Urban design that encourages cycling can make us happier, healthier, safer and more connected, all while being kinder to our shared home.
Have you ever noticed that North Americans typically choose to vacation in walkable, bikeable, vibrant places and yet, after returning home, many of us advocate against (or at least fail to advocate for) policies that have the potential to transform our own cities into these same types of places? Making excuses for why various initiatives could never work in our own cities, we seem skeptical that our cities are able to be, or are even worthy of being, anything other than places to tolerate until we’ve saved enough for our next escape abroad.
I’ve recently become a bit of an evangelist about a phenomenal YouTube channel called NotJustBikes. Having skyrocketed to over a million subscribers in just a few years, NotJustBikes is produced by a Canadian who moved from Toronto to Amsterdam to improve his young family’s quality of life. With a biting wit and passionate disdain for bad city design, he articulates everything that – often subconsciously – disturbs people about the urban landscape. He highlights how smart city design in the Netherlands (and other forward thinking places) have contributed to making the Dutch some of the happiest people on the planet. It’s inspiring to learn about how previously car-centric cities like Amsterdam were able to radically improve traffic safety and efficiency for their citizens within just a few decades.
Amongst NotJustBikes fans, it’s commonly acknowledged that once you’ve seen enough of the channel’s content, you can never see your city the same way again. You’ll find yourself shaking your head at issues you’d never noticed previously (wait until you learn what a “stroad” is!), but also newly excited about your city’s potential.
Of course, urban planning policies are not a one-size-fits-all, and there are meaningful differences between Edmonton and places like Amsterdam. But there’s no reason we couldn’t learn from the Finnish town of Oulu where, despite having a climate similar to Edmonton, most people – including children – cycle all year round (eliminating the hassle of sitting in traffic for school pickup and dropoff, to name one benefit). This isn’t a happy accident, but rather has been enabled by strategic investments in biking infrastructure and initiatives.
The City of Edmonton is enacting some meaningful changes including zoning reform, removing mandatory parking minimums and investing in bike infrastructure. I believe NotJustBikes and the ecosystem of like-minded urban planners will be key to informing citizens about how changes like these can make us happier, healthier, safer and more connected, all while being kinder to our shared home.
I recommend starting with NotJustBikes’ “Strong Towns” playlist to learn how smart urban planning makes us better off financially at the individual, commercial and city level. And once you’re hooked, help spread the word!