Monday, 17 July 2017

Why the Eco-City Needs to Be a Just City

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Why is it easier to imagine a green ecocity than a just city where everyone belongs? the yes man/flickr, CC BY
Stephen Healy, Western Sydney University
This is one of a series of articles to coincide with the 2017 Ecocity World Summit in Melbourne.

Why is it easier to imagine an ecocity – full of lush green spaces and buildings, footpaths and bike lanes, outdoor goat yoga and dog parks – than a just city where everyone belongs? Why is it difficult to imagine a city where there are no great disparities of income or of access to convivial life because these have been equitably distributed?

The prospects for rebuilding the city along ecological lines is enchanting. But ecocities, like smart cities, frequently devolve into a techno-fetishist fantasy, (un)wittingly abetting gentrification – from the sell-off of public housing in cities like Sydney to violent informal housing eradication in places like Jakarta.

Part of what’s required here is to connect the currents of imagination shaping the ecological future of cities with other conversations that are more focused on the future of employment and industry and the possibilities for greater equity. Thinking these disparate ideas together will take some work. Fortunately, it’s well under way in cities around Australia and the world.

The Centre For Future Work and the Australia Institute organised a summit last month at Parliament House to consider the future of manufacturing in Australia. Much of the day was spent exploring how targeted government procurement practices can help rebuild a sector that could play a vital role in building ecocities alongside new employment opportunities.

Co-operative ways to build community wealth

Non-profit institutions and the private sector can play a similar role. The Evergreen Cooperative Initiative in Cleveland, closing in on its tenth year, used the demand for services from hospitals and universities to start worker co-operatives.

These meet the need for green laundry services, food and energy while creating ownership opportunities for low-income residents. Guaranteed downstream markets increase business viability. This ensures easier access to start-up capital.

Dozens of US cities have developed similar initiatives in the past decade. Among these are union-supported initiatives in Cincinnati, Ohio, municipal initiatives in Richmond, California, and multi-stakeholder co-operatives in Springfield, Massachusetts.

In each instance the guiding principle is that worker co-operatives are tied to place by the people who work in and own them. They distribute profits in ways that benefit worker-owners, other local businesses and the broader community.

In Australia, Earthworker Coo-perative has tirelessly pursued a similar initiative. It aims to connect Australian manufacturing capacity, eco-friendly technologies, unions and the environmental movement as a basis for starting worker co-operatives ready to meet the demand for green technology.

Organisations like the Mercury Co-Operative and the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals are working to support and spread co-operative ownership in Australia.

In September, a second New Economy Conference, open to the public, will consider what sort of legal and social changes are needed to support efforts like Earthworker.

More ambitiously, even the emergent disruptive technologies that are enabling the “gig economy” can be repurposed for co-operation and community wealth creation.

While new platform technologies concentrate wealth in companies like Uber and Airbnb, these could just as easily function on a co-operative basis, sustaining communities in the process. Such ideas are being actively considered in Melbourne and in Sydney at last year’s Vivid festival.

These efforts to encourage social procurement, build co-operatives and develop new forms of sharing work readily combine with the ecocity agenda. In themselves they are not sufficient to ensure that ecocities are also equitable cities. As Labor senator Kim Carr pointed out in last month’s summit, what ideas like this do is fully open the question of what an economy is for.

In Australia, this question is an eminently urban one. Continuing to ask this question, and keeping the answer open, is one way of ensuring that ecocities are not merely oases for the wealthy.

The ConversationYou can read other articles in the series here. The Ecocity World Summit is being hosted by the University of Melbourne, Western Sydney University, the Victorian government and the City of Melbourne in Melbourne from July 12-14.

Stephen Healy, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, 14 July 2017

How Cities Are Improving Low-Income Access to Parks: These five standout communities are working to make sure underprivileged communities have access to green spaces

If you live within a ten-minute walk of a public park, count yourself lucky. For millions of Americans, urban outdoor recreation spaces are few and far between and usually require a drive. As a result, it’s often hardest for those living in low-income neighborhoods to access parks. But cities are increasingly making an effort to distribute resources more fairly. “The whole issue of equity has become very important within just the last two to three years,” says Adrian Benepe, director of city parks development for the Trust for Public Land (TPL), which has scored cities annually on their parks since 2012.
To determine if cities are adequately serving their low-income communities, TPL’s ParkScore looks at spending, acreage, and household access—whether there is a park within a ten-minute walk for those who make less than 75 percent of a city’s median income. Of course, proximity doesn’t necessarily equate to a high-quality park. “One thing we don’t measure is: Is it safe? Clean? Beautiful?” says Benepe. But he notes that ParkScore is really just a way to begin a conversation about investment in parks. “We give them interactive tools that they can use in planning—where to locate new parks and where to optimize existing ones.”
In TPL’s most recent rankings, these five cities stood out for reaching low-income neighborhoods.

#5. Arlington, Virginia

Percentage of low-income residents within 10 minutes of a park:98
Arlington obtained top marks in parks-related spending, at $229.93 per resident (just ahead of Washington, D.C.), and was rated highly for its number of facilities, from dog parks to basketball hoops to recreation centers and playgrounds. In 2016, the county finished its Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment, setting open-space acquisition as a top priority to maintain its high ranking.

#4. Chicago, Illinois

Percentage of low-income residents within 10 minutes of a park: 98
A study of park spending between 2011 and 2014 found that more than half of the $500 million devoted to Chicago’s park improvements went to only ten of the city’s 77 neighborhoods (most of which were affluent). So, in 2016, volunteers organized in low-income neighborhoods to identify improvements. They sought hundreds of thousands of dollars of private funding and pushed elected officials to split the cost. The result: building a new soccer field and playground in Kelly Park and fixing run-down baseball diamonds—and ultimately buoying Chicago to a top spot.

#3. New York, New York

Percentage of low-income residents within 10 minutes of a park: 98
In 2014, the city launched its Community Parks Initiative to improve historically underfunded parks in neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty. The initiative invested $285 million in more than 60 community parks that had gone decades without proper maintenance or upgrades.

#2. Boston, Massachusetts

Percentage of low-income residents within 10 minutes of a park: 99
With a 1,100-acre chain of nine parks linked by parkways and waterways, bordering some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods (like Fenway), Boston grabs the second spot for low-income access. Though the city received a lower grade for park spending—$111.59 per resident—it ranks near the top when it comes to parkland as a percentage of the city’s total area.

#1. San Francisco, California

Percentage of low-income residents within 10 minutes of a park: 100
San Francisco has done a stellar job across all income levels. The median park size is 1.6 acres, and parkland makes up 20 percent of the city’s total area. San Francisco also recently completed a review of its park system to assess whether money was being equally invested across all demographics. From there, the city highlighted the areas that were economically stressed and will incorporate those metrics into the parks department’s strategic plan.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Our Pets Strengthen Neighbourhood Ties

Lisa Wood, University of Western Australia, The Conversation:

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When dog owners meet, it helps build a safe and connected community. Wrote/flickr, CC BY-NC

Talk to any pet owner and you are bound to invoke stories about the joy and companionship of having a pet. But evidence is mounting that the effect of pets extends beyond their owners and can help strengthen the social fabric of local neighbourhoods. Now a cross-national study involving Perth, Australia, and three US cities has lent weight to the observation that pets help build social capital.

This is not a frivolous notion, given the erosion of sense of community is often lamented. As Hugh Mackay recently observed, not knowing our neighbours has become a sad cliché of contemporary urban life.

I stumbled into pet-related research some 15 years ago when undertaking a PhD on neighbourhoods and sense of community. I was curious about the elements of a neighbourhood that might help people connect to one another, so I threw some in some survey questions about pets.

In what has become my most-cited academic paper, we found that pet owners were more likely to have higher social capital. This is a concept that captures trust between people (including those we don’t know personally), networks of social support, the exchange of favours with neighbours and civic engagement.

Fast-forward a decade to a much larger study to look at the relationship between pets and social capital. Pet owners and non-owners were randomly surveyed in four cities (Perth, San Diego, Portland and Nashville – four cities reasonably comparable in size, urban density and climate).

In all four cities, we found owning a pet was significantly associated with higher social capital compared with not owning a pet. This held true after adjusting for a raft of demographic factors that might influence people’s connections in their neighbourhood.

How do pets help build social bonds?

It is often assumed that the social benefits of pets are confined to social interactions that occur when people are out walking their dogs. Lots of dog owner anecdotes support this. In this large sample study, however, levels of social capital were higher among pet owners across the board.

We did nonetheless find that social capital was higher among dog owners and those who walked their dogs in particular. Dog owners were five times more likely to have got to know people in their neighbourhood. This makes sense, as dogs are the most likely to get us outside the home.

Yet our survey data and qualitative responses show that a variety of pets can act as a social lubricant. Pets are a great leveller in society, owned and loved by people across social, age and racial strata.

Perhaps it is having something in common with other people that strikes a chord, regardless of the type of pet.

What does this mean for how we live?

That pets can help build social capital is not just a social nicety or quirky sociological observation. Hundreds of studies internationally show that social capital is a positive predictor for a raft of important social indicators, including mental health, education, crime deterrence, and community safety.

Given pets are entrenched in the lives and homes of many Australians, it makes sense to tap into this as a way to strengthen the social fabric of local communities.

Not everyone can or wants to own a pet. But two-thirds of the population does, so our cities and neighbourhoods need to be “pet friendly”.

Australian suburbs are generally pretty good for walkable parks and streets. In this study, we also found that having dog walkers out and about contributes to perceptions of community safety.

Given the broad social benefits of pet ownership, perhaps we need to rethink ‘no pets’ rules where possible. Ed Brey/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

However, in Australia, pets have traditionally belonged to people living in detached housing with backyards. Many rental properties, apartment complexes, and retirement villages still default to a “no pets” policy.

Other countries, where renting and higher-density living is more the norm, seem more accepting of pets across the housing spectrum.

Given ageing populations, housing affordability and the need to curb urban sprawl are critical social trends in many countries (including Australia), maybe we need to recalibrate our notions of who can own a pet and where they can live. This is not to say that pets have to be allowed everywhere, but the default to “no pets allowed” is questionable.

My father-in-law in his 80s, for example, couldn’t downsize to a retirement complex because his extremely docile rescue greyhound exceeded the “10kg pet” rule. He couldn’t bear to part with Moby, a faithful companion through whom he met many local residents daily at the park nearby.

Constant companions in times of change

A lot of my current research is around homelessness. Chatting recently with a man who was homeless with his dog on the streets of Melbourne, he told me how his dog gets him up in the morning, keeps him safe at night, and gets them both walking daily.

His dog was one of the few stable things in his life, so he needed a public housing option that would allow pets.

People who are homeless also need crisis accommodation options that accept their pets. Hence it is great to see places such as Tom Fisher House in Perth, opening its doors to rough sleepers with pets needing a safe place to sleep.

Beyond the practical implications for pet-friendly cities, the potential for pets to enrich the social fabric of communities has strong appeal in an era of global uncertainty, frenetic “busyness” and technology-driven communications. As cultural analyst Sheryl Turkle has said, the ways people interact and forge relationships have undergone massive change and we can end up “connected, but alone”.

Sherry Turkle talks about why we expect more from technology and less from each other.

The ConversationBy contrast, humans have been drawn to companion animals since early civilisation. In many people’s lives, they remain a tangible constant that can yield enduring social capital benefits.

Lisa Wood, Associate Professor, Centre for Social Impact and School of Population Health, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

How Privatization Could Spell the End of Democracy
, The Guardian:
It’s a hot day in New York City. You’re thirsty, but your water bottle is empty. So you walk into a store and place your bottle in a machine. You ac
tivate the machine with an app on your phone, and it fills your bottle with tap water. Now you are no longer thirsty.

This is the future envisioned by the founders of a startup called Reefill. If the premise sounds oddly familiar, that’s because it is: Reefill has reinvented the water fountain as a Bluetooth-enabled subscription service. Customers pay $1.99 a month for the privilege of using its machines, located at participating businesses around Manhattan.
Predictably, the company has already come in for its fair share of ridicule. In Slate, Henry Grabar called it “tap water in a suit”. But while Reefill is a particularly cartoonish example, its basic business model is a popular one within tech. The playbook is simple: take a public service and build a private, app-powered version of it.
The most obvious examples are Uber and Lyft, which aspire not merely to eliminate the taxi industry, but to replace public transportation. They’re slowly succeeding: municipalities around America are now subsidizing ride-hailing fares instead of running public buses. And earlier this year, Lyft began offering a fixed-route, flat-rate service called Lyft Shuttle in Chicago and San Francisco – an aggressive bid to poach more riders from public transit.
These companies wouldn’t have customers if better public alternatives existed. It can be hard to find a water fountain in Manhattan, and public transit in American cities ranges from mediocre to nonexistent. But solving these problems by ceding them to the private sector ensures that public services will continue to deteriorate until they disappear.
Decades of defunding and outsourcing have already pushed public services to the brink. Now, fortified with piles of investor cash and the smartphone, tech companies are trying to finish them off.
Proponents of privatization believe this is a good thing. For years, they have advanced the argument that business will always perform a given task better than government, whether it’s running buses or schools, supplying healthcare or housing. The public sector is sclerotic, wasteful and undisciplined by the profit motive. The private sector is dynamic, innovative and, above all, efficient.
This belief has become common sense in political life. It is widely shared by the country’s elite, and has guided much policymaking over the past several decades. But like most of our governing myths, it collapses on closer inspection.
No word is invoked more frequently or more fervently by apostles of privatization than efficiency. Yet this is a strange basis on which to build their case, given the fact that public services are often more efficient than private ones. Take healthcare. The United States has one of the least efficient systems on the planet: we spend more money on healthcare than anyone else, and in return we receive some of the worst health outcomes in the west. Not coincidentally, we also have the most privatized healthcare system in the advanced world. By contrast, the UK spends a fraction of what we do and achieves far better results. It also happens to provision healthcare as a public service. Somehow, the absence of the profit motive has not produced an epidemic of inefficiency in British healthcare. Meanwhile, we pay nearly $10,000 per capita and a staggering 17% of our GDP to achieve a life expectancy somewhere between that of Costa Rica and Cuba.
A profit-driven system doesn’t mean we get more for our money – it means someone gets to make more money off of us. The healthcare industry posts record profits and rewards its chief executives with the highest salaries in the country. It takes a peculiar frame of mind to see this arrangement as anything resembling efficient.
Attacking public services on the grounds of efficiency isn’t just incorrect, however – it’s beside the point. Decades of neoliberalism have corroded our capacity to think in non-economic terms. We’ve been taught that all fields of human life should be organized as markets, and that government should be run like a business. This ideology has found its perverse culmination in the figure of Donald Trump, a celebrity billionaire with no prior political experience who catapulted himself into the White House by invoking his expertise as an businessman. The premise of Trump’s campaign was that America didn’t need a president – it needed a CEO.
Nowhere is the neoliberal faith embodied by Trump more deeply felt than in Silicon Valley. Tech entrepreneurs work tirelessly to turn more of our lives into markets and devote enormous resources towards “disrupting” government by privatizing its functions. Perhaps this is why, despite Silicon Valley’s veneer of liberal cosmopolitanism, it has a certain affinity for the president. On Monday, Trump met with top executives from Apple, Amazon, Google and other major tech firms to explore how to “unleash the creativity of the private sector to provide citizen services”, in the words of Jared Kushner. Between Trump and tech, never before have so many powerful people been so intent on transforming government into a business.
But government isn’t a business; it’s a different kind of machine. At its worst, it can be repressive and corrupt and autocratic. At its best, it can be an invaluable tool for developing and sustaining a democratic society. Among other things, this includes ensuring that everyone receives the resources they need to exercise the freedoms on which democracy depends. When we privatize public services, we don’t just risk replacing them with less efficient alternatives – we risk damaging democracy itself.
If this seems like a stretch, that’s because pundits and politicians have spent decades defining the idea of democracy downwards. It has come to mean little more than holding elections every few years. But this is the absolute minimum of democracy’s meaning. Its Greek root translates to “rule of the people” – not rule by certain people, such as the rich (plutocracy) or the priests (theocracy), but by all people. Democracy describes a way of organizing society in which the whole of the people determine how society should be organized.
What does this have to do with buses or schools or hospitals or houses? In a democracy, everyone gets to participate in the decisions that affect their lives. But that’s impossible if people don’t have access to the goods they need to survive – if they’re hungry or homeless or sick. And the reality is that when goods are rationed by the market, fewer people have access to them. Markets are places of winners and losers. You don’t get what you need – you get what you can afford.
By contrast, public services offer a more equitable way to satisfy basic needs. By taking things off the market, government can democratize access to the resources that people rely on to lead reasonably dignified lives. Those resources can be offered cheap or free, funded by progressive taxation. They can also be managed by publicly accountable institutions led by elected officials, or subject to more direct mechanisms of popular control.
These ideas are considered wildly radical in American politics. Yet other places around the world have implemented them with great success. When Oxfam surveyed more than 100 countries, they discovered that public services significantly reduce economic inequality. They shrink the distance between rich and poor by lowering the cost of living. They empower working people by making their survival less dependent on their bosses and landlords and creditors. Perhaps most importantly, they entitle citizens to a share of society’s wealth and a say over how it’s used.
But where will the money come from? This is the perennial question, posed whenever someone suggests raising the welfare state above a whisper. Fortunately, it has a simple answer. The United States is the richest country in the history of the world. It is so rich, in fact, that its richest people can afford to pour billions of dollars into a company such as Uber, which loses billions of dollars each year, in the hopes of getting just a little bit richer. In the face of such extravagance, diverting a modest portion of the prosperity we produce in common toward services that benefit everyone shouldn’t be controversial. It’s a small price to pay for making democracy mean more than a hollow slogan, or a sick joke.

Monday, 19 June 2017

The 20 Most Bike-Friendly Cities in the World, From Malmo to Montreal

Oslo (Andrea Pistolesi/Getty Images)
THE RETURN OF the bicycle to the modern urban transport paradigm continues unabated. All over the world, citizens are rediscovering the benefits of cycling. 
Cities are responding by building the infrastructure to serve and keep them safe. This rush to increase cycling levels and improve the quality of city life is the greatest movement in global urbanism. Of course, not all cities are equal. Some charge ahead, while others lag.
With the Copenhagenize Bicycle Friendly Cities Index 2017, we at the Copenhagenize Design Co. have ranked 136 global cities and identified the top 20 using 14 parameters. (You can read about our methodology here.) The common denominators between these cities are clear: the realization of the potential of cycling as transport, investment in infrastructure, and a desire to make cities better.
For almost a century, urban planners have only asked one question about transport: “How can we send more cars down this street?" In today’s age of booming urbanization, modern cities have changed that tired question to, “How can we send more people down this street?” The answer includes robust public transit and walking infrastructure—and, of course, a heavy dose of bicycle.
The bike in the city, regardless of topography or climate, is good business. In Copenhagen, the cycling population contributes $261 million a year in public health savings—enough to pay off the cost of protected bicycle infrastructure in under five years.
This is the fourth bi-annual Bicycle Friendly Cities Index and 2017 offers up as many surprises as the others. Copenhagen holds onto first place due to massive investment in cycling as transport. Utrecht dazzles with investment and innovation, nudging Amsterdam down into third.
Nine cities from the 2015 top 20 have moved up. Munich, Helsinki, and Tokyo are back after an absence. Every version of the Index produces a bicycle urbanism darling, and this year Oslo shines brightest. Despite the hills and the long winter, the Norwegian capital is focused on tackling traffic congestion and improving public health with bicycle infrastructure and facilities. Montreal clings onto 20th spot as the only North American city, but we are convinced that others will be appearing in the Index in the near future.
These are the cities to watch: Not just the benchmark cities at the top, but also the cities that started from scratch under a decade ago. Saddle up.

1. Copenhagen, Denmark

2015 Ranking: 1
The Lowdown: While the competition between Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Utrecht at the top of the Index remains fierce, it is clear the Danish capital continues to further develop itself as a bicycle-friendly city. It has invested $150 million in cycling infrastructure and facilities over the past decade. It has 16 new bridges for bicycles and pedestrians built or under construction, eight of which have opened since the 2015 Index.
Since 2015 alone, the City has completed the Havneringen / Harbour Ring bicycle route allowing citizens to cycle along the whole inner harbor, piloted a new traffic light system that detects and prioritizes cyclists, launched digital traffic congestion signs to improve flow through the city, and opened new bicycle superhighway routes. Now, 62 percent of residents ride a bike daily to work or education in the city—just nine percent drive. In short, few places in the world prioritize innovation as much as Copenhagen does, with the city council support to back it up.
Getting Better: Copenhagen may be a highly-designed and complex bicycle city, but it has work to do. Congestion on the cycle tracks—even the widest ones—will become a problem unless the city reallocates more road space for the dominant transport form in the city. And it needs to stem the tide of motorists that invade the city from the suburbs each day. Meanwhile, the November municipal election is shaping up to be Bikes vs Cars, with the right-wing parties gearing up for a return to the car-centric 1950s. Oslo, Helsinki, and Paris are pioneering a return to quality city life with plans to reduce car traffic. Copenhagen needs to maintain the momentum and cement its leadership.

2. Utrecht, Netherlands

2015 Ranking: 3
The Lowdown: One of the smaller cities on this list, Utrecht continues to impress, sliding past Amsterdam into second place. While Dutch cities have a tendency to maintain their levels of cycling rather than working to improve, Utrecht is intent on bucking that trend.
The uniquely designed Dafne Schippersbrug bridge is a fine example. The city’s ongoing plans to build 33,000 bike parking spots at the Central Station by 2020 is another. The current 12,000 spots wasn’t enough, apparently.
“Bicycle streets” are standard in many Dutch cities, but Utrecht boasts the longest in the country—3.7 miles—with plans for more. It have created a pop-up parking concept for bikes and they installed the “Flo,” a speed detection system coupled with digital kiosks that read each cyclist’s speed and help them speed up or slow down in order to catch the next light. Regarding urbanism in general, the city continues to reject last century planning by digging up the Stadsbuitengracht and returning the ancient waterway to its rightful place by 2019.
Getting Better: If you live in the city, you figure out how to get around pretty quick. The infrastructure isn’t, however, intuitive for visitors—a sign it could be a lot better. Improving the uniformity would be a massive upgrade for the city.

3. Amsterdam, Netherlands

2015 Ranking: 2
The Lowdown: Watching Utrecht squeeze into second place shows Amsterdam needs to dust off its game face. Its status quo is amazing, but the city has failed to make any serious progress in the past few years. One concern is the rapid rise of the scooter: 8,000 in 2007, 35,000 as of last year.
Amsterdam has plans for impressive development and bicycle urbanism projects, but they are still in the pipeline. Improved infrastructure behind Central Station is welcome, as are connections like the one under Rijks Museum from a few years ago. But there is still room for improvement given the swarms of competing transport species in this densely populated city.
There is only one Amsterdam and there will never be another. The typology of the city is unique, which might explain why they struggle to implement ideas from other places. On the other hand, lack of political will might indicate that they aren’t even looking.
Getting Better: Like Copenhagen, Amsterdam has an inherent responsibility to assume and maintain a leadership position. For the benefit of its own citizens, of course, but for cities everywhere. Placing bicycles on the municipal, political agenda much more than now is going to be necessary if Amsterdam is to hammer out a vision of where to go from here.

4. Strasbourg, France

2015 Ranking: 4
The Lowdown: For decades, Strasbourg has been France’s premier cycling city, with little competition. Things have changed, with Paris, Bordeaux, and Nantes making rapid progress, but Strasbourg has responded. It was the first French city to reach 16 percent modal share for bicycle commuting. The Velhop system has taken bike sharing to the next level, and we’ve never seen a city with so many public bikes on the street. It even subsidizes cargo bikes for citizens with stuff to haul.
Like many cities, Strasbourg is planning a coherent network of “bicycle superhighways” with three ring routes and several radial routes to suburbs and neighboring towns. They have also commissioned a modern visual identity and wayfinding for the VeloStras network to firmly establish the bicycle as a transport form that is equal to public transport.
Getting Better: Like Utrecht and Amsterdam, Strasbourg’s primary challenge is settling on uniform infrastructure designs across the city. The city has been ahead of the curve for decades, but has evolved in bits and pieces, using a variety of solutions. Upgrading its infrastructure to be intuitive and uniform will be the perfect complement to its otherwise visionary bicycle urbanism plans.

5. Malmö, Sweden

2015 Ranking: 6
The Lowdown: Since 2015, Malmö has continued their focus on cementing the bicycle as transport in the city. We were thrilled to see the opening of Cykelhuset, or Bicycle House: Housing that accommodates bicycles throughout the entire building encourages car-free living and signals developers are finally catching up with the times. Next door, the Bicycle Hotel provides modern travellers with similar accommodation in a bicycle-friendly city.
Malmö is looking to upgrade its bike sharing and infrastructure, distributes cargo bikes from its central train station, and is piloting garbage collection on two wheels. The new bicycle ferry between Malmö and Copenhagen will strengthen bicycle tourism in the region. Malmö may be the little sibling to the other cities around it, but it seems to shrug and get on with it.
Getting Better: Malmö has a strong focus—although we would like to see more political will—and this should translate into hard infrastructure now. Soft initiatives are welcome, but the city should exploit the momentum and start upgrading its infrastructure.

6. Bordeaux, France

2015 Ranking: 8
The Lowdown: Bordeaux appears to have rounded a corner and is looking at bicycle urbanism more seriously than ever before. In 2016, the city approved a “Plan Vélo Métropolitain,” designed to push cycling’s modal share to 15 percent by 2020. It is sending delegations to Copenhagen to study best practices and is organizing training on infrastructure design for city employees.
There is serious talk of booting cars from one of the main bridges over the Garonne River and dedicate it to bikes, pedestrians and buses. The city’s bike share system continues to plant the bicycle firmly back on the asphalt as transport. And, Bordeaux is the only city in France that sees more women cycling than men. Mayor Alain Juppé has often spoken fondly about cycling for transport, and now serious work is beginning: $84 million dedicated to cycling is certainly a good start.
Getting Better: In order to achieve that 15 goal, Bordeaux must improve the cohesiveness of its infrastructure and completing the network. Traffic calming and re-allocating space from cars to bikes is paramount.

7. Antwerp, Belgium

2015 Ranking: 9
The Lowdown: Antwerp remains the best large city in Belgium for cycling, and while progress has been a bit slow, we sense some serious momentum. The city plans to extend its bike share system to reach beyond the city center, into residential neighbourhoods. It is implementing modern design bike racks and temporary bike parking facilities for large events. The bike parking at the Central Station continues to impress, and other stations are getting improved parking facilities as well.
New infrastructure in the form of wide, protected cycle tracks along the harbour, three bicycle/pedestrian bridges, and a massive plan to put the ring motorway underground are all signs that Antwerp is trying to accelerate its modernization.
Getting Better: Antwerp has the potential to reach a modal share of 25 percent or more—and even to reach the levels of cycling in the top three cities on this Index. Uniform infrastructure and a drastic reduction of car traffic is the way forward. Political will in the city swings back and forth like a pendulum. A clear vision is required.

8. Ljubljana, Slovenia

2015 Ranking: 13
The Lowdown: Ljubljana has created its own momentum over the years, and being the Green Capital of Europe 2016 has provided an extra boost. As its modal share of cycling has risen, it plans to continue expanding its solid, relatively cohesive network. Growing cycling levels will be easier than in many other cities.
Advocacy and politics work well together here, and the city’s cycling officer is more highly regarded than in many cities in the region. Positive promotion of cycling is a key element on Ljubljana’s journey to becoming more bicycle-friendly.
Getting Better: Ljubljana is poised for dramatic change. All the elements are in place. There is no reason why the city cannot crack a 20 or even 30 percent modal share for bicycles in just a few years. Much of its infrastructure follows best practice guidelines, which makes it easier to build further. But cars still occupy a lot of space in the city’s transport policy. The balance needs to tip more in favor of public transport and bicycles. The high car ownership rate in the country must be reduced.

9. Tokyo, Japan

2015 Ranking: Below Top 20
The Lowdown: After falling outside the top 20 in 2015, Tokyo is back, armed with impressive statistics. One fifth of the metropolitan area’s 20 million rail commuters cycle to the station. The tourist areas are full of bikes, but it’s in the neighborhoods where the vast majority of locals live that you really understand why Japan is the world’s third great cycling nation, and Tokyo its crown jewel. The modal share can easily hit 30 percent in many neighbourhoods. Parking facilities for bikes are everywhere and impressive parking cellars with all the trimmings are located near train stations.
The 2020 Olympics will be a prime opportunity for Tokyo to finally recognize cycling as transport. Where London and Rio failed to use cycling as a way of moving a lot of people around during their games, Japan has the opportunity to do so—and to cement cycling for transport for future generations. And when the world’s largest metropolitan area can figure it out, there are few excuses for others.
Getting better: Proposed, draconian rules for cycling must be halted, and cycling must be taken seriously as transport on all political levels. Tokyo needs to stop looking to America for road planning inspiration and instead look to Europe. Separated cycle tracks on busy streets would transform the city for the better.

10. Berlin, Germany

2015 Ranking: 12
The Lowdown: Berlin is up two spots in 2017, thanks largely to activists who promoted a cycling referendum, putting bikes on the city’s agenda with a bang. With a new coalition in power and focused on sustainable transport, Berlin’s political and community engagement climate is in a perfect sweet spot. What happens is still to be seen.
The capital’s modal share is a respectable 13 percent, but some neighborhoods see numbers are as high as 20 percent. A new bike share system is slated for this year. Berlin is experimenting with traffic-free streets and testing “green waves” for cyclists.
Getting Better: Implement the plans outlined by the Cycling Referendum. The bizarre mix of bike infrastructure designs resulting from years of planners trying to squeeze bikes into a car centric paradigm need to be made uniform. With the rise of the cargo bike, the City needs to plan accordingly for them from the beginning.

11. Barcelona, Spain

2015 Ranking: 11
The Lowdown: Like Berlin, Barcelona finds itself it in an interesting urbanism age. Mayor Ada Colau, elected around the time of the last Index, made bold promises regarding bicycle urbanism. Since then, the city has expanded the length of its bike infrastructure by 20 percent, with plans to spend $22 million building 40 miles of cycling tracks.
The Superblocks are now up and running as pilot projects, with calmer streets benefitting cyclists. The local bike share system continues to be a success and there are plans for expansion. Now, the time is ripe for Barcelona to move to the next level. Like in Oslo, the current administration might only last for one term so things need to go a bit quicker.
Getting Better: Despite the positive plans coming out of City Hall, Barcelona still hesitates when it comes to restricting car traffic and making serious inroads for cycling as transport. Cyclists still have to take detours to get around the city. It’s time to adopt best practice guidelines and expand the network in order to see an exponential rise in bicycle traffic.

12. Vienna, Austria

2015 Ranking: 16
The Lowdown: After years of cautious baby steps, Vienna is accelerating its efforts and climbing the Index. It’s the first large city to install a cargo bike share system, and has provided subsidies to citizens who wish to purchase one. It boasts 800 miles of cycling infrastructure, although much of that is recreational. The city center feels pleasantly traffic calmed, and some cycle tracks indicate the city is thinking about a cohesive network.
Getting Better: For all the brilliant ideas that are seeing the light of day in Vienna, the city needs to match it with infrastructure. The politicians are keen to talk at all manner of conferences, but the fact remains that the city’s modal share isn’t rising fast.

13. Paris, France

2015 Ranking: 17
The Lowdown: Like in Berlin, Barcelona, and Oslo, there is strong political will in Paris for improving the quality of life for the citizens. It’s hard to see the city meeting its 15 percent modal bike share by 2020 or making good on Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s promise to be the best cycling city on the planet by 2020. But progress continues. City leaders meet regularly with local associations and mobility stakeholders, showing a refreshing desire to be transparent and inclusive. Paris plans to extend its huge Vélib’ bike share system to the greater metropolitan area, and put new bikes on the street next year.
Despite ideas like bicycle infrastructure in the middle of the Champs Elysees that show the City struggles with understanding design, Paris remains a city to watch.
Getting Better: Paris is a perfect candidate for using bikes as a last-mile logistic solution: Using the river and the canals for transporting goods and connecting that with a fleet of cargo bikes would be simple and effective. Oh, and get some bike racks.

14. Seville, Spain

2015 Ranking: 10
The Lowdown: Seville was a global first mover in quickly and efficiently promoting cycling as transport, wowing us with their political vision. It has, however, slipped down the Index for the second consecutive time due to inactivity. But it seems that now, Seville is ready to resume its drive. The new municipal government is bicycle positive and keen to make up for lost time. The plan that launched Seville’s first generation of infrastructure and that took the city to 7 percent modal share from virtually zero is up for renewal.
The baseline for expansion and improvement is solid. The infrastructure may not be intuitive or well-designed, but there is an all-important network and the citizens are willing to ride. With the new bicycle strategy, a lot of fixing is required.
Getting Better: While many cities are eager to expand and increase the length of the bicycle network, Seville should focus on improving the existing network and making it more coherent—then on expansion. Much of the network looks like bicycles were squeezed in here and there. Polish it up, straighten it out, and Seville will easily hit 20 percent modal share.

15. Munich, Germany

2015 Ranking: Below Top 20
The Lowdown: Munich returns to the upper echelon after dropping out in 2015, impressing with its efforts to improve city life using the bicycle.
The city has a higher modal share than both Berlin and Hamburg and Germany’s largest network of 18 mph speed zones. It has built more cycling infrastructure than any city in Germany over the past few years. That includes good signage to help people navigate, and plans for 14 bicycle superhighways to encourage people to cycle to the city from farther out.
Getting Better: Munich should be looking at where it’s headed. So many cities are establishing clear goals and we would like to see Munich’s plan for reaching 30 percent modal share for bikes.

16. Nantes, France

2015 Ranking: 7
The Lowdown: Nantes came out of nowhere back in the 2013 Index thanks to an impressive political push for making the bicycle a normal transport form once again. In 2015, it held onto a top ten spot. This year, it slips nine spots to 16th place, as the bicycle urbanism storm has calmed to a stiff breeze. Other cities are showing more desire for change and Nantes isn’t keep up.
The French city does have a $56 million investment plan to get the cycling modal share to 12 percent by 2030. Compare that with Bordeaux’s $78 million and a goal of 15 percent by 2020 and you can see why Nantes perhaps needs more investment. (Its modal share is still at 6 percent even after years of municipal focus.)
To Nantes’ credit, its plan is focused on hard infrastructure as opposed to soft actions. The city is seeing an increase in cargo bikes as a logistics solution as well as for use by families. New bike shops and startups working on smart bikes and accessories indicate that the city has created a dynamic that other cities can envy.
Getting Better: Spend the money wisely, Nantes. Think about your network and improve upon it. Use the community of passionate citizens to help grow your bicycle city.

17. Hamburg, Germany

2015 Ranking: 19
The Lowdown: Like nearby Dutch cities, Hamburg is guilty of keeping the status quo instead of working to increase cycling levels. Its position in the Index is due to its existing levels of cycling, built up over the past couple of decades more than any current passion for improving. The city has Germany’s most successful bike share, and many residential neighborhoods give you the impression of being in Amsterdam or Copenhagen.
Getting Better: Hamburg must make uniform and upgrade its confusing infrastructure if it wants to improve the cycling levels in the city. Separating the cyclists from motorized traffic is paramount, and bike lanes that take up space on sidewalks are unacceptable.

18. Helsinki, Finland

2015 Ranking: Below Top 20
The Lowdown: Helsinki cracked the Top 20 in 2011, then hovered below the surface until this year. The city has been ahead of the curve for many years, with bike infrastructure in place before many other cities rediscovered it. Helsinki launched its bike share in 2016 and it is already a success, with further improvements and expansion being planned. It wants to reach a modal cycling share of 15 percent by 2020, in line with many European cities. And it works hard to keep its infrastructure clear of snow in the winter.
Getting Better: We have seen bicycle count documents from the 1930s in Helsinki that show upwards of 10,000 cyclists a day on main corridors so there is little stopping the Finnish capital from going back to the future. The cycle path on the former rail line, Baana, has been a positive addition to the city, but now it is time to upgrade the infrastructure on the streets.

19. Oslo, Norway

2015 Ranking: Below Top 20
The Lowdown: Make no mistake, cycling in Oslo is a far cry from being in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, or even Seville. But Oslo is the darling of the 2017 Index, a re-emerging bicycle city trying to find a balance between the spandex warriors and the regular citizens who are embracing the bicycle for transport.
The city center will close to private cars by 2019, car parking is being removed in impressive numbers, and new infrastructure is being implemented, including a bicycle street. In a response to the national road directorate’s old fashioned and restrictive infrastructure standards, the city made its own rules—calling them the Oslo Standard—highlight its desire to upgrade and modernize. Subsidies for buying cargo bikes are the cherry on the bicycle cake.
Getting Better: To avoid one hit wonder status, Oslo must keep pushing. Carve the political pressure of the Oslo Standard in stone to keep moving forward with best practice infrastructure. We would like to see more physically separated cycle tracks now that the city is accelerating.

20. Montreal, Canada

2015 Ranking: 20
The Lowdown: The sole North American representative holds its spot in the top 20. It’s no secret Montreal has led the continent for decades, building cycle tracks long before any other city had even thought about it.
The greatest challenges are upgrading the outdated bi-directional system and planning an intelligent network. Politician Marc-André Gadoury is leading the charge with an infrastructure project featuring best practice cycle tracks in the Rosemont neighborhood. Mayor Denis Coderre is beginning to put some action behind his words. The city is improving at gathering data and using it wisely and new infrastructure is being built. The city’s bike share system still plays an integral role.
Getting Better: With such an impressive starting point, it is time for Montreal to prove their worth. Far too many streets in the city are still unsafe, and cyclists are often herded down congested corridors. The introduction of best practice infrastructure is welcome, but it needs to become the standard for bicycle planning from now on.