27 November 2014

Cologne/Köln Ridicules Pedestrians in name of "safety"


Thanks to reader Felix Feldhofer for the photo and the heads up about this story.

By and large, history is repeating itself as we work towards making cities better. We are returning to many of the ideas that made cities human - before the automobile appeared. It's often a very good thing.

Which makes what is happening in Cologne, Germany, even more comical, bizarre and stupid. It is absolutely shocking. A stunning example of Ignoring the Bull.

We've written before about The Anti-Automobile Age in the early years of the 20th Century. In this article, you can read about the "jaywalking" concept, basically invented by the automobile industry to keep the streets clear for their cars and get the irritating, squishy obstacles out of the way. I highlight this in my Bicycle Urbanism by Design TED x talk.

We know it was crazy. We know that it was a desperate - and successful - ploy by the automobile industry to claim the streets for themselves, despite the fact that for 7000 years since cities first where formed, crossing the street was a rather normal thing to do. As Canadian writer Chris Turner points out, there is no jaywalking on sustainable streets.

If you thought the idea in some American cities of putting flags at pedestrian crossings for pedestrians to wave at cars when crossing was wacky and sooo last century, you'll love Cologne.

The City, the police and the tram company (Big Auto is chuckling in the wings) are financing a campaign to stop people from jaywalking. Goofy men in red and green costumes wander around the city ridiculing pedestrians doing what urban homo sapiens have done for seven millenia. Crossing the street to get somewhere they need to go.

Auto Club of Southern California Sponsored Signs December 1923 New York Herald Tribune 29.07.1925

Back in the day, the Automobile Industry enlisted boy scouts to hand out flyers and chastise, publicly, pedestrians who were "jaywalking". Amazingly - and I mean that in the most stunned, jaw-dropping way - the authorities are actually handing out whistles to children when they visit them in schools and training them to blow their whistles at jaywalkers. In the public space. Ridiculing them. It's the Cologne version of a mix between Stasi methods and public stocks - as choreographed by Monty Python.

Chicago Motor Club safety poster Textbook for Schools 1932 Charles P Hughes 1924 song Beware Little Children
Cologne is regurgitating propaganda from the 1920s invented by the car industry.

The police and the city, who are indoctrinating the children between 3rd and 7th grade - for taxpayer money - call it a "behaviour" campaign. They call it "Köln steht bei Rot" - or "Cologne stops for red". But the whole kid/whistle is an intiative called "Ich verpfeife dich". It's a German play on words. Directly translated it means "I will whistle you" but it also means "I am going to tell on you!"

Seriously. That is the level that the City of Cologne and the police are working at. In 2014.

It's one thing to get an idea for such a campaign. It's quite another to actually finance it and start it. It is one of the most bizarre examples of cities advertising how completely incompetent they are at controlling the destruction on their streets. Placing the responsibility on the vulnerable traffic users and not the Bull.

This entire campaign disgusts me. No offence, American friends, but it something that we're used to seeing coming out the States. That it is happening in a large northern European city that should know better is depressing.

It's certainly not a new idea. Bogota has also chased pedestrians in a similar fashion and tried to sugarcoat it in academia.

Another article in German about the campaign.

13 November 2014

Cycling Without Age in YOUR City


Watch this TED x talk. It is inspiring. It is moving. It is important. Watch it and share it.

Not just because it's about bikes but because it is about caring for our elderly, rebuilding a volunteer-minded society and it is about how individuals with passion and vision can change things. Change things quickly, effectively and massively.

I know this individual. I work three metres from him every day. Ole Kassow is his name.

I met Ole in 2010 at TED x Copenhagen when I was presenting this TED talk. He introduced himself and told me that reading Copenhagenize.com and Cycle Chic was the direct inspiration for selling the family car and banking on bicycles, as I wrote about previously.

Ole is the single most inspiring individual I know in my life. Full stop. The story, outlined in the above TED talk could have happened to many people, but of course it happened to Ole. And of course Ole took it to the next level, even though the development of the project Cycling Without Age / Cykling uden alder has taken him by surprise.

There are countless good points in the book The Culture of Fear by British sociologist Frank Furedi about the societal development since the 1950s - from a sense of community to a more egoistic, individual state of mind. This loss of community is regrettable. Fewer people volunteer for things, fewer people participate in organisations, etc.. It's easier to LIKE something on Facebook.



I don't need to write too much about Ole's Cycling Without Age project - he spells it out brilliantly in the TED talk, above. But I am amazed how the project has captured the imagination of so many people and how the volunteer-based participation bucks the societal trend in style. People of all ages are signing up to take the elderly for bike rides. Giving the elderly The Right to Wind in Their Hair with bicycles is something that has hit a nerve.

As I write this, there are about 37 municipalities in Denmark who are now rolling around with their elderly citizens. 150 rickshaws are on the cycle tracks of the nation, with many, many more on the way. Because of the demand, Ole is having a new rickshaw developed.

The international interest is just as massive. Eight municipalities in Norway are rolling. There is interest from twelve countries in starting up Cycling Without Age. Even as far away as Australia, New Zealand, US and Canada.

You can never plan for anything to go viral. It just does. When it's a passionate project about caring for our elderly, it's fantastic.

You simply can't not be involved. Wherever you are in the world. This is too important. Check this out:

Cycling Without Age in Your City?

I have been completely fascinated by the European Space Agency landing a probe on a comet 500 million km away from earth this week. I've been staring at the photos, absorbing all the articles. It's amazing. If I think about it, however, Cycling Without Age led by Ole and his team is just as impressive. The same "how is it POSSIBLE?" and "how do they DO it?" questions arise. I am amazed, inspired, impressed.

Let's not rest until rickshaws are rolling around the world and our elderly have been given the right to wind in their hair.

04 November 2014

The Race for the Life-Sized City




It's simply not fair that there are so many board games featuring a car-centric, last-century theme, like this one:


Or even this online version.

So, together with Doug Gordon, who runs the Brooklyn Spoke blog and who should be immediately followed on Twitter, Erik and Mikael from Copenhagenize Design Company decided to rectify the matter by whipping up a board game for the Life-Sized City. Like so many things regarding cities, the idea is old but still good - snakes (or chutes) and ladders has been around for many centuries - known as Moksha Patam in India.

Find a die and start rolling. It ain't easy, sunshine, but it's possible to win.

You can also download the .pdf if you want.