Saturday, 21 May 2011

Cities in the News (14-20 May 2011)

The Independent reports on how the Indian government is buying up cheap farm land and selling it on for a premium to housing developers.  This has caused local outrage and violent protests.

The Guardian celebrates the 50th anniversary of Jane Jacobs' book, 'The Death and Life of Great American Cities'.  The article discusses how Jacobs' ideas about community and neighbourhoods were a precursor to contemporary ideas on the 'Big Society'.

The Report on BBC Radio 4 discusses the growth of supermarkets in the wake of the riots in Bristol connected to the opening of a new Tesco store.  The programme talks to local Councillors who propose whether supermarkets should have a specifc Use Class in the planning system to differentiate them fro other shops.

The Independent reports on how Little Italy in New York is no longer populated by Italians, according to the recent Census.  The article discusses how the original Italian immigrants have moved to the suburbs and what this means for the original neighbourhood in Manhattan.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Musing Urbanist on Tour - Guernsey

Earlier this month the Musing Urbanist spent a few relaxing days in Guernsey, the ‘severe and yet gentle’ island as described by Victor Hugo.  On the journey over I caught up with some reading and stumbled upon the Editorial in the latest edition of Monocle (issue 43).  Tyler Brule, the Editor in Chief, introduces the concept of the ‘Urbanfixer’ – a cure for all urban ailments.  This got me thinking about Guernsey and what answers the ‘Urbanfixer’ would provide to aid the island. 

After living on ‘The Rock’ (as it is affectionately referred to by locals) for eighteen years I fully appreciate that Guernsey has many strings to its bow – beautiful beaches, full employment, excellent restaurants, low crime and good schools. BUT the island could be so much better and it frustrates me every time I visit. Why is Guernsey being complacent and not maximising its brand?  The answer is transport.  For a relatively small island, Guernsey is sadly obsessed with cars.  If I were ruler for the day, I would task the Urbanfixer with weaning the island off cars and placing the bicycle at the centre of island life.

I'm not calling for the total abolition of cars (ala Sark), but I think Guernsey should look to places such as Copenhagen where the high levels of cycling provides a number of benefits (see here), including:
  • health
  • tourism
  • safety 
  • climate change
  • community 
Whilst the current cycle route between St Peter Port and Bulwer Avenue is a positive addition, it is only a small step in the right direction.  Piecemeal change is not enough and I am advocating total revolution of public policy with the bicycle at its centre.  From now on the car must always take second place.
Clearly cars and vans are still required for businesses, family food shopping and deliveries, but Guernsey is missing out by encouraging the use of cars for all journeys, however short they may be.  My biggest frustration is that Guernsey encourages car use despite the short distances being ideal for cycling.  The issue of paid parking has become so politicised that nobody can clearly express the overwhelming benefits of discouraging car use.    

The new bicycle lanes, parking facilities, and subsidised bicycles can be paid for by a combination of paid parking (where the price is set very high) and an increase in motor tax (with exceptions for trade and delivery vehicles).  In the long run money will be saved due to: less congestion on the island (which currently lowers economic performance); lower health costs as a result of a healthier population; and lower emissions when the time comes for carbon to be priced.

Most importantly, the island requires a major shift in mindset in order to embrace bicycling.  Too many people in Guernsey (like many smaller communities) are stuck in a rut and see change (any change) as a negative.  This is a shame because it allows Guernsey to lose its competitiveness at a time when diversifying away from financial services is vital.  Guernsey's brand needs refreshing to place cycling at the centre.  This will benefit not just the tourist industry, but most importantly businesses and local residents as well.

This may be too much for sleepy Guernsey though, where anybody who advocates change is shot down by the armchair cynics. But it represents an opportunity to bring untold benefits to an island where the slower pace of cycling chimes with the relaxed nature of island life.