SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki
Cities cover just two percent of the world’s land area, yet they account for about 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the United Nations, 59 percent of us now live in cities; in developing countries, 81 percent of people are urbanites. And those figures are rising every day.
Even though cities are a major source of emissions fuelling climate change, “They are also places where the greatest efficiencies can be made,” according to Joan Clos, executive director of UN-HABITAT. “With better urban planning and greater citizen participation, we can make our hot cities cool again.”
The benefits of doing so go beyond reducing the risk of global warming. Cities designed for humans rather than cars are better places to live, with lower pollution levels, less traffic congestion, more parks and public spaces, improved opportunities for social interaction and healthier citizens.
With longer days and blossoming trees making Vancouver brighter, my thoughts turn to the joys of bicycling. Getting people out of cars and on to bikes won’t solve all our climate and pollution problems, and bicycling isn’t possible for everyone, but the more people cycle, the better off we’ll all be. It’s also a great way to stay in shape and make the commute more enjoyable – and often faster.
I’m particularly excited this year as the international cycling conference Velo-city Global is being held in Vancouver from June 26 to 29. The event is expected to bring together about 1,000 traffic planners, cycling advocates, architects, educators, politicians and others from around the world “to share best practices for creating and sustaining cycling-friendly cities, where bicycles are valued as part of daily transport and recreation.”
Gil Peñalosa, who will open and close the conference, says Vancouver has done a lot for cycling but it’s “not great yet.” Peñalosa, director of the Canadian non-profit organization 8-80 Cities and former commissioner of Parks, Sports and Recreation in Bogota, Colombia, believes North American city dwellers could learn from Europeans when it comes to encouraging cycling.
“Even in Europe, a lot of the bicycle infrastructure has been done in the last 30 years. And it didn’t get there by chance,” Peñalosa said in an interview with the European Cyclists’ Federation, noting that, in Amsterdam, cycling infrastructure and rates increased only after active campaigning by citizens. He also said that bicycle-friendly planning can complement well designed public transportation systems.
I hope the Velo-city Global conference will get more people in Vancouver and beyond excited about cycling. Those who ride know one of the best reasons is that it’s fun. It’s also good for you. Regular cycling reduces the risk of a range of health problems, from obesity to heart disease to stress. And that helps the economy by decreasing overall healthcare costs.
That it will also contribute to lower greenhouse gas emissions and pollution and that it can make cities more enjoyable places to live are even more reasons to get on your bike whenever you can.
Dr. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Editorial and Communications Specialist Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org
<div id="edition_links">This article appeared in the APRIL 2012 print edition © Common Ground magazine.<br />
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