“Their marvellous environments for cycling did not appear out of nowhere – they are not some innate condition of being ‘Dutch’.” An important history lesson for those of us arguing for more child-friendly streets.
As Easy As Riding A Bike
I was struck by two details from yesterday’s blogpost by Mark Wagenbuur, about early protests for child-friendly streets in Amsterdam in the 1970s – details that highlight the importance of the quality of the physical environment for enabling cycling, over and above any prevailing national culture or attitudes.
The first instance was the contentiousness of the changes being proposed to the streets in Mark’s post. One Dutchman, surrounded by children, argued that it was ‘impossible’ to create a street without motor traffic on it. You can see this in the video, about 2:30 in.
These were residential streets, which now have motor traffic filtered out, as Mark describes in his post. This is an almost universal treatment across residential areas in the Netherlands now, but back then, the notion of doing this was evidently completely foreign to this gentleman. These streets were for driving. (These attitudes were reflected…
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Rotterdam is one the few big cities that has taken seriously the goal of becoming more child-friendly. Its ambitious planning policies have been debated in the National Assembly for Wales (see this web page and the links from it for some English-language material). Its public space improvement projects have been lauded at international conferences (indeed in 2008 it hosted Child in the City, a leading global cross-disciplinary event). What is more, unlike some other Child-Friendly City initiatives, it focuses on hard outcomes that make a real difference in children’s lives – better parks, improved walking and cycling networks, wider pavements – and not just on participation processes that, however well-intentioned, may end up being idle wheels. I have visited Rotterdam and seen the impressive results at first-hand, and have promoted the city’s work in presentations. Yet according to one scholar, the city’s progressive stance hides a more sinister goal: the marginalisation and relocation of poor families.
Here’s a video of a young boy being taught to ride a bike. (It’s in Dutch – but you really don’t need to know the language.)
Posted in Learning, Mobility, Parenting, Public space, Risk
Tagged children's independent mobility, cycling, freedom, mobility, Netherlands, parent, Risk, streets, urban design, video