The Cot Death of a Public Transport Revolution
Last week saw the unveiling of the winning entries in an open design competition. The purpose of the competition was, in the words of Klaus Bondam (president of the jury), to gather ideas for the new bike share system.
Let’s start with the obligatory round of applause for Copenhagen. There are numerous social and environmental advantages involved with deploying a bike share system. These advantages are also so obvious that telling you about them here would be like buying a calculator for Steven Hawking.
However, this might be a good occasion to link a few comments to the approach Copenhagen chose in their endeavor; Mistake #1? This was a design competition. The problem with design competitions is that you’ll get solutions devised by designers. But if you’re really scanning for ideas you’ll also know that there are still things in life that are simply too important to be left to designers. (Yes, I know that there are plenty of designers that are well aware of this limitation, and therefore shape their process to accommodate their own shortcomings. I’m not criticizing designers here – I’m criticizing the idea of a design competition).
The winning entries consist of everything you might expect. GPS tracking, GoogleMaps integration, micro payments via your phone, and intelligent (algorithms for) distribution. 3d renderings of outlining unique parts so that, god forbid, you scrap the sucker and reuse anything on your own bike.
The problem with all of this is that Copenhagen already has 8000+ bikes that have been recovered by the police and now have no owner. These could have been restored to their glory days and set free in the cityscape without any of the technological widgets proposed by our designers. We wouldn’t need GPS tracking, because if a bike got ‘stolen’ we could simply go to our warehouse and get a new one. This approach isn’t anything new. The Provos of Amsterdam tried it as early as the 60’s.
Of course this would take manpower, but with all the homeless, and with unemployment in Copenhagen being at it’s highest in years, I’m pretty sure we could solve that part of the equation. Hell, we might even have made a difference for some people. Start a movement.
The bike – both as a tool and an object – may well be among the greatest inventions ever. The beauty is in its simplicity. It’s a highly efficient mobility-tool that everyone can (learn to) ride, and anyone can repair. I’m unnerved by the coup de grace this design competition has delivered to this simplicity and perfection.
The objective of the competition was to create ideas that would get people biking. But the process replaced real creativity (and common sense) with engineering and designers jerking off. Copenhagen is among the most beautiful cities I’ve lived in, and it surprises me that the jury has chosen to make an aesthetic decision that brings them closer to Gotham.
The real purpose of a bike sharing system was to get more people to jump on a bike. One can’t help being a bit perplexed by the solutions that are the outcome towards meeting this goal: GPS tracking systems, Bluetooth locks, and mobile payment systems.
A man riding a stolen bike, after all, is still riding a bike.
Full disclosure: Through ping-pong Design, I participated in the competition with a rather unambitious, but ingenious proposal. Which lost.