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Q&A session

Question and answer session with Angelina Russo and Steven Fleming - part of Australians dream of speed

Collage of cycling photos

Dr DANIEL OAKMAN: We have 15 or 20 minutes for discussion. I would like to open it up for questions. I have a few.

QUESTION: Inaudible.

Dr STEVEN FLEMING: No, I haven’t been to Houten  but I know about Houten.

QUESTION: Bicycle gets the priority.

Dr STEVEN FLEMING: Milton Keynes in Britain is very similar as well but still it’s designed for the bikes and the cars and the pedestrians and the transit and trying not really to prioritise one over the other. I certainly think it’s a great city and I would move there in a flash compared to any Australian city. I would love to live there. But I don’t think it really rationally follows through the premise of a bike focused city to its logical conclusion in a purely rational way. I think it inherits a lot of ideas still from the walking city and the horse city.

QUESTION: Yes (inaudible) all cars are forced out to the ring road. You can’t actually drive.

Dr STEVEN FLEMING: It’s not really looking at it, it’s not taking it to its furthest conclusion because it is still dogged by a lot of old ideas.

QUESTION: Then there is (inaudible) drive and park to your apartment or house. It’s situated at four corners.

Dr STEVEN FLEMING: Again the problem is too that incentivising cycling by punishing driving rather than saying driving is an option - and with the cities we have here driving is certainly an option - it’s built for driving. Can we do a city that’s actually better? You see those cities are still putting cyclists in the rain which doesn’t bother a lot of cyclists obviously. But when you have the choice of taking kids to school out of the rain and all the other transport options provide that, it’s not doing it. I think they are great but I do think we can do better.

QUESTION: Oh yes.

Dr STEVEN FLEMING: They obviously haven’t caught the public imagination otherwise we would be replicating them here.

QUESTION: That’s the problem.

Prof. ANGELINA RUSSO: (inaudible).

Dr STEVEN FLEMING: We would love to see the bike industry unite in the way the car industry has. If they really united behind transport cycling and sponsored something, okay they can’t compete with general motors and the 1939 Futurarma exhibition - that was enormous, but imagine something one tenth of the scale using digital technology. I can put all of this in the computer and put people all around the world on a bicycle wearing 3D goggles. You can navigate the environment on a bicycle. I use a TacX VR trainer for bike racing training.You can immerse people in it for far less the cost than it cost to put on the Futurama, and just open people’s eyes to the possibility.

QUESTION: (inaudible).

Dr STEVEN FLEMING: Velo city conference.

QUESTION: It’s not like a huge display park.

Dr STEVEN FLEMING: Is probably a good thing. We will see what happens in Adelaide next year as to whether it really impacts the Australian media. I am sure it will to a point. Maybe we should be getting behind those guys.

QUESTION: (inaudible) are you going to take this to developers?

Dr STEVEN FLEMING: That’s an interesting thing. I think at the moment it needs to be market driven. You need enough people in the market saying they want this. If it happens anywhere at the moment it will be China or some dictatorship in South America I think is our best chance at the moment. We would like to think that an exhibition is the next step we see. We look at the history of car centred development and it was these exhibitions and utopian visions that were the precursors to the big shift in the post-war era. This is an essential step.

Prof. ANGELINA RUSSO: This is where at the same time this kind of visionary ideas - (inaudible).

Dr DANIEL OAKMAN: I was going to make a point in speaking up for the museums in this context because what we do very well is provide a historical context to a lot of these ideas. One of them struck me particularly looking at the 1938 world fair was that how all these ideas about cars were very similar to the ideas that were spoken about bicycles. Bicycles annihilated space and time which is precisely the language they used in the late nineteenth century, the responses was culturally and economically was astonishing. People the language they used described the distances between cities across the countries were framed around bicycle journeys often by her oak journeys made by Hupert Opperman and things like that. I think what you are grappling with is how you kind of reconnect with those historical ideas and essentially reactivate them. I think that’s where I think the museum really has a powerful role to play kind of unpacking those ideas and particularly when it comes to the kind of embodied experience with objects - bicycles and with cars, museums can do that very well. When I think people in one sense what we are talking about correlates with that very powerful idea about modernity and what our bodies should be doing, the trajectory of modernity has been that our bodies should be passive. An idealised successful future was basically the passive body. If you looked at the way those people moved around that exhibition in 1939, they are all on little trolleys. Their bodies were passive when they were experiencing it. That was the height of futuristic success. I think there’s a whole range of things you need to re-engage with our bodies. A part of that, I think, is you probably health crisis that is coming just as there is one about climate. We may not have the luxury of toying with the ideas. It may arrive and we will have to deal with it.

Dr STEVEN FLEMING: It has always struck me that this is the motor [pointing to his own chest]. A car has two motors, one that is just wearing out the more you use it and this one that is dying because it’s not being used. You take that motor away and you have a much more efficient vehicle.

Dr DANIEL OAKMAN: I guess the question is: Do you build something like this and then the culture follow?

QUESTION: (inaudible) what is it?

Dr STEVEN FLEMING: One of my design team is a guy who is a really keen mountain bike rider and a daredevil, it’s an adrenaline sport. He looks at this - and what we have deliberately avowed here are that the details - he looks at this and thinks about where the trails, where the jumps and where the burms would be; and then how there would be another layer that was about mums, kids and shopping; and there would be another layer that was a promenading one, so we would all be on upright bikes with our suits and being seen. I think it’s very diverse though. There is no one image. The bicycle is divided with a lot of tribes and there is different joy in all of those bicycling styles. This looks very Stalinist, because this is the way we have approached it, just as a rational skeleton for the whole thing. But when we get into the details, that’s what we want to pursue next, is where is the fun and the joy within that?

I am also terrified of cars. I am a parent and I have kids. It was when I started riding the bike with the kids and taking them out on the road. I was fine being a lone warrior by myself but as a Dad and husband it was a different story. I don’t see much hope. They have been trying it for 40 years to inspire people to cycle with cars, and it’s not catching on. The places that did catch on, I look at say Copenhagen where they had Christiania which was an enclave which was car free - That seems to be a common ingredient that you get these areas which are like a catalyst - then the rest of Copenhagen, two years after Christiania, started demonstrating for pushing the cars out of the way. So Christiania was like a beacon for change. I do see the brownfields which are being renewed and regenerated with all of these car-free promenades as being like a beacon. In the city of Newcastle where I am from, the brownfield former docklands was just like bike city, it turned into. Everyone is coming out. All the girls were coming out on their bikes in high heels so they could ride home drunk and ride between bars. It was safe and friendly and inviting and it was really becoming a bit of a beacon. Then we see the hipster districts and the other places bikes starting to spread into those areas. But without some place that really is safe and welcoming for cyclists -

Dr DANIEL OAKMAN: I am conscious of the time. As much as I don’t want to wrap up the discussion, can you please join me in thanking Angelina Russo and Steve for their talk.