I love Minneapolis, but I miss New York whenever I’m reminded of it.
While I’m talking bikes, here’s another story: A few weeks ago, I made a mistake.
On my way home from a public meeting on downtown street redesign, I came to a red light at Portland and Washington, where the bike lane dissolves into a right-turn lane for cars, then reappears across the intersection, but on the left side of the street. Unsure whether I wanted to turn onto Washington, make the double cross onto the Portland bike lane, or park my bike and eat at Zen Box, I jerked my wheel right, then left, then just stopped and leaned forward on my handlebars to consider my options.
Which is when I realized that (a) the light had gone green while I was thinking it over, (b) there was a minivan right behind me, and (c) a quick glance showed me the minivan’s driver was frustrated and annoyed at this hapless guy on a bike weaving back and forth and finally stopping on a green light, right in her turn path. Probably annoyed in large part because I was acting in a way that could’ve gotten me hurt (and/or her blamed for it).
I made a mistake! I should’ve figured out what I was doing, or at least gotten out of the way to make my decision. She wasn’t wrong to be mad. But I made a mistake. Everyone makes them. What bothered me was, after all the arguing on social media and in newspaper comments, after advocating for bikes to public officials, I was sure from her face that she wasn’t judging some idiot on a bike. She was judging those idiots on bikes. Suddenly I was there as a representative of my people, and I was letting us down.
Which is okay; I’ll get over it. But it made me think about stories I’ve known but not experienced, about times when a woman executive fails, and people conclude that “women don’t make good executives.” About times when if a black filmmaker made a flop, Hollywood would decide it was too risky to make more movies about black people.
Obviously doing something dumb on a bike isn’t the same as living with the heritage of centuries of bigotry. It was just a good thing to be made more aware of: the pressure that arises when your actions reflect not just on you, but on everyone who people perceive as “your kind.” Something like that, anyway.
Sennett made a strong case for “dense, disorderly, overwhelming cities,” where strangers from very different socio-economic backgrounds still rub shoulders. Sennett’s ideal city is not just an agglomeration of ghettos and gated communities whose residents never talk to one another; rather, it’s the mutual entanglement between the two—and the occasionally mess that such entanglements introduce into our daily life—that makes it an interesting place to live in and allows its inhabitants to turn into mature and complex human beings.
Google’s urbanism, on the other hand, is that of someone who is trying to get to a shopping mall in their self-driving car. It’s profoundly utilitarian, even selfish in character, with little to no concern for how public space is experienced. In Google’s world, public space is just something that stands between your house and the well-reviewed restaurant that you are dying to get to.” —Eugene Morozov on the new, personalized Google Maps. Can’t wait to get off the waiting list.