Harlem Citibike petition last week but somehow a few folks did not think being less reliant on cars was a good idea. The thought of less parking space or having to drive a little slower in a residentially dense area was just too much! A younger generations has now embraced the original idea that cities were planned to be walkable and easy to get around because of great public transportation. Of course cycling also fits into this lifestyle when the industrial age rolled around and this new technology promoted physical health, fresh air and a low carbon footprint. Not so long ago, the air was so bad in the cities that asthma was an issue for children growing up in neighborhoods like Harlem. So why would someone not want bicycles?
7th Avenue at 130th c. 1900 courtesy NYPL
The answer might just be generational and speaks volumes on the changes the city went through in the middle of the last century. New York City started losing half of its population because of the Robert Moses Era of automobiles which promoted vehicle use and an easy exodus to the suburbs. Those who stayed in the city did not want to hang around the neighborhood anymore because things were bad all over. Empty storefronts, crime and loitering was rampant so living in an isolated tower (or house) and having a car to get to one's destination was the better option.
As some of my older former coworkers have told me, everyone wanted to live in a new tower on the Upper East Side back then. Everything new was better than the dirty village in the 60s, 70s and 80s! Even the Upper West Side was dangerous (the so-called White People Exit was 59th Street Station). The isolated tower model made sense in a city that looked like it was on an endless decline and having a car was essential to avoid dangerous streets and equally perilous mass transportation. Public housing even adopted this model and folks of all economic levels had cars.
Now a new generation has come into the picture that wants to stay within the big cities and raise their family. The city's population is growing after half a century of rapid decline and the suburbs are not attractive to young people these days. Maybe this movement happened because of folks growing up around chain stores and strip malls in their younger years helped them understand the lack of culture in the urban sprawl. There is also that sense of not belonging in the suburbs which often seem way too conservative and homogenized for folks who envision life in the city. For whatever the reason, the idea of bicycles and living in a pedestrian friendly New York is now a strong movement which is actually going back to the original city plan. This is especially true in neighborhoods like Brooklyn or Harlem.
With all that said, I can just think of my parents now in their later years. Mom and Dad are now recently retired, live in the South and the thought of taking a couple of flights of steps or even going to the gym is a foreign idea to them. Even though it has been proven that just a little physical activity might just make them healthier, lose some weight and extend their life, my parents have not adopted this lifestyle even with much persuasion. Change is not always comforting to embrace but sometimes the results are for the best. Maybe it is the younger folks who want the old ways that have got it right this time around but that is probably just a moot opinion to those set in their habits.