Seeing differently: urban cycling the gentle way – building the Happy City

Here’s another version of my vision of how I’d like my home city to be.


We sat in the square with a coffee and watched as they chatted for ages, then they cycled off together in a leisurely way

Ferrara, northern Italy.  Photos taken (by Malcolm) one afternoon in the summer, about 4 years ago.  The photos below are from a series he took within 5 minutes from a single spot.



















You’ve probably noticed that something is striking by its absence: motor vehicles of any kind.  This changes everything.

Another historic and busy tourist destination, a World Heritage Centre, with a different understanding of how life could be better for all of us.  Just ordinary people going about their ordinary everyday life. No lycra, no helmets. No need for either.

Old, young, hip, staid – everyone is cycling or walking.  Slowly and sensibly.  No competition between the pedestrians and the cyclists – after all, almost everyone is both.

2015-07-22 15.06.06

Bookmark, rather tattered now – Ferrara in the rain

These things don’t just happen by accident.  Councils and citizens have to make them happen.  In this case, the council in Ferrara decided back in the 60s to make the central part of the city car-free.  Since then they’ve created 120 km of cycle infrastructure.  In 1991 they did a survey and were astonished to find that a third of all journeys in the city were on bicycles.  Yes, a third.  Amazing, no?

Surely if they can do it there, we could do it here in Bath?

If you want to know more about how towns and cities have achieved just this kind of change, backed up by solid case examples and research, I’d thoroughly recommend reading ‘Happy City: transforming our lives through urban design’, by Charles Montgomery.  It’s an easy and inspiring read, and ultimately optimistic about what can be achieved (though also realistic about the barriers to getting there).

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Happy City, by Charles Montgomery, published by Penguin 2013

My own view is that, however cliched it has become, we have to ‘be the change we want to see.’  Which is why you’ll usually see me walking or cycling around my local area (and elsewhere), not in lycra but in ordinary clothes and on an ordinary bike.   And at an ordinary speed.

Charles Montgomery concludes his book by saying: “This is the truth that shines over the journey towards the happy city.  We build it when we choose how and where to live.  We build it when we move a little bit closer [to where we work]. We build it when we choose to move a little slower.  We build it by choosing to put aside our fear of the city and other people.  We build it by pursuing it in our ow lives, and in so doing, pushing the city to change with us.  We build the happy city by living it.”

And so say I!

Changing the world one person at a time, starting with me.  I’d love to have you along for the journey (unless of course you’re unfortunate enough to live in a place where it’s positively dangerous or downright impossible to walk or cycle – safety has to come first).

Be happy!

2015-07-09 14.02.08

About deborah @ the magic jug

Now I've passed 60 I'm still doing all sorts of things I haven't done before, as well as carrying on with the things I already love. I live a happy life with my long term love Malcolm. In my blog I explore local and low tech ideas, food, growing, making, reading, thinking, walking, and lots of other words ending in 'ing'.
This entry was posted in Bath, Community, Inspirations, Local, Reflections on life (and death), Seeing differently, Travels, Walking and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Seeing differently: urban cycling the gentle way – building the Happy City

  1. Sam says:

    I’m sure cutting out traffic from central Bath would cut down on the damage to the hugely important historic buildings as well as improving life for its citizens. Get yourself on the council!


  2. simoneharch says:

    I’ve just spent a wonderful long weekend in Copenhagen. One of the things that made the weekend so special was the ability to cycle safely through the city, at all hours. Great on many levels. Simone


    • Ah yes, another ‘happy city’. It’s a lovely place isn’t it!

      We’ve been visiting close friends in Denmark for years but only got to Copenhagen a couple of years ago, and loved it. We’ve not cycled there but have walked miles and miles and miles. It was so inspiring to see so very many people cycling, and such good infrastructure to enable it to happen safely. There’s a good blog with daily photos of ordinary Copenhagen cyclists you might enjoy looking at if you’ve not seen it before – Copenhagen Cycle Chic – I’ll add a link from my blogroll -


  3. Jackie says:

    Cycled home this evening in Edinburgh trying to avoid traffic – not easy from where I work to where I live but there are some nice cycle paths if you go looking for them and they were quite busy. They don’t always work for commuting these photos of Italy


    • Oh well done for persisting then! But once you find a good (safe) route it does help doesn’t it.
      We were astonished when we went to Ferrara – we had no idea that cycling was a thing there, and it took us completely by surprise.


  4. Gillian says:

    What a fascinating post! I don’t have a bike but I’d like to cycle more for various reasons and I’m sure I’m not alone there. We visited Copenhagen a couple of years ago and were struck by the ratio of cars to bikes, and how almost everyone seemed to cycle everywhere. x


  5. Reblogged this on CycleBath and commented:

    Having just read some horrible accounts of the kinds of thing that sometimes happen to women cyclists, I’d like to make it clear that I am a woman, I’m almost 60, and I live and cycle in Bath. And I’d like to be able to safely do it a lot more. Here’s how….


  6. Ishita says:

    I really have to visit this town now 😀


    • Oh do if you can! It’s a lovely place. And just as good from a cycling perspective is Padua (another very beautiful old city) – we spent some time here this summer and were really surprised to see everyone cycling: young, old and everything in between. Truly inspiring, and the only lycra to be seen was on foreign cycle tourists, the only helmets on young children (very sensible).

      Liked by 1 person

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