Outside and In Neighborhoods

John Stilgoe’s many descriptions of bike wandering and destinations in Outside is Magic reminds me of my aimless, sometimes repetitive nightly bike rides around my Illinois city, usually waiting, or scrutinizing a decision, on major life events. I would always find myself taking a ride for a little longer each day, wandering outside the city limits into bucolic agriculture and stiff sunsets, then adding a last-minute neighborhood tour just behind my place before stopping. I now have a name for those ramblings, they were my routine derivé, my exploration, to move my body through space and spark mental curiosity.

Stilgoe’s romance for exploration also reminded me of the writing of Jane Jacobs, in their shared attention to detail and honest celebration of the vernacular. To Jacobs, this kind of exploration leads to run-ins with neighbors (and strangers) and invites an air of security to the streets and sidewalks. This kind of communal living is challenged even in the most close-knit neighborhoods by our need to reach other destinations through personal car transport, a method Stilgoe even identifies as insufficient to the process discovery. It’s this kind of social place-making influence by infrastructure I’ve become so interested in this semester.

There are ways in which cities are taking steps to reduce the number of cars in a given zone, but mainly it’s been focused on downtown and city business centers. London enacted congestion pricing in 2010 for cars entering the city center from beyond the city limits (with leniency given to rural residents and longer distances). The mayor of Paris ran on a platform of clean air, less cars, and more bikes. But it’s on the neighborhood level I’ve also become interested in as it makes up the gestalt of city health, character, and activity; what Jacobs might refer to as it vibrancy. Innovating only in research parks and financial districts however can put tangential or even direct stress on neighboring communities, making a borough into a thoroughfare.

Historic bike ride tour anyone?

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