The Oru Kayak aims to sustainably and affordably reconnect urbanites with the natural world around them.
The collapsible boat marketed to urbanites is not a new idea. But one California inventor and entrepreneur might have found the perfect combination of efficiency, sustainability, and affordability with his improvement on the collapsible kayak, reports Pat Joseph in the Summer 2013 issue of California.
Inspired by origami, Oru Kayak founder Anton Willis has successfully developed an all- plastic boat that’s fully recyclable, extremely durable, and able to be folded into its carrying case that can be stored in a closet or under the bed. It can withstand the folding/unfolding process up to 20,000 times, but most importantly, it actually works, and has been positioned as the ideal water vehicle for the urban dweller who’s interested in exploring their city’s waterways. And while Willis doesn’t recommend it for the weekend warrior, the Oru Kayak is even durable enough to handle the choppy waters of San Francisco Bay, demonstrating that it’s capable of handling pretty much any scenario an urban boater might come across:
As Joseph explains in his article, the Oru Kayak represents a new breed of collapsible boats as it’s lighter than comparable boats (it’s just about 25 pounds), more compact, and cheaper (the boat alone sells for $1,095). A successful Kickstarter campaign in 2012 got the ball rolling in a big way, proving that there was hungry market for Willis’ idea.
But the physical attributes of the boat only tell part of the story as far as Willis is concerned. From a philosophical perspective, this boat represents another extension of the mission at the heart of every project Willis has taken on; that is, his heartfelt desire to help urban people reconnect with the natural surroundings that are so easy for urbanites to miss or take for granted. His company’s product tester, Roberto Gutierrez, summed up Willis’ drive by saying, “For Anton, it’s not so much about selling stuff; it’s about getting people in boats and exploring the world around them. If selling Oru Kayaks can accomplish that, I think he’s happy.”
Photo of New York City from the Hudson River; courtesy of the Oru Kayak user gallery.
Scientific analysis of ancient Roman concrete suggests it was stronger, more durable, and more environmentally sound than modern concrete.
The simple fact that we can still visit the buildings and monuments of the ancient Romans illustrates that they knew what they were doing when it came to developing long-lasting building materials. Many historians even credit the Romans with inventing what we call concrete through their use of a very simple process:
But as Conservation reports in its Fall 2013 issue, it’s only recently that scientists have broken down the structure, chemical composition, and mechanical properties of ancient Roman concrete to the point of being able to glean useful information for contemporary concrete production.
Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, summarized their findings in the Journal of the American Ceramic Society, and found the ancient Roman combination of limestone, volcanic ash, and seawater required far less heat (which means far less fuel) for solidification than modern concrete does. This suggests that contemporary application of the ancient Roman method may yield stronger, more durable concrete with a much smaller environmental footprint.
Image courtesy isawnyu, licensed under Creative Commons.
The April launch of the Digital Public Library of America brings the knowledge-sharing we love about local libraries to the internet.
This article originally appeared at Shareable.
Public libraries exist to ensure that people have free and open access to information. The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), which launched in April, aims to provide that same access to information and materials, in the digital realm.
A project several years in the making, there are three facets to the DPLA: it’s an open portal that provides access to a variety of resources including documents, photographs, historic artifacts, film footage, art and other culturally significant materials; it's a tech platform for people to build upon (think apps that reveal geotagged materials); and it's an innovation and advocacy organization that works to make, and keep, content openly available to the public.
Launching with over two million materials from museums, libraries, schools, cultural centers and more, the DPLA is just getting started. The grand vision is to have the library be an ever-growing hub for librarians, students, teachers, artists, developers, historians and anyone else who is interested in seeing, learning about, using, repurposing, expanding and sharing materials.
John Palfrey, president of the Board of Directors of the DPLA sees the library as a symbol of the networked age. As he put it, “The most exciting idea is that we cannot begin to imagine the extraordinary things that librarians and their many partners can accomplish with this open platform and such extraordinarily rich materials...We will create new knowledge together and make accessible, free to all, information that people need in order to thrive in a democracy.”
Harnessing the power of collaborative
learning and DIY science, California’s
Maker Faire aims to combat throwaway culture by giving young people the tools
and inspiration to invent.
This article originally appeared at Shareable.
Since 2006, Maker Faire has
provided a space for inventors, tinkerers, builders, crafters, and
wannabe-scientists to showcase their creations with the intent of encouraging
others to dabble in inventing something themselves. With large-scale kinetic
sculptures racing and roaming the grounds, science experiments with electronics
and activities like clothing and apparel re-purposing stations on site,
participants are encouraged to touch, ask questions, and take what they learn
into their own workshops for some fun experimentation outside of the Maker
Faires' big top.
Sherry Huss, vice president of Maker Media, doesn't look the role of a
lab-coat wearing mad scientist that one might expect to be a Maker Faire organizer.
There are no beakers popping up and bubbling over in her office. She wears no
tool belt as she navigates the work spaces of Maker Media's headquarters in Sonoma County, California.
Yet, as anyone who has attended a Maker Faire may believe, Huss has the stuff
that genius is made of. Every year, she meets with her small planning team and
formulates the clever uses of time and space for what is referred to in their
tag line as “The Greatest Show and Tell on Earth.”
“We do it the old fashioned way,
with post-it notes and lay them out. And it somehow always magically works
out,” says Huss. “You have to get your head into it because everything that is
happening on site is intentional. There are very few things that just come
together,” she added.
And what comes together for
roughly 100,000 visitors after months of tireless planning is quite brilliant.
In addition to seeing a nearly
40 percent increase in new exhibitors each year, the contagious spirit of Maker
Faire continues to spread from the Maker's Bay Area headquarters to the rest of
the world. With annual events in San Mateo and New York, and
over 100 mini-Faires or satellite events internationally (including Rome, UK and a rotating country Maker Faire Africa, among others),
Maker Faire has an accessible, inclusive vibe that leads many to start
tinkering with or concocting projects of their own.
“Making is all over. It’s not
just the Bay Area,” says Huss. “We don't own the license on it...there are
Space is free for makers, and
event organizers only charge a small fee if an exhibitor plans to offer items
for sale. Maker is also careful with the selection process, focusing on
non-commercial exhibitors and ensuring that all of Maker Faire's inventive
action is family-friendly and safe. Especially with so much
up-close-and-personal, hands-on DIY participation.
“People are there showing their
projects and sharing how they made them,” says Huss. “Our goal is to make
Makers. People who come to the Faire get the confidence to become a Maker.””
Based on feedback from previous
years' attendees, demos and hands-on craft projects and exchanging ideas have
been the biggest draw. Naturally, organizers continue to foster the
collaborative learning that happens at the annual events that span two days. This
year's theme is Maker Spaces, which is sure to be a huge hit among DIY
enthusiasts. Similar to model homes and the nifty kitchen design displays at
big box stores, Maker Faire will showcase these Maker Spaces to plant seeds of
empowerment in the minds of aspiring makers from all walks of life. What
defines these spaces, however, is not simply the presence of tools and a simple
tool bench, but the act of making itself.
“Just look at Mister Jalopy, chronicling the decline
of the work bench in the garage,” says Huss. “Garages now are mostly just
storage places. They used to have a work bench. The toaster broke, you didn't
get a new one; you took it out and fixed it. I am hoping that this movement
will swing it back that way.”
Although the days of dad
tinkering with old radios and small appliances on his work bench in the garage
were often solitary escapes, the makers and fixers of today tend to have a more
collaborative focus. In addition to crews of several hundred helping hands,
sponsors and organizations collaborate to ensure that the festivities go on
without a hitch. In Detroit,
they collaborated with The Henry Ford
Museum and Research Center. In Kansas
City, they had help from the Kauffman Foundation. Portland partnered with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.
Huss isn't directly involved in
programming for all of the Faires outside of New York and the Bay Area, but she
provides training opportunities for those interested in setting up their own
events, ensuring that the infectious Maker spirit spreads to the garages and
minds of the aspiring tinkerer in all of us. After all, Maker is not just a
one-time event. More than anything, Maker is a way of life that brings together
communities in a too-often competitive culture, and encourages--above all
else--collaboration, innovation, and fun.
“I think there is a lot of
(interest) with continuing education and the Maker Space community,” says Huss.
“Like the old grange where people came together; usually around food. It is so
cool for people to come together to make things,” she concludes.
Image by Bridgette
Vanderlaan, Maker Faire.
Following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, an OWS offshoot called Occupy Sandy quickly made headlines through its rapid response relief efforts, often beating out official relief agencies, like FEMA. Organizers Leah Feder and Devin Balkind discuss how open-source technology can help organize communities, solve problems collectively, and build democratic movements.
This post originally appeared at Waging Nonviolence.
have been a lot of exhausting debates in recent years about the role of online
social media in resistance movements, about whether these technologies really
help or hurt, and how. Some commentators have even gone so far as to hand
credit for home-grown uprisings around the world to the wonder-kids of Silicon Valley, and it can be tempting to believe them.
Once there was Gandhi and King; now there is Facebook and Twitter.
just-so stories, of course, leave out the in-person, on-the-ground organizing
that is still at the heart and center of movements everywhere. But they also
cause us to miss what may be the most important questions to ask about
movements and new technology: Who made the technology, who controls it, and
and Twitter are only the most visible ways that technology is transforming how
ordinary people build power — a visibility aided by a media culture eager to
promote all things corporate. But perhaps even more important in the long run
is how free and open-source software can help create transformative
institutions. Such software — which much of the back-end of the Internet
already relies on, including Waging
Nonviolence — is produced through self-organized communities of
developers working in collaboration, rather than competition. These communities
rely on values like transparency, consensus-seeking, decentralization and broad
participation. Yet they’re hardly utopian; they do this because it works.
Occupy Sandy, Occupy Wall Street’s relief and recovery
effort after Hurricane Sandy last fall,
open-source software tools like WordPress, Sahana and CiviCRM
helped to mobilize thousands of volunteers in affected areas throughout New York City, and to do
so faster and more efficiently than official agencies could. Leah Feder and
Devin Balkind were among the organizers of this effort, and they have been
working to make open-source tools available to the Occupy movement ever since
the initial occupation of Zuccotti
Park. They are also
directors of Sarapis, a non-profit that promotes
free and open technologies for the public good.
Feder and Balkind, these tools are proof that a more collaborative and
sustainable world is possible; I spoke with them recently about why.
How did you become interested in
LF: When Occupy Wall Street first
started, I was going down to the park but not finding a way to get involved or
seeing the revolutionary potential in what was happening. I thought it was
exciting, and fun, but beyond that I didn’t see where it could go. It was
through being exposed to open source there that I was finally moved to engage
on a much deeper level in Occupy, because I saw that there was a theory of
change. I saw how continuing on a specific path could take us into a
fundamentally different paradigm. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that? I was
in grad school in media, culture and communication at New York University
at the time, but thinking through ideas is fun only insofar as you can’t do
anything. Once I saw that there was a possibility of doing something, I dropped
DB: I started on that path in college.
Some friends and I put together a proposal to create a crowdfunding platform
called Beex for charity walks and things like that.
Did you have a software background
DB: I was a history and film major; we
definitely botched the development of the thing. But it brought me into contact
with large nonprofits, and I realized that the non-profit sector was a
disaster, primarily because organizations weren’t collaborating with each
other. They basically mirrored the corporate model. That made me curious about
good models for collaborative problem-solving. At the same time, I was dealing
with a software project that was proprietary, and I was finding that it was a
terrible, terrible way to go. So I was learning about the open-source software
movement while I was recognizing the need for it in the non-profit sector. That
led me down the path of developing a generalized understanding of open-source
software for community organizing.
LF: I’m not a techie, either, and as a
non-techie one can only get so deep into open-source software. I can’t really
contribute to open source projects, for instance. I can use open source tools,
though, and that increases my capacity as an individual tremendously. I can
spin up a WordPress site and make it look pretty nice, really, really quickly.
But then, once I learned more about the open-source model and realized that
it’s also an organizing model for doing a lot of other things that can increase
our capacity collectively, I saw more of an entry-point for myself in the
broader peer-to-peer revolution. What it’s really about is changing the way
that we organize ourselves, as individuals and as a society. Occupy could be
the overtly political manifestation of this phenomenon, whereas open-source
software is how the tech world takes on these same principles.
Devin, how did you first make the
connection between open source and Occupy?
DB: By the fall of 2011 I had
incorporated Sarapis and was writing a plan to bring open source to community
organizations in Brooklyn. I had already done
research on constituent-relationship
management systems, or CRMs, and on mailing lists. I had written guides for
the organizations about how to use open-source technology most effectively.
Then I thought I was going to have to raise tens of thousands of dollars to get
people excited about the program — until Occupy Wall Street happened. It was
basically free enthusiasm for deploying the ideas. Those of us in the Occupy
tech group have spent 18 months building infrastructure. And then moments like
the Hurricane Sandy relief effort give us the opportunity to see it work.
What in particular has worked especially
DB: The biggest victories are the ones
that no one sees. Occupy Wall Street was this huge movement, but no one was
collecting email addresses at first — which is insane. But for Occupy
Sandy, there was one email-collection system with one form for volunteers. It
all went into our CiviCRM system, which had already been configured, and which
a lot of people knew how to use. That became the basis for systematized
volunteer outreach, where people have been receiving mailings consistently to
see when they can come out to do volunteer work. Right now we’re looking at a
sustainable volunteer infrastructure that we never had for OWS.
Why does it matter that these tools are
free and open source?
DB: This is part of a revolution in what
I call, maybe wrongly, the means of production. That’s what open-source
software is. And not just open-source software, but also hardware, and data,
and knowledge, and how we collaborate. There are so many differences between
open-source and proprietary systems; it’s like how you used to be able to take
apart a car engine, and anyone who had basic mechanical skills could replace an
air filter. Now, though, there’s plastic sheeting over the whole thing. It has
been designed so that people can’t fix their own cars. In open-source systems,
the flow of data is of paramount importance. In a proprietary system, the flow
of data is something that you lose money on. Go to Facebook, for instance, and
try to export your friend network — not easy, because that means you could
LF: When we solve problems with
open-source tools, we deliver the solutions back to the global information
commons, and we build capacity for anybody who wants to do this in the future.
Any such group that wants to arise and start collecting contacts can do the
same, and it’s free. We have a whole bunch of tools to use, and we can grow
ever more quickly on tools that we own ourselves.
So it’s a matter of self-reliance and
DB: For the people in the open-source
movement who realize where this is going, the next step is to replicate what
the government does, but better. How do we out-compete the government using
open-source tools? I can tell you that with Occupy Sandy we already did it. We
had a better system up within a month — for managing work orders, inventory,
requests, workflows. What if we had had that during the occupation? How much
easier would life have been for managing the Zuccotti Park
experience if there had been people trained in such a system? We’d have had
vehicles, warehouses and kitchens all coordinated in a way that was sustainable
and easy to plug into. If we can do that, it’ll become competition between us
and other systems. Then we’re on the path to the type of changes that people in
the open-source world realize is coming.
We’re using the term “open source” now,
by the way, but usually I use the term “FLO,” which means “free/libre/open
source.” There’s a whole political dimension to these words.
What do you think it will take for more
people to recognize this potential?
DB: Open-source projects, as an
organizing endeavor, pose an integration challenge. The question is always how
to get one plugin to work with another. When we’ve conditioned ourselves to
think more in terms of plugin architecture, our projects will inevitably plug
into other projects, and when that happens we’re going to have a whole new set
of functionality that’s possible. Once we’re at a certain level of advancement,
we get to merge. I think that what’s going to happen is a wave. For instance,
when open-source technology merges with open-source ecology in order to produce
hardware locally, you’re going to see a tremendous sea-change. You’ll see, say,
a new type of open-source tractor that starts selling like hotcakes. That
convergence isn’t so far away, and when that happens it’s going to feel
different. It is going to feel like a flick of a switch for a lot of folks.
How important is it for people in the
Occupy movement to know about this broader process?
DB: Open-source software itself exists
because other models for software production didn’t meet the need. Similarly, I
think the Occupy movement’s effectiveness depends on how quickly it recognizes
that the best community-organizing practices are rooted in free/libre/open
source. In the beginning of Occupy Wall Street, the leaders tended to be people
in the Direct Action Working Group, which was organizing the actions and
marches. But it was never very effective. Protest loses to production any day
of the week. That’s why the Black Panthers had a breakfast program. Give people
what they want if you want to be an effective movement. With Occupy Sandy,
because there was such a strong demand for relief from the community, we saw
the effectiveness of open-source tools. Documentation became more important. A
shared Google Docs folder was the center of productivity within Occupy Sandy,
and lots of people were realizing, “If I don’t share my docs as widely as
possible, and if I don’t orient people to these docs, this falls apart.” That
But Google Docs isn’t open source. Where
are the lines to be drawn?
DB: I like to say “practically possible.”
Use freely-available, open-source solutions whenever practically possible.
Google Docs isn’t open source, but sharing data on spreadsheets is about as
open-source as you can get. Any absolutes about this stuff aren’t particularly
useful. What’s useful is recognizing the purpose of the activity as being new
forms of productivity, not merely creating a spectacle. But this takes a lot of
practice to do right. It’s hard. By the time of Occupy Sandy, there were a lot
more people who understood how to do this kind of thing than during the
original occupation, and they started out-performing the people who don’t work
Was your experience with free-software
communities in some ways preparatory for knowing how to participate in Occupy Wall Street’s
DB: Yes. Philosophically, for sure. The
media would say, “They communicate over Facebook and Twitter,” but if you’re
involved in organizing, you’re emailing all day. It’s emails, and it’s
listservs. I came in knowing how to have intense decision-making conversations
on email lists, while the vast majority of people did not. By now, the growth
of people’s aptitude for that type of communication has been stunning.
LF: Although we’re still not there!
DB: No. But we’re so much further along.
LF: Whatever the political intentions of
the open-source community, it models a different way of working together. Last
fall, a lot of people were down with the idea that “shit is fucked up and
bullshit.” But people will only go so far if you don’t show them something
better. There’s a portion of the population that will really be galvanized by
marches and occupations, but if you want many more people to get excited about
your political project, you need to provide an alternative — alternatives.
That’s what drives the politics forward, because there’s a limit to the horizon
of possibility when it’s a politics of protest. But once it’s a politics of
solutions and alternatives, you’re playing in a different field, and a lot more
Does that help you when you’re opposing a
system backed up by state violence?
DB: During the early months of Occupy, I
would have experiences where I’d be talking to a cop who didn’t look like he
was enjoying being a pawn to suppress protest, and I said to him, “Hey dude,
have you ever talked about getting some land and going to a farm? If you ever
need some help acquiring land, we’ve got a bunch of acres upstate, we have
training, and Occupy Farms can get you up there, and you don’t have to do this
anymore.” I’ve had cops say to me, “You show me that, and we can have a
conversation.” The existing system is just not that competitive. It’s more
competitive than chaos, or anarchy or protest, sure. But how good, really, is
our suburban lifestyle, or our urban-ish suburban existence? At some point, the
other option is going to look better, and then the air starts coming out of the
How close are we to that point, do you
DB: A lot of the software, for instance,
is still a disaster in terms of usability and other capacities. That’s just
where we are as a society. We’re using it at just about 5 percent capacity. But
what’s fun about this stuff — and I think this is really how good software gets
made — is that you cobble together solutions, and everything kind of sucks, and
you evaluate how each piece works, and then you roll it all into one. If our
movement worked like a big open-source software project, there would be an
extensive wiki and forums and trainings to on-board people. There would be an
issue-tracker and requests for help, for what you can do at various different
engagement levels. An assembly could be happening in some place like Trenton,
N.J., and someone there might say, “I work in case-tracking for a homeless
shelter, and it would be better if x happened,” and then bam, it
would be tagged in the minutes of the meeting, and the developers somewhere
else would have a filter for whatever code was used to keep the minutes, and
they’d implement the suggestion in the next update. That’s the type of
performance we’re going to be able to achieve.
We’re not that far away from being able
to allow people to unplug from the proprietary information ecosystem. And once
we get there, we’re talking about real political change. The best part of the
whole open-source thing is recognizing that we can see into the future and
recognizing that it’s not all crazy. It’s just going to require a lot of people
to work. And that makes it a lot easier to be an activist.
Image of Occupy Sandy volunteers by Erin O'Brien (Occupy Sandy Facebook page).
That's me and my OpenROV co-founder Eric Stackpole working on a prototype underwater robot.
This post originally appeared at Shareable.
Don't get me wrong, I like collaborative consumption. I think Airbnb makes the world a more interesting place, allowing people have more authentic travel experiences. I love TaskRabbit. I use it all the time for errands. I've written about tool libraries for MAKE Magazine. I get it. Access is certainly more appealing that ownership. For my lifestyle, at least.
But I still think collaborative consumption is overrated compared to the other side of the sharing economy coin: collaborative creation. The true potential of a networked, peer-to-peer economy is just starting to show with the maker movement. And it's not just about what we can consume together, it's about what we can create together.
Sure, collaborative consumption can help you earn some side money, subsidize car ownership, or have a more human-centered vacation, but rarely can it help you learn new skills, build a small business, or drive a new industry. Collaborative creation is about building new forms of wealth, not just sharing it. Collaborative consumption isn’t designed to create high-skilled, meaningful livelihoods for users. From personal experience, I believe that the skill-building, job-creating potential of the maker movement is more important than a new way to consume. It can address one of society’s biggest problems -- high unemployment, especially among young adults like myself.
As Chris Anderson eloquently described in his new book, Makers, the Internet is the prototype, the model for how to create with wide participation. And now we're seeing the same surge of creativity with stuff, and it's changing the way we experience the objects in our lives. From 3D printing to makerspace communities, Etsy to Kickstarter, the maker infrastructure is maturing to a stage where literally anyone can make significant contributions.
I've had a front row seat to this emerging trend. I've been writing the Zero to Maker column for MAKE, chronicling my journey from total beginner to improving amateur. After losing my job in 2011, I felt I didn't have much of a choice. I knew I wanted to get out from behind the computer, but I also had zero technical experience. Luckily, I found the maker community to be friendly and empowering.
I started an open-source underwater robot project with my friend (and hero) Eric Stackpole. In the last year, OpenROV has grown from a conversation between me and Eric into an award winning open-source project as well as a fledgeling business. We're not making much money, but we're fine with that. We've found something much more valuable: a global community of collaborators who are working hand-in-hand to democratize ocean exploration. The experience is rich in community as well as what Eric and I refer to as "Return on Adventure."
The OpenROV underwater robot in action.
My Zero to Maker experience at TechShop has been a shining example of the true potential of the sharing economy - both collaborative creation and consumption. The tool-access afforded by the makerspace was critical in my development, because without the shared-resource model my plight would’ve been impossible. But the real value - the meat on the bones - was the way members and staff supported our project. OpenROV simply wouldn't exist without the communities that have supported us: TechShop, Kickstarter, and the larger maker community.
It’s the process of creation that instills meaning into the products we use. Consuming together can’t inject meaning in the products around us. Moving away from a culture of rampant over-consumption will take much more than changing our eating, driving, and buying habits. It’s going to take a whole suite of new values, technologies, and experiences. The maker movement is an opportunity to build that re-imagined future.
Perhaps the most encouraging news is that it's more accessible than ever to get involved. It seems that every maker I meet had a similarly warm welcome. Each feel a duty to pay it forward, which builds a culture of inclusion and possibility. The tools that seemed so intimidating when I got started, like 3D printers and CNC machines, each came with someone, either local or online, who did a great job teaching. Even something as crazy as an open-source underwater robot project was able to find a supportive home.
The experience has opened my eyes to the potential of collaborative creation. Lucky for you, anyone fluent in collaborative consumption already has many of the skills needed to thrive in the maker world. After all, they’re just two sides of the same movement.
David Lang is the co-founder of OpenROV as well as the author of the book-in-progress, Zero to Maker.
is definitely part of our strategy to attract and retain businesses in order to
compete in a mobile world,” says Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak as we glide
across the Mississippi river on a bike-and-pedestrian bridge—one of two that
connect downtown to the University of Minnesota. “We want young talent to come
here and stay. And good biking is one of the least expensive ways to send that
we turn onto to a riverside bike path to inspect another span the mayor wants
to convert to a bike-ped bridge, he recounts a recent conversation. “I was
having dinner with a creative director that a local firm was eager to hire for
a key post. He was an American living in Europe, and we spent most of the
evening talking about the importance of biking and walking to the life of a
city,” Rybak says, smiling. “He took the job.”
has invested heavily in biking—creating a network of off-street trails
criss-crossing the city, adding 180 miles of bike lanes to city streets with
plans to double that, launching one of the country’s first large-scale
bikeshare programs, and creating protected lanes to separate people riding
bikes from motor traffic—which is why it lands near the top of all lists
ranking America’s best bike cities.
“ratchets up” the city’s appeal to businesses in many fields, Rybak says.
“We moved from the suburbs to downtown
Minneapolis to allow our employees to take advantage of the area’s many trails
and to put the office in a more convenient location for commuting by pedal or
foot,” explained Christine Fruechte, CEO of large advertising firm Colle +
McVoy, in a newspaper op-ed. “Our employees are healthier, happier and more
productive. We are attracting some of the best talents in the industry.”
A. Wilson, who directs 1,600 employees at the Minneapolis office of the
Accenture management consulting company, says good biking opportunities are
important to the well-educated 25-35 year-olds he seeks to hire. “Five years
ago, I don’t think business people were even thinking about bikes as a part of
business. Today it’s definitely part of the discussion.” He notes that Accenture
recently relocated their Boston and Washington, D.C. offices from suburbs to
the city to offer employees better opportunities for biking, walking and
Generation Loses Its Car Keys
people today are driving significantly less than previous generations,
according to a flurry of recent reports. Even Motor Trend magazine notes that young professionals flocking to
cities today are less inclined to buy cars and “more likely to spend the money
on smartphones, tablets, laptops and $2,000-plus bikes.” Annual miles traveled
by car among all 16- to 34-year olds dropped 23 percent from 2001 to 2009
according to a study from the "Frontier Group" think tank—and that
does not even count the past three years of recession and $4 gallon gas. The
Federal Highway Administration found the miles traveled by drivers under 30
dropped from 21 percent to 14 percent of the total between 1995 and 2009.
young people represent the “creative class” talent pool that many companies
covet. That’s why civic, business and
political leaders in cities around the country are paying attention to the next
generation’s wishes for lively, livable places to work and play. This means
diverse cultural opportunities, plentiful cafes and restaurants, a tolerant social
climate, a variety of housing choices and ample transportation options like
biking—not only for commuting to work, but also for recreation after work and,
in some cases, over the lunch hour.
Florida, the economic forecaster who coined the phrase “creative class,”
recently described these sought-after workers in the Wall Street Journal as “less interested in owning cars and big
houses. They prefer to live in central locations, where they can rent an
apartment and use transit or walk or bike to work.”
sees bicycling as critical for thriving cities, which is why he joined New York
City’s heated debate last year about the proliferation of bike lanes across the
city. “New York has became a haven for creative-class professionals,” he wrote
in the Daily News, which makes good
biking facilities important to the city’s future. He added that biking remains
important to workers in creative fields even as they grow older. “When they put
their kids in child seats or jogging strollers, traffic-free bike paths become
especially important to them.”
executives at New York high-tech companies—including Foursquare, Meetup and
Tumblr—also weighed in on biking issues, urging Mayor Bloomberg to “support a
bikeshare system as a way to attract and retain the investment and talent for
New York City to remain competitive in the fast growing digital media and
internet-oriented economy.” Bloomberg agreed, and the bikeshare program begins
next March with 7,000 bikes for rent.
The City That
Mayor Rahm Emanuel was elected last year on an aggressive platform of bringing
new tech and creative businesses to the city. When he scored a major coup this
summer with Google-Motorola Mobility’s announcement that it was moving more
than 2,000 jobs from a suburban campus to the heart of the city, Emanuel
explained,” One of the things that employees look [at] today is the quality of
life and quality of transportation because of the ease that comes with it. And
that ease is having trains as a choice, buses as a choice and bikes as a choice
getting to and from work.”
City of Chicago’s Chief Technology Officer John Tolva says it’s no coincidence
that Google-Motorola Mobility’s new home in the Merchandise Mart is right next
to Kinzie Street, the city’s first green lane—where bike lanes are physically
separated from rushing traffic to make riders feel safer and more comfortable
on the road. This idea of creating protected space for people on bikes,
borrowed from Northern European countries where bikes account for 10-30 percent
of trips, is now spreading throughout the U.S.
Roskowski—director of the Green Lanes Project, which promotes protected bike
lanes across the country—explains, “Cities that want to shine are building
these kind of better bike facilities as part of a suite of assets that attract
business. And they find that bike infrastructure is cheap compared to new
sports stadiums and lightrail lines, and can be done much faster.”
Washington University business professor Christopher Leinberger, a leading
authority on real estate who predicted the current urban boom in a series of
articles for the Atlantic magazine,
points out “Biking is no longer just a niche for the macho guys. It’s for a lot of people now. Ideally, we
should have a 20-25 percent mode shift for bikes in cities. Great urban spaces
are all about choices, including in transportation.”
marvels at how bicycles are changing Washington, D.C., where he lives. “Bikes have been a critical part of D.C.’s
turnaround. They are putting in protected bike lanes which does a lot more to
encourage riding than just a white line of paint between people and a one-ton
Jones, director of Washington’s Downtown Business Improvement District, says,
“It’s just crazy how biking has taken off here, especially the new bikeshare
system which a lot of people are using for commuting.” We spoke after she
returned from an appointment with managers of a high-tech company wanting to
rent an old warehouse downtown. “A lot of their employees bike to work and they
were concerned about whether they could easily get their bicycles upstairs.
When bicycling is part of the final decision on where a company relocates, then
we know its impact.”
boom in biking is also creating opportunities in the real estate sector. Jair
Lynch, founder and CEO of a DC real estate development and construction
company, declares, “We don’t work in places that aren’t near bike lanes.” Even
in the slow economy, $200 million in new apartments are currently under
construction adjacent to the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis, a bike “freeway”
cutting through the south side of the city.
benefit businesses see for locating in bike-friendly locations is a break on
health insurance costs. QBP, a bike parts distributor in the Minneapolis area
employing 600, offered a series of incentives for employees to commute by bike
and discovered an unexpected bonus—a 4.4 percent reduction in health care
costs, totaling $170,000 a year. Tracy Pleschourt—partner at Carmichael Lynch,
an ad agency in downtown Minneapolis that promotes biking—is excited about the
possibilities of the just-launched Zap program, which electronically documents
bike trips using on-bike RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) devices and
trail-edge sensors. Right now the program offers only gift certificates and
discount gear as prizes for frequent biking, but insurers are looking at it as
a way to reward health-conscious companies with lots of employees riding bikes.
Business Climate Beyond Big Cities & Bike Meccas
are improving the business climate even in cities not ranked as bike capitals
or large metropolitan regions. Mayor Lee Leffingwell of Austin, Texas, said, “I
certainly recognize the environmental, public health and quality of life
benefits that more bicycling can bring our city, but I also value the
contribution to the economy that comes with the provision of smart
transportation options that attract major employers to Austin.”
is ambitiously expanding its bike infrastructure; its first green lane opened
last spring, one of 10 planned for the city. Cirrus Logic, a computer chip
company that depends on specially trained engineers, moved to downtown Austin
last summer from an outlying location “to become more attractive as an
employer,” says PR director Bill Schnell. “We can’t just pluck anybody for our
jobs. The people we want are mostly younger, and biking is part of the equation
Tyson Tuttle relocated Silicon Labs, which designs integrated circuits for
computers, to downtown Austin five years ago to be close to the city’s bike
trail system. It was one of the first of many tech companies that are now in
the area. Tuttle, who himself sometimes rides to work, says it was a smart
move. “Biking on the trails is something a lot of employees enjoy, and when
people think about joining the company it’s a big draw. It also helps with
wellness and fitness.”
might think that Memphis would be the last place in America to believe bikes
can take us down the path to prosperity.
2008, with not a single bike lane inside the city limits, Memphis was named one
of the three “Worst Cities for Cycling in America” by Bicycling magazine (alongside Dallas and Miami). That prompted the
city to stripe a few lines of bike lanes, but it landed on the three worst
cities list again in 2010 (this time joined by Birmingham and
Jacksonville). This year Bicycling honored Memphis as the “most
improved” city for bicycling. It was also named as one of six cities (along with
Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Washington, Chicago and Austin) to receive
support from the Bikes Belong Foundation’s Green Lane Project in creating a
network of protected bike lanes to serve as best practices for other cities to
one thing Mayor A C Wharton became a champion of biking, announcing, “We
believe in the power of bicycle facilities to enhance the health, economy and
safety of our community.” He hired a
bike-pedestrian coordinator for the city and put plans into motion that led to
more than 60 miles of bike lanes.
business leaders began talking about the importance of biking to city’s future.
Shepherd Tate—an attorney at the large Bass, Berry & Sims law firm—puts it
plainly. “There’s no question about it. Biking makes a difference in attracting
talent.” Eric Matthews, CEO of Launch Memphis and two other initiatives to
nurture and attract new businesses, notes, “Biking correlates with
city, already home to the world famous St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital,
is positioning itself to become a center for new biomedical firms. “My job is
to convince emerging companies that they can get the workers they want to come
here,” says Dr. Steven Bares, President of the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, an
initiative to bring emerging health companies to Memphis. “The bike is part of
the overall strategy to compete for talent.”
Jay Walljasper, author
of The Great Neighborhood Book and All That We Share: A Field Guide to the
Commons, chronicles urban life for a variety of publications. His website: www.JayWalljasper.com. This article was originally published on GreenLane Project.
Photo courtesy Spencer Thomas, licensed under Creative Commons.