I’ve been reading David Byrne’s (of Talking Heads fame) Bicycle Diaries and it’s really quite good. The book is a journal/memoir of Byrne’s travels around the world, particularly those thoughts and insights inspired by choosing to bicycle around the world’s cities rather than taking conventional methods of transportation.
The book is not just about riding a bike, but is really broadly about culture and, specifically, the culture of cities. Byrne describes cities as living organisms, alive and breathing and adapting to the needs and demands of their inhabitants.
Byrne writes this in the preface:
Where is all this going? I’m optimistic these days. I envision transformed cities, often with more people on the streets, people who aren’t made to feel that they are intruders, secondary to cars. I note a resurgence in neighborhood unity and have a sense that many of us are learning to slow down and enjoy life a little more.
Six years ago I wrote about biking in Pasadena and the world of difference you experience when you view your world from two pedal-powered wheels:
It is amazing what you miss when you drive in a car. You can drive around and get where you want to go quickly, but you don’t really understand the surroundings in the same way that you do pedaling on two wheels.
I typically bike to the north of our apartment. The roads aren’t as nice and parts of it are uphill, but there is nothing like biking early in the morning past a small Mexican bakery and smelling whatever is being baked, watching tired mothers walking their laughing children to school, or biking past the Argentine meat market and not having a clue what Argentine meat is like. Lawns are covered with colorful flowers and fruit trees. As I bike through, I feel like I am part of the landscape and the community – another color, smell, and face to add to the mosaic of senses. I love the people and the smells – I love this area.
On the way back, I often bike towards the Rose Bowl, entering very wealthy neighborhoods. In this area, children are driven to school, there are no fresh baked goods to smell – only dumpsters and garbage cans pushed into the road away from the beautiful houses that sit a good ways off the road – and I quickly notice that there are no people around. The only faces I see are hidden behind sunglasses and tinted windows. The lawns here are identical – neatly trimmed and sparse. The roads are wide and well paved, allowing a good deal of distance between my old road bike and the expensive foreign cars driving past. In this area, I feel isolated and removed – an intruder without sunglasses to hide behind.
I love the vision of transformed cities and a resurgence in neighborhood unity. That’s why I do what I do where I do it and hope to find more ways to explore the city I live in and participate in the real growth and change of a place – my neighborhood – as it stretches and grows and becomes a better place for healthy, flourishing communities of people.