A New "Lost Generation" Cycles Across Scandinavia To Understand North America
Guest poster Robert Ouellette (seen above with bikes) has written for the National Post, Corporate Knights and his own Reading Toronto. He is cycling across Sweden and reports:
Toronto, a city rated as one of the most livable in the world by The Economist, just elected a new mayor. The unlikely ascension of a little-known suburban councillor who hates government spending to owner of the city's keys was a surprise to almost everyone, especially the departing administration who had done so much to raise Toronto's international reputation as a well-designed city.
But the Fox News world of low taxes and Republican values has found its way north to an economy in global warming and peak oil denial. The new mayor's first major decision to abandon eight years of transit planning ending what he calls 'the war on cars' is one more assault on good governance, sustainability, and egalitarian social values brought to you by the new world order.
One Way (except for bikes)
Since 9/11 a malaise has taken over the American continent. Our collective lizard brain--the one that does the thinking when intelligence goes offline--has decided it is calling the shots.
Need proof? When given a choice between investing in better transit systems to reduce mounting traffic problems, or spending more on police despite a plummeting crime rate, we choose more police. Logic? Forget it.
This is in spite of the truth that in a shrinking world with an increasingly interconnected economy, having an efficient and enjoyable city core is a key success factor in the search for a prosperous life. Throwing more people in jail isn't.
But for the nostalgia-ridden folks with two car garages and gas hog SUVs who want the Father Knows Best lifestyle of the go-go sixties, change is threatening. There is hope though. One of the trends coming out of this regressive pattern is that social change-leaders are doing what their early twentieth century counterparts did before them: they are fleeing to Europe for inspiration and even some kind of enlightenment. Meet the 'Lost Generation' reprised.
When artists like Ernest Hemingway fled America with the desire to lose themselves in the cultural embrace of Europe, they left behind a young nation still searching for an identity. Travels through Picasso's visceral, blood red Spain and Cezanne's cerebral, blue gray Paris nourished inquisitive minds starved for cultural validation. The insights Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Eliot, and Stein gained and brought back to America allowed people there to see themselves in a new way. Thanks Nick Adams.
Fast forward one hundred years or so. This century's motivation to learn new things isn't driven by a global, mechanized war. No. Today's fight is about saving the world from global warming. How? One way is making cities functionally sustainable yet socially adaptive. The battlefield is located where complex social and technological systems overlap. That's where you'll find the winners and losers in the world's great game of economic preeminence.
That's why Sarah and I came to Scandinavia. We've brought our road bikes and will cycle from Copenhagen across Sweden to Stockholm. We're in search of answers to questions no longer being asked by policy makers at home. We want to learn how to design modern, cold climate cities that work. We're after best practice examples from successful designers.
Robert filling tires at complimentary pump, Copenhagen Airport
Within minutes of arriving at the Copenhagen airport we've seen results. The baggage handler who delivers our bikes points to a dedicated air hose on the wall we
use to fill our tires. Then we carry our bikes onto a train that takes us from the airport to downtown. Try and find either of those things in Toronto.
I'll be filing more stories about what we learn on this journey.
More on Robert Ouellette in TreeHugger:
Quote of the Day: Bear Stearns and the Environment
Has Recycling Jumped the Shark?