The notion of ‘movement’ has been on my mind lately. Blame it on the mood the New Year tends to bring about; the impetus to look for signs of change and renewal. In my case, they invariably present themselves on patches of pavement, and more often than not when I’m on my bicycle. Two instances come to mind.
Over the weekend I went for a short training ride and came cross hundreds, if not thousands, of runners. (I found out later it was the Bay to Bay race). As I approached Llandudno, the road became increasingly populated by people who, while clearly under strenuous physical stress, had big smiles on their faces. From the top of Suikerbossie, the sight was something to behold: a sea of people flowed down the hill. The street was in motion. Not only was it filled with a much larger number of people than it normally accommodates, it was flowing with a type of cadence that was almost orchestrated.
Then, last week, I was cycling on the Bree Street cycle lane when I encountered a young man on a skateboard, also on the lane. His arms extended outwards as if he were flying and he had the biggest smile painted on his face. I couldn’t help but to smile back at him. We both giggled. There was a little secret we shared that seems unique to the use of small (non-motorised) wheels. The road wasn’t ours alone though. In fact, we were fighting to create a sense of safety by asserting our right to the space amid midday traffic. Nevertheless, there we were, winning the battle and experiencing the joy that free movement brings about.
The constant in both stories is the smile that movement evokes in us. Our humanity seems to flourish when we have the opportunity to move freely and connect with one another.
Compare those simple experiences with my ride to the beach last week. A row of vehicles parked along the entire route. Traffic was so overwhelming, my cycling buddy and I managed to travel the 15km faster than our friends in their cars. Despite the incredibly beautiful day and panorama, drivers (including our friends) were certainly not smiling.
I’m not saying cycling is always a better option than driving (though at a very practical level, in this particular instance, it was). But I can’t help but reflect on the situations, the things, moments and environments that foster and facilitate movement.
Streets are meant to be conduits for movement, both of people and goods. Yet, very often they are less than welcoming and we find ourselves navigating spaces that are dangerous, unyielding and lifeless; where fear is the currency and where other humans are seen with mistrust. If streets are the living rooms of cities as someone famously said once, then our home needs some serious rearranging.
This Sunday, two iconic streets of Cape Town become the type of ‘living’ space that could help us envision a different city. From 10am to 3pm, Bree and Longmarket streets will be car free for people to experience a new way of moving; the type that allows mobility without the fear of physical harm from heavy and fast vehicles and, that as a result, opens up the space to more spontaneous, creative and organic movement. Indeed, on that day, people will have a chance to not only get on their bicycles and skateboards, they will enjoy the company of others eager to explore their streets as public space.
In Latin America, streets have played that role in the form of weekly programmes where networks of car-free streets become a stage for people to exercise and interact. They are called Ciclovías, or Open Streets. In Cape Town, we are borrowing the concept and shaping it up to showcase the myriad of opportunities our streets could offer if we used them differently. Thus, on Sunday you will, for instance, come across the Western Cape on Wellness and their WoW! Wellness Hub where the inspiration is movement for health. Activities include Zumba, yoga and pedal-powered smoothie making. Walk a few meters and you will find yourself surrounded by bicycles, as the Bicycle Empowerment Network (BEN Bikes), the Khayelitsha-based cycling academy Velokhaya and the Pedal Power Association join forces with UpCycles to provide a safe cycling school, with free bicycle rides for kids and rentals for grown-ups. Again, the key here is movement.
But it doesn’t stop with physical activity. Ultimately, movement and expression are two sides of the same coin and with music, dance and other forms of expression on offer, you are bound to be ‘moved’ in some form or another. The key is to take part. After all, movement is an action that can only be experienced first hand, which is a little bit like life.
Indeed, the key is to keep moving and there is no better medium, both physically and philosophically, than our streets. We all see the path ahead of us this year and envision all the changes and things we want to accomplish. Moving along Open Streets on Sunday might be a symbolic way of starting the year on the right path: the one that frees our minds and hearts to move freely and to help build a city that enables safe movement for all.