What my degree in IPE didn't teach me about baking, DIY, fitness, and life…
Tomorrow starts European Mobility Week, a campaign designed to promote “sustainable urban mobility”, which is political speak for fewer cars. It aims to encourage governments to provide more non-car options like good public transport, bike paths, bike rental schemes, and pedestrian friendly routes. Incentives (I trained in economics after all) to use these “other means” like the London Congestion Charge are also good in my book. The idea is to make it easier for people to use sustainable means and more difficult for them to use their cars. Because humans are fundamentally lazy. We say we do what we like to do. But if you really look at it, you’ll find that we don’t do what we want to do, we do what’s easiest. The trick is to make what you want to do easier, more obvious, more available. This is exactly what European Mobility Week is all about.
This year’s theme is “Moving in the Right Direction,” which I like because it takes us away from all or nothing thinking and into the place where every little bit helps. The truth (that I’ve learned with my own exercise and healthy eating habits) is that those little bits add up to big changes. No it’s not as sexy or as exciting as the big push, the all out, balls to the wall approach, but the gradual progress that comes with consistency is better. It’s sustainable, it’s longer lasting, and it tends to have a bigger impact (just less hype).
My favourite part of European Mobility Week – Autoloze Zondag or Dimanche sans Voitures – Car FREE Sunday!! For one day a year Brussels, a major metropolis and the European capitol, shuts its doors to cars. From 7am to 7pm the city is one big pedestrian zone (minus the waffle trucks, I mean come on). Oh and all public transport is free! With the cars out of the way, each neighbourhood has it’s own version of a street party. Central squares are covered with grass for the day. There are petting zoos, workshops on composting and bike repair, even free outdoor zumba classes. Every commune (like NYC’s boroughs) has its own personality. Etterbeek, where I live is simple and efficient. They’re offering bike repair workshops and information booths. St Gilles on the other hand is going for the party atmosphere. Their offerings? Giant bouncy castles, skateboarding workshops, and a “pimp my bike” contest! But even with all that, I think my favourite part is just getting to run and play in the middle of the street – the thing we were taught from an early age NOT to do. For one day a year it’s allowed.
And the result? Well – for one thing, the pollution levels in the city drop like a brick. There are 3-4 times fewer particulates in the air and 6-8 times less noise pollution (when compared to a normal day). In the tunnels (Brussels has miles of tunnels under the city that help spread out the traffic) carbon monoxide levels are 6 times lower than an average work day and get this: nitrous oxide levels are a whopping 62 times lower than on a week day! Imagine what would happen if even a couple hundred people decided to leave their cars at home and commute by foot, bike, or public transport everyday. Here’s hoping tomorrow inspires some small moves in the right direction =)
I’ve checked the weather – sunny and highs of 20°(68F). I can’t wait!