Tuesday 20 January 2015

Community Spirit


There are lots of things I think we have lost over the years. We've lost our connection with nature by living in cities, we've lost the understanding that, you can get from one place to the other without the need of a combustion engine, and we've lost sense of what a cities design should really be about.....it's people.

One thing that I think we've also lost is our community spirit. I love hearing stories about how people never used to have to lock doors, how neighbours used to look out for and look after their fellow neighbours and that when times got tough, people pulled together to make things right.

Are these stories just urban legend? I don't think so. I just think we have lost connections with those around us and the car, a transport mechanism that locks us in a box with only a radio to keep us company, has fueled the process.However, it doesn't take much to bring community spirit back.

Have you ever been on a train where the power has gone for a short period of time? Suddenly people start chatting and joking, where before they would stare into space/phone/newspaper/adverts. Our pampered lives keep us apart, but throw in a little disruption or a little risk, and people start to communicate again.

I experienced this very phenomenon last Friday night. What started off as a very typical, cold and slightly wet/snowy commute home on my bike, fast became an adventure. Oh OK, not really an adventure, but something a little out of the ordinary. A little adventure. With snow.

The snow started falling as I cycled through Jordanhill, and after a short space of time and the short ride to Anniesland, the driving and riding conditions had deteriorated significantly. As I was still 7 miles from home on my bike I pondered.... what was I to do? Should I keep riding and hope that conditions improve? Should I stop and call my wife for a lift? Or should I just start walking?

I decided to stop. There was no way I was going to ask my wife to collect me, as the driving conditions fast became pretty poor. But I didn't have to walk home. Why? Well, community spirit, that thing that eludes us for most of our daily lives, popped up to the surface, and people with no other connection that just being in the same place at the same time started pulling together.

Rather than describe the details I'll leave you to watch the video. Yes, it's a long video, but I think it's worth a watch.

It all worked out in the end.

So what? Am I suggesting that we need more peril in our lives to bring back a bit of community spirit?

No, but we need more connectivity. We all suffer from a box mentality when we are driving our cars. We all look out of the windows and see a world full of, not people, but cars. We rarely see or connect with the person or people inside. Our transport choices dehumanise us.

I've discovered when riding my bike is that cycling is incredibly sociable. Not only do I nod, acknowledge, and talk to other cyclists, but I find I interact more with pedestrians as well. In the summer when the car windows are more likely to be open, I've also found myself having nice chats with drivers.

Cycle campaigning often focuses on safety statistics, on health indicators and on economic benefits. I think we've forgotten the other benefits of active travel. When we walk or cycle we are far more likely to interact with others and see others as humans and not defined by their mode of transport. Cycling can certainly cure a lot of the nations phyical ills however, I also think it can also help us reconnect with each other that little bit more and help us to see each other, not as rivals or irritations, but people who will wave a cheery hello back. 

(Special thanks to the owners of Skyform who were the ones who gave me a lift home. Much appreciated!)


  1. Amazing how poor the driving standards are - snow that light should never have caused problems on that scale. I did experience worse in the A50 heading for Stoke, and also travelling were Police after a football match in Leicester.

    The secret in freshly falling snow is actually NOT to drive much slower than 20mph so I was 'convoying' with the Police vans in the outside lane at 30-40mph, keeping big gaps, easing back in good time etc. Meanwhile in the nearside lane - chaos as a slow drive would stall and than show their incompetence in getting rolling.

    Only one 'win' detail is to drive a diesel - front, rear or 4-wheel drive doesn't really matter that much, as you can put vehicle in gear (2nd or 3rd) let the clutch out on tickover and the wheels will turn slowly and is they're not gripping immediately a gentle rock is normally enough to start the process.

    2 bits of carpet is the other 'fix' - tie them to rear bumper (RWD) or door handle / inside through windows (FWD) and roll back on to carpet - use carpet to get momentum and then keep rolling - do not stop to pick up the carpet (that's why you've tied it on to the car). Soft, fresh snow great on a bike - especially if its dry snow - fine and powdery - like riding through granulated sugar. Sadly we normally get maritime(wet) snow (big wet flakes)

    1. The secret is to drive faster? Please don't tell this to average drivers, I guarantee faster speeds on a lower traction surface will equal more carnage. 20mph+ speeds can and will kill pedestrians. Maybe you have the skill to pull it off, there's a lot of drivers who scraped through their test after the 3rd attempt. Most of them have no wish to improve as they're already "good drivers", and it's the cyclists and pedestrians that "make the roads dangerous".