Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Cycling and the fostering of community

Through Today at the Mission (hat-tip: Ariel) comes news of an organization called Africycle, a Canadian-based charitable organization dedicated to both raising money for providing quality used bicycles to people in Malawi and maintaining bicycle repair shops in Malawi.

From the website: "Many Malawians experience difficulty accessing quality bicycles, due to economic constraints and the limited availability of affordable, reliable bicycles in the local market. Africycle believes that by providing bicycles it can be a catalyst for sustainable and effective development in Malawian communities."

Granted, Wichita is not Malawi, and the statement above refers overtly to economic development. But yesterday morning, as I did a bit of errand-running via my bike (in a moderate but steady rain), I gave the Wichita version of this some thought. The nearest full-service grocery store is now about 3 miles from where I live (until this spring when it closed, there had been one just a mile away). But as I rode about in my neighborhood, I noted that I can meet just about any other basic or recurring need I might have within an easy ride of where I live. Case in point: I'm due for a haircut. I'd gotten into the habit of going to Wal-Mart to get it cut there (decent--I'm not particular about haircuts--and cheap). But on my route yesterday I passed two barbershops that offer cheaper haircuts. Moreover, there are two good used bookstores in the neighborhood (one of which I'd not noticed until yesterday). And so on. Also, I got to greet some people in the neighborhood as I rode past their houses.

You see where I'm going with this, I hope. Before, when I was going on all Walden-like about this, I'd focused on the personal and (true, infinitesimal in and of themselves) global benefits of my cycling about town. Something I'd not really considered, though, is that by making more purchases here in this part of town, I can do my small part to help keep some folks in business (some of them look like they could use the revenue). I'll also feel more like I do more than just sleep here--I'll feel like I live here.

UPDATE: Apropos of cycling in urban areas, via this Matthew Yglesias post noting the death of a cyclist in Washington, D.C., comes the new-to-me notion of bike boxes. Portland, Oregon, already one of the bike-friendliest cities in the U.S., is beginning to install them. These are already used in some European cities; I hope those of you from Europe can comment on what expenses are involved with creating bike-boxes, aside from having to repaint some intersections.


R. Sherman said...

There is no question that one's mode of transportation has the direct effect of pulling one's horizon closer. So often we concentrate on getting acquainted with the wider world "out there," that we forget the world in our immediate vicinity.

Dare I say, the automobile for all the benefits it provides, tends to insulate us and close us off from everything else.


John B. said...

Randall, thanks as always for dropping by.

The downside of the automobile's great strength--creating in its owner the feeling of freedom and independence and flexibility--is, as you note, the concomitant creation of the owner's (psychological) insularity from his/her surroundings . . . and, thus, neighbors. There's the loss of interdependence: the tendons that hold a community together.

Something I should have noted is that this near-downtown neighborhood has been a commercial district for the past 40 years or so. And it, um, had a reputation back in the day: a former student of mine owns a clothing store in a building that, she found out later, had once been a bordello.