2 December 2012

The Day Job

Sure, Cycle Chic has been around for six years now and we love every moment of the ride, but we do have day jobs, all of us who contribute to the blog. Franz-Michael, of course, is the former Danish ambassador to Afghanistan and Japan and he is currently stationed at the Foreign Ministry here in Copenhagen.

Mary and Mikael work at Copenhagenize Consulting, advising cities around the world in how to be more bicycle-friendly. Cycle Chic is an important part of that, which is why so many of the cities we work with wish to use our principles.

Above is my latest TEDx talk, this time from Zurich, about how we should choose designing cities instead of engineering them and why working for shining hearts is a more noble goal than merely accepting a life as characters in The Matrix.

For the full written text of my script, check out the article on Copenhagenize.com.


Tim said...

Whilst I agree with much of what is said here, I think we need to be very careful when finger-pointing.

I have spoken to many engineers who cycle, and who complain that they have gone as far as designing "cycle-friendly" infrastructure, only to have it turned down by policy-makers worried about the effect on the motor traffic (for whatever reason).

They argue that engineers are essentially solvers of practical problems. If the problem they are set is "get the cars moving as efficiently as possible and work other modes of transport around the cars" (as is usually the case) then that's what they'll do. Turn the problem around and ask for solutions optimised for pedestrians and cyclists and you'll get that. I'm pretty sure they have traffic engineers in the Netherlands and Denmark too. Engineers are not policy-makers, and that's who they might blame, with good reason.

In contrast I would use the term designer to describe someone more artistically motivated, and I want a junction that works, rather than one that looks nice. But I guess that's just semantics.

Also, I don't think Colville-Andersen does himself any favours by comparing a traffic system (or even a busy junction) with a chair. Certainly I believe that with some motivation solutions to make cities livable are more obtainable than many would imagine, and we have good examples in parts of Denmark and the Netherlands. But it's still slightly different to making an "intuitive chair".

Colville-Andersen said...

In the longer version of this talk, which I give around the world, I do indeed say that engineers are brilliant problem solvers. We're just telling them to solve the wrong problems.

For far too many years, traffic engineers have gone unchecked and are given far too much responsibility. They are problem solvers, not thought leaders. But nobody has identified the enormous power they reluctantly wield as being the main hindrance to developing liveable cities. Until now.

I have seen too many cases of politicians with good ideas show up in office and be met with a firewall of unchangeable conservatism in the engineering dept. Like I say in the talk, so many good ideas die on that doorstep. A politician needs to break through that barrier and inspire the engineers to think differently.

We work with engineers in many countries and many of them express the same wish to us. That somebody would tell them to solve different problems. The majority just plug away at their work, not thinking differently, just going about their business.

Google "traffic engineer jokes" and you'll see that what I hammer home in the TED x talk is also the source of much amusement.

Why did the traffic engineer cross the road?
Because that's what they did last year.

And so on.

Random thoughts:
Just because you as an individual conjure up images of fluffy artistic creations when you hear "design" doesn't mean that that is what design is. Interestingly, the metaphor about the chair is one of the points that gets most repeated when I do this talk. On Twitter and in newspaper interviews. It seems to have hit a nerve, which is great.

Also, do please be careful when you say that "you know engineers who cycle" because that could be miscontrued to suggest that they all do. In our work around the world (as I said in the talk) I can assure you that only a minority of the world's traffic engineers have tried it.

Thanks for commenting.