Passage #93: 13 April 2011

Gondolier Awareness Week

In the conventional wisdom of our globalized, multi-cultural age, it is said that only through exposure can we learn to understand and tolerate one another's differences.

So just as corporate and academic institutions have filled their brochures with uncannily diverse teams (nodding together thoughtfully at the presentation, leaping together victoriously with briefcases in hand, laughing together in the quad with unbridled joy), architects and urban planners seem inordinately fond of incorporating bicycles and bicyclists into their renderings (basket full of groceries, hair and dress flowing in the breeze as she rides through the plaza; bike racks nearly, but not quite, full; mother and child stopped responsibly at the intersection).

Photoshopped, fictionalized or merely staged, the message is always the same: bear witness to our diversity, which is evidence of our tolerance and therefore our goodness. These public relations products belie the fact that more often than not, this much-touted diversity is (to borrow a phrase) "more aspirational than operational," a mere gloss of diversity over an organizational core that remains as insular and as uniform as ever.

And can we cyclists really say that we are immune from this insularity? We are, let's face it, exposed to a very narrow range of the possible types of transportation - cars, bikes, maybe the occasional skateboard. Though bicycles remain an "alternative" mode of transportation by just about any measure, they are certainly not the only alternative. If we wish to bring about a truly multi-modal future of transportation tolerance and understanding, it behooves us to familiarize ourselves with some alternative alternative modes of transportation. Ask yourself: do the architects and urban planners ever think of the gondoliers when they are sketching up their idealized visions of public space? No. No, they do not.

Therefore it is our mission this week to find and to think like the gondoliers. Only then can we begin to accommodate the full range of transportation alternatives that the city may offer - zeppelin and biplane, jetpack and hovercar, dogsled and monorail.

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