Mechelen: Three Cheers for Cyclists

I started this blog to describe the cities and urban initiatives that inspire me or generate thought. Perhaps in some way I hoped it could also serve as an informal platform to share these interesting, creative, or even goofy, ideas with other interested cities or urban actors. So, I was quite happy when a friend (working for the Flemish Government in Belgium) wrote to me in this regard, stating: “Thanks to your story about the No Ridiculous Car Trips in Malmö, we organized several bicycle actions in Mechelen, [Belgium] in the past year.” I’m truly humbled by this. And more, I wanted to share their example, because it is also a fun, simple initiative that other cities could follow.

Thank you for cycling…

DXW_9745On dark dreary mornings, it can be less enticing to hop on the bicycle, especially if you are dressed in a suit and may arrive wet to the office. Instead the car, or bus, may seem like a more inviting option. Urban planners are well aware of this, even in cities with sound cycling infrastructure: cycle commuting declines over the winter and early spring, rising again in spring and summer when daylight and sunshine return. To encourage diehard cyclists (and inspire halfhearted cyclists to bear the elements) Mechelen offers a bit of positive reinforcement by surprising cyclists with a bit of friendly cheer – applauding them and providing words of encouragement during their morning commute.

In March 2014, this event was organized for the 10th time. To celebrate, other Belgian cities joined the campaign. In total, 11 applause squads stood outside (mind you, in the pouring rain) offering a cheering roar to drenched cyclists as they passed through the cities of Antwerpen, Geeraardsbergen, Gent, Heist-op-den-Berg, Hove, Kapelle-op-den-Bos, Leuven, Mechelen, Melle, Temse and Turnhout.

Several months on, this applause squad has become an appreciated trend. Cyclists smile and wave on their commute to work, and the applause squad has been acknowledged in the Flemish media (in articles and a video).  In Mechelen, this is organised monthly to encourage greater city cycling. And in the words of my friend, “The positive actions in Malmö brought us to this idea.”  (Blush.) So, it’s time I return the favor and pass on this interesting initiative.

It’s a rather simple concept for other cities to follow – as easy as 1, 2, 3…

  1. Gather an applause squad (5 persons minimum);
  2. Find a spot where many cyclists pass on their morning commute;
  3. Every time a cyclist passes, cheer them on and thank them for cycling.  

Interested in organizing your own applause squad? Please get in touch if you have questions and I’m happy to connect you to the experts. :)

All photos: Wim Dirckx

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Amsterdam: Public Art Expos and Sesquicentennial Celebrations

Stepping off the train in Amsterdam and meandering into the city centre, it quickly becomes apparent what a blue city Amsterdam is – you can’t miss the canals, but you can get lost in them. Walk (or bike) a bit further though, and Amsterdam’s green side also shows. Ivy and various flowers climb old brick buildings, and the Dutch love converting any patch of brown into a designated (and stereotypical) miniature tulip garden. Every canal bridge contains perfectly manicured planter boxes carefully changed with the season, and many residents – balcony or not – proudly display their own window box varieties. This city is a photographer’s dream, and after 4 years , I still keep my camera at the ready.

In addition to these quick green glances, Amsterdam has a great network of parks – 30 in fact.  They are large and small, quiet neighbourhood varieties or popular spots for festivals, picnics or exploring. Most have bike paths (it’s Holland after all) and they carefully dot the city adding a green corridor appreciated by all of Amsterdam’s residents – humans and nonhumans alike.  Amsterdam’s most famous park, Vondelpark, is conveniently located on my bike route into the city centre, meaning that I get to experience this park as it changes with the seasons or the celebrations.

photo 3This year Vondelpark celebrates 150 years, and an interesting journey it has been. It began as a project commissioned and funded by Amsterdam’s elite; even today, some of Amsterdam’s nicest homes and neighbourhoods are located in its periphery. Today, Vondelpark has become the people’s park. On any given day – albeit sunny spring or summer days are best – the park is full of all walks of Amsterdam life. Families celebrate children’ birthdays adjacent to bongo-playing pot smokers; rap musicians and hipster guitarists compete for attention. This musical blend seems to work – well, from what I take in as I cycle by. Meanwhile, one can always catch a casual frisby match or rollerblade competition. It’s also a popular venue for Amsterdam expats to celebrate their national traditions – a Swedish midsommarstång, an American Independence Day picnic or World Cup parties.

 
photo 4To celebrate its sesquicentennial, this summer Vondelpark is home to the Art Zuid Junior exposition (on display from 15 June- 24 August) with some 20 artworks from young Dutch artists. Art Zuid Junior builds on the Art Zuid concept, launched in 2009 and repeated every two years. Art Zuid is an international public art expo with life-size (or larger) art installations displayed throughout Amsterdam Oud Zuid (the Old South) in order to commemorate the planning genius of architect H.P. Berlage, who was responsible for Amsterdam’s southern urban expansion of 1917, called Plan-Zuid. His master plan included large expanses of public spaces, park planning and green boulevards. Art Zuid attempts to encourage Amsterdamers from across the city to explore and appreciate these less frequented spaces found in the city’s different neigbourhoods. It stretches from Museum Square (home of the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum) through Vondelpark and to the numerous boulevards that speckle Oud Zuid. It’s a great expo, well appreciated by locals and visitors alike who casually stroll along the sculptures and statues, perusing the artist information or climbing some of the more interactive art works. This year though: be sure to check out Art Zuid Junior. My favorite sculpture? The bicycle art!

Below are selected images from Art Zuid 2013.

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Medellín: city of transition, city of hope

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This gallery contains 12 photos.

In April 2014, urban experts and enthusiasts from around the world travelled to Medellín, Colombia for UN-Habitat’s Seventh World Urban Forum. With nearly 25,000 mayors, civil servants, academics, students, NGOs and interested urban citizens registered, it was the largest ‘WUF’ to … Continue reading

Amsterdam Electric

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This gallery contains 9 photos.

An avid city cyclist, I must admit: there is one automobile trend that has caught my attention – electric cars. While countless cities are beginning to provide better electronic mobility infrastructure and access, Amsterdam is quite literally leading the “charge”. … Continue reading

Amsterdam: Evolving History

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This gallery contains 3 photos.

Wandering central Amsterdam’s historic canals, gazing up at crooked old warehouses-turned-apartments, one can feel the city’s rich history. Few cars are brave enough to challenge the bicycles on the narrow canal streets, resulting in a peaceful quietness in the heart … Continue reading