something no politician here, and certainly none of the mainstream media, has the balls to do.  In this neck of the woods, obedience to the rule of oil and gas knows no limit.  The Canadian government claims it as the very foundation of our economy, and will hear of nothing else, and most of the sheeple here simply tow the line, the media included.  The CBC feature on Charles Montgomery's book The Happy City: Transforming our Lives Through Urban Design.  led with "Happiness equals a shorter commute," but our venerable media institution seriously downplayed the bicycle's role in the formula and made no mention whatsoever about the absolutely necessary end to the car's domination over our city-scapes. 

 Go figure. But Penalosa wasn't afraid to do it.  

Uh huh.  You know what I'm talking about.  No wonder they call him the mayor of happiness.

He even instituted a car-free day!  It's whole a day put aside every year when nobody gets to drive a private vehicle through the city streets.  The inaugural day was the first time in four years no one was killed by a car on the streets of Bogota. Penalosa took the money slated for a highway expansion and invested it instead in parks, schools and libraries, public transit, and bike lanes. Oh, and nurseries for kids.  Actually, it's all about the kids for him.  He doesn't hate cars at all, he simply loves lively and beautiful open public spaces. He believes a city needs to be a place which fosters happy children, that it needs to be safe for kids, so safe that a three year old can safely ride a tricycle anywhere.  

Mmm happy kids.  I love happy kids.   I'm not a feminist, I'm a kidist. And the best thing is that everybody loves their kids, right?  You want to do well by them, don't you?

Here's the thing.  I had a seriously liberal arts education, starting in primary school.  We lived in residence on campus in the seventies while both of my parents attended law school.  Already religion seemed patent nonsense to me, cause clearly you can't have a God the father, and a God the son, without also having a God the mother, and with my own mother reading the same degree as dear old dad, I figured that equality between the sexes already existed.  (Ha!  Oh, the naivety of the innocents...)  But humanity has already had a matriarchal epoch, and clearly patriarchy isn't working out well for us, but Penalosa nailed it.  It's time we start to really husband the planet properly so that we have a legacy to pass along to future generations.  

That's the thing.  Kidism is a force for good. If we create a world that is safe and healthy for kids, it will be good for everyone. Of course you love your kids. Course you do. So put down the keys and step away from the car already.

And hey! What do you know? There even are MORE good reasons to do it today. Environmental psychologist Colin Ellard says the more time you spend in your car, the less trust, affection and relationship you tend to have with the people around you.  Duh. Charles Montgomery even found a Swedish study that demonstrates how people with commutes longer than 40 minutes are 40% more likely to divorce! 

Mmm sensual... 

 You see?  It just keeps getting better on the bike path to world peace.  Cyclists are happier people who are less likely to lose their partner, and we enjoy more sensual experiences. Plus, when you're a devoted cyclist, you don't have to burn money in the form of petrol any more. One of the best things about changing the car's role in society, though, is that the streets become safer for everyone, thus reducing the number of car inflicted fatalities.  So let's see:  moving your butt makes you feel better.  The new, sexy you has a great love life, more money, and happy healthy children and guess what?  Everyone gets to stay alive despite travelling to school, work and play every day.  
Living the dream.

Nothing like the carnage we've seen around the lower mainland this last week.

There are so many instances of simple solutions which, if applied locally all across the planet, would improve the quality of life for everyone, as simple as that.  "Oh yeah, like WHAT?" you're probably thinking.

Like food walls, for example.  That's what.

.  It doesn't really matter whether or not you believe that having huge chemical-cum-bio-tech profit-driven machine "citizens" control the global food supply using toxic pesticides and creating un-tried-tested-and-true frankenfoods for me and you is a good thing or not.  It's important to eat locally grown food as often as possible, the local-er the better. The truth is that humans do best when the bulk of their diet is green, like a pyramid with the bottom third consisting of plant and vegetable matter.  Then you throw a healthy combination of assorted proteins and fats, and a dash of whatever suits your fancy, and bob's yer uncle.  Sorted.  The best thing about that kind of food pyramid is that greens are easy to grow year round in plenty of places, and certainly seasonally everywhere.  Or even better, do it indoors a la Inhabitat..

So pretty.
They're right, you know. Design will save the world.
I'll be filling my food wall with various kale, spinach, and chard.
And look, ma:  no transport carbon.

It's always the simple things that make the biggest difference.

And once again, the developing world has it ALL over our first world city planning genius. The city of Belo Horizonte in Brazil ended its hunger issues, recovering from a disastrous situation in which a staggering twenty percent of children were hungry, by declaring food a right of citizenship.  The underlying principle is that the status of a citizen surpasses the status of a consumer.  This is especially poignant when you realise that food is also one of our most fundamental human rights.

Speaking of right, Matt Damon's friend Howard Zinn was right.

 We need more civil disobedience It's time we apply the rule of civil disobedience with a lot more pressure, until our governments understand that their mandate is not to serve the interests of corporations and their profit, but rather to facilitate the greatest good for all.  I'm with HG Wells.  He said "Every time I see an adult on a bike, I no longer despair for the future of the human race."

 Amen to that.
I know exactly what he means.
Course my rides look like this these days...

 and the best bit? 
It keeps me young at heart.
I kid you not!

Monday, 18 November 2013

If culture is the cry of men in the face of their destiny, then we'll be alright in the end.

We spent a bit of time over the weekend at the 17th annual Eastside Culture Crawl,

 and that's no bull.  

This up-cycled old gas station on Gore was almost like entering the wardrobe to Narnia.  Outside you'll find the derelict, the destitute and the drug addicted, but walk inside

and you enter a completely different world.

That's the whole point of a culture crawl, though, isn't it?  Taking a peek inside and escaping to somewhere else? Cities are melting pots, where art, science, technology and design grow and develop out of the miasma of humanity pressed close together in the process of survival we call daily living. As Gandhi said, a nation's culture resides in the heart and soul of its people, and in this case, in their gorgeous, passionate, creative expression.

What I've noticed is a growing awareness that we're all in this together. Ha!  And do you know what else I noticed?


 I noticed that when people walking from their cars to the venues saw us riding our bikes, so many of them  commented on how much easier it would have been if only they had taken their bikes instead of their cars because parking was at a real premium at this well-loved event.


A bicycle-centric lifestyle is not always more convenient than its car-centric counterpart, but it`s so much better in the end.  It's infinitely more rewarding, it is always happy-inducing, and it's usually waaaay more fun.  Sure there is a time and a place for a car, but in my world that`s what car-to-go is for.

It is definitely time for a new paradigm for our global economy, one which refuses to compromise the planet for profit, because we all have a right to life which supersedes the right to profit. The planet has a right to life, too, don't you think?

Humanity is ready for cities built to a higher standard, to carry us into the future.  I listened to Michael Enright's interview with Mary Robinson on The Sunday Edition and it left me in tears because even though her message is frightening to anyone whose future is tied to the oil patch, she is spot on when she talks about what enormous potential exists for us in a sustainably powered economy.

And more and more people are adamant about the kind of world they want to leave for future generations.

I sure am.
That's one of the many good reasons I love bicycles!

Over the summer when I rode to Hornby Island, I met a girl named Anna along the way.

I liked her instantly.  How could I not?  She's a woman after my own heart, cycling the 100+ km from Vancouver to Hornby n'all, but it was our conversation which really stuck with me.  She and her partner were expecting their first child, and her biggest fear around parenting was that she'd have to give up her bikes. Bless her heart. And that's the thing!  She could have manifested exactly what she feared most, only because she didn't dare to hope for something better.  Besides, kids love bikes!  They take to a cycling lifestyle as naturally as fish to water if that's all they know.  Believe me, I've seen it happen time and time again!  They take to whatever you give them, and you give them whatever you grew to know.

It really boils down to what you expect. I didn't turn the corner, hoping to find a nearly nekked woman painted on this wall,

but I'll be sure to keep an eye out for her next time I'm around!

Every year, between now and the spring, people are always surprised to find that I'm still riding my bikes. Every year, throughout the year, I marvel that people could possibly want to sit in a car in traffic, whatever the weather, or cram themselves into public transit like so many sardines!

Maybe it seems remarkable to you that someone might choose to ride come rain, shine, or winter, but what's really crazy to me is that despite being aware of climate change for ages now, so many people still think that it's okay to drive a car everywhere they go, all of the time. I'm sorry, but it seems madness, somehow, that people don't see how our carbon intensive, growth-at-all-costs economy is stripping our children of their future.  On Shelf Life with David Suzuki, the Lorax Suzuki called our energy policies and their harm to the environment an intergenerational crime against humanity.

The writing is on the wall.

As Mary says, we really don't have a choice.  We have to change the way we do things. 
 But don't panic.  It's not insurmountable;  it doesn't even have to be traumatic.  It's just a different way of approaching things.

According to a new study co-authored by Stanford researcher Mark Z. Jacobson, we could accomplish all that by converting the world to clean, renewable energy sources and forgoing fossil fuels. 

It really is simple. Start with the little things, and take a step each day along the way toward a better future.

 And let's get real about the big things, too, the important things.  As nations we can easily choose to end the ridiculous and exorbitant subsidies to the petroleum industry and instead invest that in sustainable energy research, development and production, for starters.  That's huge.  Many trillions of dollars - just imagine what you could do with that! The Stanford study concluded that we now have absolutely everything it requires to achieve a  fully sustainable planet within twenty years.  All we lack is the political will to do so.

Listen.  Can you hear the sirens' call?

This is an emergency.

Kennedy said "When written in Chinese the word 'crisis' is made up of two characters:  one represents danger, the other opportunity.  Thanks to the internet, we have the gift of vicarious experience-you don't have to live in the Philippines or Illinois to understand that we're all playing for keeps- and a wealth of opportunity.  We don't have to keep doing things the way we've always done them, just cause that's how we've always done them.  We can do something new, something better now.  After all, didn't Einstein warn us that it's madness to continue on in the same fashion and somehow expect a new result?

We can take this opportunity to make a few different decisions. Fuller was so right, saying that there is nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come, because the moment we ALL decide to stop buying in,  and to create something gorgeous and new, things will change very quickly for the better.

Before you know it, the whole place will be crawling with all sorts of great culture...

Come on. The direction is clear. It's time. Let's go!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Riding on blind faith and envisioning an end to the brain drain.

Hello!! Great to see you. Welcome.  Thank you for being here. 

"I have a bit of a problem..." 
said no Robs Fords ever. 

Seriously, though. I wonder if you can please help me. Maybe you can offer some insight on a little difficulty I've encountered. As you may know, I had an accident about a month ago which left me seeing double for a bit, and in need of a new helmet, cause the old one was cracked through and through in a couple of places

 and not quite through and through all over the one side.

I'm really happy that the Styrofoam absorbed so much of the impact, but I could do with out the gong-show effect of waking up in hospital ever again, thank you very much, so I looked into helmet technology and decided to go with a MIPS helmet.  Popular Science calls it the helmet that can save football.

It's super cool.  It looks a lot like any other helmet, even on the inside, but the moment you put it on, you know how special it is.  There's a wire that runs along that long stretch of blue cooling foam in the front, and up through the sliding piece in the back.

You put the helmet on and then fit it to your head with this dial on the back:

Once you do that, you will notice that the helmet shell free-floats on your head even though it's secured with the wire.  It actually mimics your cerebral fluid.  How cool is that?!

I love it.  Love love love it.  At first I hated that it looks like it's so bright and busy, but the design instantly won my heart.  I wanted the black one, but that would have taken ages.  And  it's always good to be more visible than less, right?  I probably wear enough black, anyway, so it'll do for now.

But I have gremlins.  It's fabulous that my brain-jelly is now well protected n'all, but I can't stop crying.  Literally. The helmet manages somehow to funnel air directly onto my eyeballs in a never-ending blast of  rivers-of-tears inducing wind.  It even happens when I've got my glasses pushed so far up the bridge of my nose that my eyelashes are constantly hitting the lenses.  I've talked to three other people who ride with a Lazer, and none of them have this problem.


Of course you know what else the body produces en masse when tears are endlessly streaming, don't you?

Move over BikeSnobNYC.  Make room for Bike Snot, Vancouver.

Sigh...  oh help.
What's a girl to do?

I try to be a better person today than I was yesterday - every day! - but it doesn't matter how many good deeds you do, there's nothing remotely attractive about a face streaked with tears and snot, even if they ARE tears of joy, generated perched on my happy place.  It's not pretty. Rumi said “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”  He never mentioned what you're meant to do when that river is flowing constantly and continuously across your face.

For sure, if you've never known tears of joy, you haven't really lived, but I've lived a little bit. And despite my smaller-than-average sized brain, I've learned a tiny bit here and there, too. Over the last several decades of  bicycle riding , for example, I've discovered that I need all the help I can get, and also seeing is always good. For sure. Specially when you're on a bike, moving fast.

Who knew?  Tears of joy are just as hard to see through as tears of any other origin.

 But people who know me well know that for better or worse, copious quantities of bodily fluids, slimy or otherwise, aren't going to slow me down. Call it blind devotion, if you will.
Tears or no, when it comes to bikes, I have tunnel vision.  

Cycling is key to a great lifestyle. It's integral to the design of the new paradigm which will see life on Earth safely into the future: it's the bike path to world peace, for Heaven's sake! Snot or not, bikes are the best way forward. On the plus side, my new-found expertise on the projectile properties of the flying bogey hork launched at high velocities has provided some priceless moments of real bonding between the boy and me.  Blessed be.  :)

I left a trail of snot, sweat and tears across the North Shore mountains last week.

Move over Hansel and Gretel, too!

It's not just the vision thing, either. It's a brain drain! Aaaaaaand, a girl runs the chance of dehydration, leaking all over the place like that.  I'll be like Capilano Lake up there by the Cleaveland Dam.

Empty-ish.  Look!  The dock doesn't even reach the water line!

Heh heh.  Cleaveland.  I love that word.

Only these days I also resemble that word, leaking the way I do..

On the plus side, it's probably a great cleanse, all this draining, and goodness knows dirty girls like me always benefit from detox. You see?  That's better. Inner peace is all in how you look at things. Lincoln said "We can either complain because rose bushes have thorns or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses."  I love love love my life and rejoice in being able to ride bikes the way I do.  Fer sure.  I always swore I'd welcome tears of joy any time, but I can definitely hear the Gods laughing over this one.

They have supremely wicked humour sometimes, don't you think?

The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision. (Keller)


Got insight?  Any helpful suggestions to dry my eyes?  
Please... do share!

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Driven to distraction? It's time to change the paradigm.

Vancouver is like the younger sibling who wants nothing more than to play with the big kids. 

 We aspire to be a world class city, but we're limited by our very own brand of backwater provincial-ness.  Sure, we've mastered the art of congestion like all the big kids, but only outside the down-town core, and in the suburbs, where everybody drives everywhere.  Traffic in the city centre is actually back to pre-1950 levels now, cause of the bike lanes and pedestrian friendly planning, said Gordon Price via the CBC this week. But hold on a minute. Don't get all excited at the possibility of a congestion-free city. Some Vancouverites do have a world class, big-city hate-on for cyclists, so you never know.  We might be just as likely as any other city to elect a crack smoking, bike-lane hating mayor next time round.

Another thing we do as well as the best, biggest. world class cities is drive cars into things.  Why, Snobbers was bemoaning the plague of cars mowing people over in NYC just the other day...

and I realised that in many ways we really do measure up:

That's the Fatburger on Davie street. The only thing is...  does it make us more, or less red-neck that our out of control motorist hit police officers instead of children, like that lady in Quebec? 

 Don't worry, though. No need to change the way we enforce traffic laws so that motorists actually take responsibility for the weapons they drive. The Vancouver Police Department are right on top of the whole safety-on-the-streets thing.  They have a nearly brand spanking new spanking vehicle to use when they're out on their Fatburger runs.

Very clever of them, don't you think?  THAT's whatcha call thinking big.

It reminds me of our aspirations as a city.  Thoreau said "If you would hit the mark, you must aim above it:  Every arrow that flies feels the pull of the Earth."  Humans aspire to great heights, blessed be, and yet we, too, feel the pull of our baser nature.  Vancouver wants to be a world class city - the world's greenest, no less - but how does it really stack up?

Hmmm.  What does it look like from the outside looking in?
 If you were to enter the city from a cruise ship, you would find yourself here:

Imagine some generous soul has met you with a bicycle.  From Canada Place there, it's just a couple of minutes along the seawall to Stanley Park, where you'll find gorgeous beaches, grand vistas,

great restaurants, lots of big old trees, and totems at Prospect Point.  

Take a quick tour with me.  I promise not to kiss you.


You could actually spend quite a bit of time in Stanley Park, and still not see all of it.  The aquarium is a must-see, though, if you have a love of all things marine, or small children.
Lost Lagoon is a local landmark in the park, too,

and home to many happy birds.

If you've made your way through the park to English Bay, 
you may find yourself in the middle of the laughing men.

At the other end of Sunset Beach, you'll see Inukshuk,

our national cultural icon, symbolic of communication, navigation and survival in the Canadian arctic. 

Head into the down-town core and you'll find another hallmark of culture:

The old city hall turned Vancouver Art Gallery.  This is important for lots of reasons. The arts and culture inside speak volumes for themselves, but the outside is crucial, too. 
This side backs onto the Robson St ice rink...

which is cool, cause you know how much Canadians love their ice.  But it's the other side of the gallery where you find out what matters most to us.  The other side is where Occupy Vancouver camped out, and on any given day, you're as likely as not to find people there with something important to say.

This day is no different,

except, perhaps, for a couple of kids smudging with sweet-grass and sage.
You don't see that every day.

Just down the road from the gallery you'll find my very favourite building in the whole city.
The library.

Soooo pretty.

 Now all I have to do is to write the Great Canadian Novel, and you'll be able to find a copy in there.  I guess maybe Vancouver does have a bit of everything for everyone.  Love sports?  
 There is a venue or two for you...

Of a scientific bent?  There's something for you, too.

It really is a thing of great beauty, this city, 
with its natural splendour and all of the trappings of civilization, too.  

Best of all, it's an important opportunity. Buckminster Fuller said 

"I am enthusiastic over humanity’s extraordinary and sometimes very timely ingenuity. If you are in a shipwreck and all the boats are gone, a piano top buoyant enough to keep you afloat that comes along makes a fortuitous life preserver. But this is not to say that the best way to design a life preserver is in the form of a piano top. I think that we are clinging to a great many piano tops in accepting yesterday’s fortuitous contrivings as constituting the only means for solving a given problem.."  

It's definitely time for a new paradigm... and people? It's best to aim high, and have hope.  

The Dark - our Banksey
Fuller said "In order to change an existing paradigm, you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model.  You create a new model and make the existing one obsolete."  He also said (I love this) "We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common.  It has to be everybody or nobody."

It's everybody.  For sure.

It's you.  You matter.  You make a difference every day in a thousand tiny ways, you know it's true.  It's in your thoughts, your words, your decisions, your deeds, your purchases - your life.
Make it count!

Aim high.  Think big. 
And smile.  Together, we can do this thing.