Today I joined the Brisbane Climate Change Rally 2015. It was a fun, colourful, purposeful, but hot day. I went with two friends and took Leki with me (who was a smash hit with the crowd because of her colourful flowers). We had a great time chatting to people around us before we took to the streets – I had a conversation with the bicycle cops about their work on two wheels, had a chance to tell ‘Tony Abbott’ what I really thought and got interviewed by Channel 9 News – all in a day’s work when promoting bicycles!!

 

Who was there?

There were a lot of political groups, vegan promoters, animal rights groups, cultural and social action organisations, wildlife conservationists and speciality interest and focus groups. I couldn’t see a bicycle specific cohort, although lots of people there said it was cool I brought my bike and was promoting cycling at a climate change rally. There were lots of positive comments about reducing fossil fuel emissions and keeping society fit and healthy.

We heard speeches and saw performances on the main stage, which was interesting and necessary, but as minutes ticked on it got hotter and hotter. I could see the poor older people struggling to stand in the heat for so long – we were still yet to march. All benches and shade were taken, and I thought the crowd did well to hear out the speeches before finally getting the go-ahead to hit the street and march.

Let’s hit the streets!

This is always my favorite part of a Rally – the actual march through the city. I positioned our group close to the drumming band and we shadowed them the whole way. It is always easier to march when you have funky music to move to. I left fly with Leki’s bells so I was jamming with the percussionists. We were shaking a leg alongside, adding to the happy noise. The people surrounding us were grinning from amusement given the raucous entertainment we were providing – good olde harmless fun. So, we slowly peeled away from Martin Place to head off through the city.

We had a great time: we danced, joked, made up chants, found new friends, kept ourselves hydrated and entertained. It was a long march and totally worth it to exercise our civic rights, to voice our concerns about politics, to get amongst other like-minded community members and to have some damn good fun. We ended up back at the rendezvous point, happy, hoarse and satiated. Just as before we headed off for some well deserved cool drinks in the shade to wind-down, take a load off our feet and reflect on the day.

 

It is a fine line between unstructured online (re)searching for this bicycle blog and procrastinating.

I found myself teetering on this fine line earlier today – that was until I came across the mother load.

Bicycles Create Change

To put this in context – as I am relatively new to blogging, it has been a steep learning curve coming to grips with Word Press, content selection, time management and getting the right balance between subject matter: finding my ‘voice’ – something which will no doubt evolve over time. This is also one of the primary reasons for starting the blog, To have an accountability partner helps track my ideas, writing and process over time. So it is not surprising that I have been fact-finding about blog tips and advice – much of which has been incredibly helpful and immediately effective.

Part of the investigation into this new genre has been discovering and reading other blogs, especially those that contain similar themes to mine (bicycles, gender, community), which I have enjoyed immensely. I was impressed and slightly daunted by the array of cycling blogs. It seemed that many had a similar format: personal ride diary style, news and events; cycling shops and groups; bicycle style, product and lifestyle. This brings us to the mother load – Let’s go for a Ride.

Today my job was made that much easier and more enjoyable when I stumbled across Let’s go for a Ride website.

Their resources page provides an extensive list of (goodness knows how many!) links to women specific bike blogs.

The list has 3 main categories:

Women’s Bike Blogs

Cycle Chic Blogs

Other Bike Blogs

It was a delight to sift through some of the blogs, select a title, read a little, then move on to the next one…perusing, smiling, drinking tea as I went.

Some of the blogs are full of amazing photography, others transported me to mysterious places by travelogues, others again were full of training dates and race plates – and some others, sadly, have ceased to be – the last post left standing there, as testament to one woman’s freewheeling exploits (*sigh*).

I have since returned to this list and am still exploring some of the new blogs.

I find great satisfaction in fossicking around in a particular blog and looking through their archives – I hope you do too! Enjoy!!

I was looking at research from America, trying to get a sense of how many high school students cycle to school. I found a small, but very interesting study from Davis,  California. It specifically looked at what are the major dis/encouragements for high school students in relation to biking to school.

Source: Solar Napper Commuter Information

Source: Solar Napper Commuter Information

Problem: The dwindling number of students who actively travel to school is a logical growing concern in the US. The article states that in 1969, 87% of all trips less than 1.6kms to school were on bike or foot, whereas in 2001, less than 1% of students aged 5-15 were biking to school. The authors are bold enough to argue that such travel habit changes – which once initiated in childhood,  are continued into adulthood; have a direct negative impact on wider social issues such as the national obesity rates and climate change.

Response: To try and combat low active travel to school, a US Federal Initiative called ‘Safe Routes to School,’ was implemented in 2005, at a cost of US$612 million to help promote safe walking and bike access to schools. Since then, a number of studies have assessed the results and effectiveness – and these are the studies I have been looking at this week.

This study caught my eye for a few key reasons. Firstly, it specifically focused on high school students (AU years 10-12), whereas most other US research on active student mobility concentrates on junior high (years 7-9) students. Secondly, this research solely looked at biking, as opposed to most others, which considered walking and biking together.

saferouteswa.org

Source: saferouteswa.org

Findings: Here are a few highlights of interest from this Study.

Gender: Overall, more male students ride than female students.

Age: Cycling to school rates decreased with (increased) age and grade levels – meaning the older you get and the higher your grade level, you ride less to school.

License: Getting a drivers license cuts the already low cycling rate in half again.

Riders: Those who do ride to school, often use their bike to ride to many places regularly, not just school.

Compound factors: Being female, having access to a car and having a drivers license, had the biggest impact on lowering cycling results.

Convenience: Many students said that they used a car not a bike as they left campus for lunch and needed to be back in time for afternoon classes (from what little I know about US high school canteens, I wouldn’t eat there either!)

Portability: Carrying books and school gear was highlighted as a major issue for students who said that transporting ‘stuff’ to and from school was a significant consideration for biking or not.

Parental Influence: Parents had a greater influence on cycling choices than peers, but this is not surprising as parents provide an access choice for non-biking by readily chauffeuring or allowing licensed students to use family cars.

Most surprising finding: For me the most surprising comment was that there was a link between parental education levels and the likelihood of bicycling to school. The authors observed that ‘having a parent with at least a bachelor degree increased the odds of bicycling, most likely reflecting both high education levels and high bicycle commuting levels among parents who work at the university’ (p.76). I found this very interesting, as I had never stopped to fully consider a link between cycling and educational levels and have not found other studies that have claimed such a connection either. I will keep an eye on the literature and see if this is echoed elsewhere.

Is there a connection between higher education levels and cycling?

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Emond, C. R., & Handy, S. L. (2012). Factors associated with bicycling to high school: Insights from Davis, CA. Journal of Transport Geography, 20(1), 71-79. doi:10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2011.07.008

Initiative: When Remya Jose was 14, she invented a bicycle –powered washing machine to help her do the family washing. With women traditionally doing the household chores, Remya and her sister had to take over the family washing after both parents were too ill to work. Hand washing Indian style is usually done in rural waterways that are away from the home and it is a time-consuming, physically demanding and labour intensive activity. Previously Remya’s family did not have a washing machine. After seeing other locals in her town of Kizhattoor Panchayat, India, use a few electrical washing machines, she fashioned her design based on the same principles, but added pedals as the power source so that no electricity was needed. The ‘washer’ is seated behind the machine on a seat so that when they cycle, a chain rotates a mesh cylinder inside a central aluminum box. It now takes Remya only about 20 minutes to soak, wash and rinse clothes. She designed it herself and with help, it was made from parts that were sourced locally.

 Effectiveness: This simple yet effective modification is a great example of what I consider to be the most effective, sustainable and powerful community change: one where the problem is self-identified by the community; a solution is self-initiated and implemented and  there is no reliance on external people, materials or skills in order to maintain the result. Such practices are a move in the right direction to reduce criticisms that aid perpetuates a culture of dependency and expectations, and that communities are best left alone to deal with and overcome their own problems without external intervention.

Connection: Furthermore, as Easterly (2008) points out, it is the people who are creative and experimental in trialing alternative ways to solving community problems (like Remya), who are usually more effective in alleviating poverty associated issues as opposed to those who invest copious amounts of energy, time and money into approaches that have no immediate results and/or are not locally contextualized.

Take away: This story is also a humble reminder for us Westerners of the lies we tell ourselves, like: ‘I don’t know how to fix it’, ‘I haven’t got the money’, ‘I don’t have the time’, ‘It’s quicker just to buy a new one’ – are all too easy and such thinking does not create positive change. But ingenious action will.

As this story exemplifies, training, education and money is often no match for being resourceful, shrewd and confident. I think it is a pity that such valuable skills are not promoted and taught within our community.

Where in your life do you apply cheap, innovative and functional solutions to problems?

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Easterly, W., 1957, & ebrary, I. (2008). Reinventing foreign aid (1st ed.). Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Many people do not Know what Makes Them Happy.

This is not just a personal problem; this is an ecological and social issue. Many cyclists love riding and they know it makes them happy – but few make the connection between their experience on a single ride and the idea that by undertaking any ride, they are also actively participating in a wider ‘Biking Community’ – and I wonder if this has any influence on what makes them happy when they ride.

It is easy to say that riding your bike makes you happy. However, cycling is not an isolated experience and most people ride their bikes outside – and thus participate either consciously or not in any number of social groups at any one time. What kind of participation do you contribute to your local bicycle culture? I was thinking of this as I read the book 147 Practical Tips for Teaching Sustainability (2006, pg 29). I was particularly interested in Tip Number 44 which was Align Values with Actions, which I have modified below.

It got me thinking that many cyclists love and value their bikes, but few act on that value beyond the personal experience. Some do, but not many. As a community of cyclists, I was struck by the thought of asking cyclists to complete this statement:

‘I would be a happier member of the cycling community if ….’

‘I would be happier riding my bike in the city if ..’

As a cyclist, what areas do not contribute to your own, or your community, or to the earth’s happiness – and how can you improve those areas? What action will you take?

Copenhagenize Design Company

Copenhagenize Design Company

I am interested in building ideas for how cyclists can better spend their time and resources to develop a more sustainable cycling culture which moves beyond the immediate personal ‘ride’ experience and how that value can be translated into tangible, positive social changes.

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Timpson, W. M. (2006). 147 practical tips for teaching sustainability: Connecting the environment, the economy, and society. Madison, Wisc: Atwood Pub.

Practice: In September 2013, the town of Suwon, South Korea, went car free for a month for the Ecomobility Festival.  It took two years to plan and in order to help assist the locals’ mobility, 400 free public bicycles were provided as well as bike riding lessons as many residents had never ridden a bike before. I highly recommend that you have a look at the interesting event results now released in a book of the project here.

Neighborhood in Motion - Suwon: South Korea 2013

Source: Neighborhood in Motion

It took two years to plan and in order to help assist local mobility, 400 free public bicycles were provided as well as bike riding lessons as many residents had never ridden a bike before. This ambitious exercise in urban ecomobility was strategically designed to be for a longer duration. As the Ecomobility website identifies, many cities have had success with car-free days (or for even a week; however, the true test of adapting to a more sustainable lifestyle was to create a scenario where people could not simply put off or reschedule regular routines in order to participate in the social experiment – it needed to be more challenging to see if real changes were truly possible.

The results were fantastic and very positive.

Connection: In 1987, the United Nations’ World Commission on Environment and Development (better known as the Brundtland Report) was the origin of, and the first to use the term ‘sustainable development’. However, forewarning of the unsustainable nature of predominant economic development based on global resource depletion was not a new concept (Schumacher, 1973). When the report clearly articulated that ‘the hope for the future [was] conditional on decisive political action [and then] to begin managing environmental resources to ensure both sustainable human progress and human survival’ (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987, pg. 11), the spotlight was turned firmly onto the need for progressive, immediate and comprehensive political change.

Neighborhood in Motion - Suwon: South Korea 2013

Source: Ecomobility Festival

Ecomobility Festivals are now being held in different cities (the most recent being South Africa in October 2015) each time to prove that mass community change IS possible. The most exciting aspect of this initiative is scale. If you suggest such a venture to an Australian politician, they would no doubt immediately claim that taking such decisive action is inconceivable – and certainly not within their power to do so. This case study proves otherwise, not once, but twice – rather impressively as well. So, where is our ‘decisive political action’?

street-races-in-suwon-ecomobility-festival

Source: Inhabitat

Impact: That is why the Ecomobility Festival is such an important step towards more positive social change. It demonstrates that decisive political action CAN be successfully implemented on a large scale and that bicycles and other non-renewable forms of transport are indeed very real, indispensable, logical and attainable options for sustainable cities of the future.

Not only that, but it was Korea first, then South Africa who are leading the world in exerting the precise necessary political action that the Brundtland Report identified as necessary in order for humans to overcome our current efforts in what Fry (2011) calls ‘sustaining the unsustainable’.

Results: To make a concerted change, bold decisions need to be made followed by action. More so than ever, it seems that the ecomobility framework not only creates positive social change, but equally highlights which communities are lacking in the political leadership necessary for change. It is also rewarding to see a rise in the political profile and popular recognition of the necessity of pervasive urban bicycle use.

 

Neighborhood in Motion - Suwon: South Korea 2013

Source: Fast Coexist

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Fry, T. (2011). Sustainability is meaningless – It’s time for a new   Enlightenment. The Conversation, 3 May, viewed 29 July 2011 at <http://theconversation.edu.au/sustainability-is-meaningless-its-time-for-a-new-enlightenment-683>

Schumacher, E. F. (1973). Small is beautiful: Economics as if people really mattered. Abacus, London64.

World Commission on Environment and Development.(1987). Our Common Future. United Nations, Oslo.

Why women in developing countries should have Bicycles.

Mobility, especially to workplaces and markets, for the women and girls who make-up 70% of the world’s poor, is often hampered by distance, cost, carrying capacity, time and availability. Many of these women are limited to walking and in many cases headloading an average of 20kgs to transport goods. Rural African and Asian women will walk on average 6 kilometres each day for water, food and fuel collection, which prevents them from working or going to school and puts them at direct risk of sexual assault, whereas a bicycle is three times faster than walking (World Bank, 1996) and can carry up to seven times more than one woman headloading.

gowestafrica.org

Source: gowestafrica.org

Women are often culturally restricted from operating or using motorised transportation. They are further constrained by often having children or other dependents with them, therefore less likely to get a ride. Bicycles significantly relieve these physical and transportation impediemnts, as well as being non-polluting, lower in cost, easier to customise for specific purposes and are generally easier to repair and maintain than other motorised forms of transport.

If indeed “one of the best ways to help the poor is to improve non-motorized transport” (World Bank, 1996 pg 73), then a bicycle is an obvious and logical strategy to help minimize the impacts of poverty. Investment in women has massive knock-on effects considering that for each woman who is able to break out of the poverty cycle, four other people are taken with her as a result. Such an outcome has an immediate positive impact on families and communities.

However, as Mozer (2015) identifies, ‘to the limited extent that bicycles have been introduced into the structure of transportation in Africa, women generally have been excluded from access to the benefits’ . This is an area  of particular interest for me and an element which I will  be investigating in some detail in subsequent posts.

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All facts attributed to Walk in her Shoes (2015) website unless otherwise specified. As accessed at http://www.walkinhershoes.org.au/facts.

World Bank Policy Review Paper (1996) Sustainable Transport. Viewed on Wed 4th Nov, 2015 as accessed at http://www.worldbank.org/transport/transportresults/documents/sustain-transp-1996.pdf

Essentially, the purpose of this blog is to identify, collate and share my critical ethnography research of International Aid Programs that give bicycles (in particular to girls) in order to bring about positive social change. I also want to see if such bike aid increases female participation in education. Ultimately, I am working towards exploring the stories of the lived experiences of female bike aid recipients in order to identify the functionality, outcomes and sustainability of these programs.

I aim to use this blog as a way of tracking and processing the initiatives, projects, research and ideas I consider during this exploration process.

A brief overview of previous relevant research.

NGOs supply bicycles to girls and women as a means of community development. Bicycles were hailed as a literal ‘vehicle for change’ (Furness, 2010; Walks, Siemiatycki & Smith, 2014).   Despite dwindling popularity, there are still a small number of NGOs dedicated to this initiative in operation. They include: Bike-Aid; Bike not Bombs and the Australian NGO, Bikes4Life. For example, World Bicycle Relief, have so far distributed 238,474 bicycles worldwide. Their Bicycles for Empowerment Project has donated 24, 212 bicycles of which 70% went specifically for girls to attend school. This project increased local academic performance by over 59% (World Bicycle Relief, 2015). Although momentum and publicity for Bike Aid have waned, Biketivism (Furness, 2005) projects and research initiatives are continuing to address equity issues (Wu, 2009; Bijker, 1997; Hanlon & Smart, 2008). There is an ongoing need to supply bicycles for vulnerable girls in order to provide opportunities for greater access to education (World Vision, 2015; Bianchini, 2015).

Objectives of the program of research investigation.

Initial research questions:

  • What are the current personal experiences and educational impacts for girls and women who are recipients of Bicycle Aid?
  • To what degree are female Bicycle Aid recipients included and consulted to achieve greater educational outcomes?
  • How can research insights be shared and applied to future projects in order to make Bike Aid programs more sustainable and effective in enhancing educational opportunities for girls?

This is the broad overview – but I am looking forward to seeing what Bike Aid projects are out there and how they have created change.

 

The next big adventure

The next big adventure

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Bijker, E. (1997). Of bicycles, bakelites, and bulbs: Toward a theory of sociotechnical change. USA: MIT Press.

Bianchini, J. (2015). A Bicycle Built for Two Billion: One Man’s Around the World Adventure in Search of Love, Compassion, and Connection. Ludela Press; USA.

Furness, Z. (2005). Biketivism and technology: Historical reflections and appropriations. Social epistemology, 19(4), 401-417.

Furness, Z. (2010). One Less Car: Bicycling and the politics of Automobility. Philadelphia, USA: Temple University Press.

Hanlon, J., & Smart, T. (2008). Do bicycles equal development in Mozambique? James Currey Publisher.

Stocker, R. (2012). Research Methods for Community Change: A project-based Approach. California, USA: Sage.

Walks, A., Siemiatycki, M., & Smith, M. (2014). 13 Political cycles. Driving Cities, Driving Inequality, Driving Politics: The Urban Political Economy and Ecology of Automobility: Driving Cities, Driving Inequality, Driving Politics, 237.

World Vision (2015, April) Bicycle for a girl. Retrieved 22 April, 2015, from http://donate.worldvision.org/ways-to-give/by-category/girls-women/bicycle-for-a-girl.

Webster, L., & Mertova, P. (2007). Using narrative inquiry as a research method: An introduction to using critical event narrative analysis in research on learning and teaching. New York; London: Routledge.

Wu, J. (2009). Bicycle-powered attachments: designing for developing countries. Massachusetts, USA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press. Retrieved from: http://hdl.handle.net/1721.1/54536.