“Burne”ing down the house.

My sister would probably never believe it, and I don’t think she even knows it, but I credit her with a ton of my music foundation. She is 5 years and 2 days older than me, so I always had the cool “older kids” music accessible to me and as the years have gone by, I have always searched out the more unique, different, and lets face it…cooler music.

I remember when she stepped up to playing tapes when they became more popular. One of the tapes I took a shine to was her Talking Heads tape. I don’t know my history, but I think she had a Talking Heads tape way before we had MTV up in them thar hills that I grew up in.

There is no way that I would ever think that listening to this tape over and over again that I would ever have a connection to the guy strumming along and singing in that sort of wacky style. At the time I rode my BMX all over and jumped off the little hip we had in front of the house or went on day long cycling adventures with my Dad on my little BMX bike. I had no idea that the early cycling foundation that my Dad laid for me, and the strange guy filling the airwaves of my house would ever meet, and when they did meet, how would I have imagined that I would be sitting right in front of this famous “rock star”? I could never have imagined that. Until that night in at the Academy of Sciences in Philadelphia.

I found out that David Byrne who is most famously known for his work with the Talking Heads was coming to the Academy of Natural Science to participate in a panel on urban sustainability and the role of bicycles in the urban setting. This was right up my alley. I have been trying to involve myself in more Philadelphia bicycling issues, and I have heard that David’s book was a great read. I figured I would be able to just roll up and get in. No such luck.

The bikers showed up. Blurred to protect the innocent

One night while setting my calendar, I looked up the event and found that it was “sold” out. How can this be? I need to get in there! I thought of every plot, scheme, and coup that would help me gain entry to this night at the Academy. I just happened to bother the right people, and they got me in. I figured I was going to gain entry to the room and find a seat like the rest of the public…but I was wrong. I was getting hooked up. I was a “VIP”.

What this “status” gained me was the right to sit in the front row with a few real journalists and some other muckety mucks. You can read all about my sprint to the Academy here, I spent the first few minutes getting adjusted to my status and tying to take some notes on what was going on. After some introductions by folks from the Academy and the organizers of the Urban Sustainability forum,

David was set to take the stage. He appeared to me as I would expect. Very well but together, but stylish at the same time. All in black with a bit of a quirky way of speaking, he began by talking about cities, and how they have been viewed, changed, and grown over time. He showed very interesting illustrations of how many industrial age architects and philosophers viewed the future of cities. Most were images of large multi use structures connected by highways, or major roads with nothing on the roads. The roads just acted as connectors from one high rise to the other. David spoke of the idea that this takes robs the cities of their culture, life, and experiences. This seemed to resonate with the crowd, as who can not imagine riding through the Italian Market, old city, the parkway, or Northern Liberties without the experience that each of these rides brings to the rider? If there is no city experience, I might as well stay downstairs on the trainer.

Alex of BCGP and David Byrne

He also spoke of visionaries that fought the paving of our cities by those that thought connecting pockets of the countries with slabs of highway was the best way to move people. He cited the example of how Jane Jacobs fought the building of a high way over Greenwich Village. Imagine the Village with highway pillars instead of the vibrant culture that it is known for? He then showed some pictures of cities that he has traveled to around the world and as close as New Jersey.

David has chronicled his time spent traveling as an artist from the seat of the bicycle he often brings on tour. In his pictures he showed some great examples of traffic getting along with multi use paths, but he also talked about experiences of trying to ride only a few miles to a museum, or to tour a city, but running into highways, or places where pedaling a bike was akin to suicide. David’s talk was over and people felt charged about what could be done, but everywhere he talked about was not here! He admitted to only riding in Philadelphia one time in a rain storm, so there was as amazing as his experiences were, his talk did not really hit home.

A West Philly resident and well recognized urban designer, Ignacio Bunster-Ossa was up after David. Ignacio discussed models of sustainability within the city of Philadelphia, and how other countries and municipalities can teach the city of Philadelphia some lessons on how to incorporate bicycles into their plan. The plans were very interesting and sound like they are great future plans. I was excited to hear him talk about my neighborhood along the Delaware river and some of the plans for trails and parks on this side of town.

Between Alex Dody and Katherine Gajewski it was a toss up as to who was the doll of this bicycle filled ball. Alex, who I can never shake the resemblance of a young Gerry Adams of the Irish Republican Army and Sinn Fein fame really rocked the house more so than the “rock star” that brought us all out that night. Alex spoke candidly on cycling in Philadelphia and where it has come from and reached in the last twenty or so years. It is amazing to think of all of the work that is done by a very small staff in a city that is know for dragging their collective feet. A theme that ran through the discussion was the power of paint. Through the power of paint Alex described that entire neighborhoods and major thoroughfares can be changed to make cycling, walking, and driving much safer and healthier. Alex was there to highlight, and show us all what can be done, and to show that there is more to be done, but we are well on our way. I honestly felt energized after his portion of the night. It really showed the commitment that the BCGP and the city have to promoting, investing, and developing more cycling in the city of Philadelphia. We all applaud David and all of the work of the BCGP does.

Katherine Gajewski was the last speaker for the night. She spoke about her position with the Mayor’s office on sustainability. It is great to see a woman on the panel and someone so focused at greening up this rust old town. She talked about her experiences riding her bike to school as a little girl and how it helps to guide what she does today. Katherine discussed how her office sees cycling and what it is doing to work with the BCGP to promote cycling a healthy alternative to the use of fossil fuel based transportation. I can see voting for her someday soon!

David, Alex, Ignacio, and Katherine

The panel discussion and Q&A had some very interesting questions and some nut jobs, but that is what city government and these types of forums are all about. Some of the better questions that I can remember at this point involved how the BCGP and city hall are responding to the “attack” that cyclists felt last fall from the city council. Alex responded well to the question while still understanding that he needs to provide a balanced approach to dealing with the politics of this town. He more or less summed up the “attack” as reactionary and that through the use of the bicycle ambassadors, and some patience, we shall weather the storm and continue to thrive in the city.

Questions from the crowd

Another question was focused at the development around memorial hall and the amount of money being spent there to change the roads that are very popular among cyclists. These roads feature some of the hallmark training rides of the city, they have hosted world championship bicycle events, collegiate cycling championships and local road races, but they are being totally changed at a snails pace to provide more parking for mini vans that will only be there on weekends. The question was aimed at Alex who again handled it well, but did not provide the answer we were looking for. He said something to the effect that as the city has repurposed Memorial Hall, that the traffic patterns also have to change and they are working to ensure that they are done with the cyclist in mind, and that the real plan is to push the more experienced rider up to the hall area and off the main trail. Lets see how that works.

I would love to see the energy expressed on a cold night in February extended through the spring and summer with more people working to improve the experience of all users of our roads, and to provide positive change for cyclists region wide.

~~ On a side note as “funny” as that title may be, It makes me take pause to remember a good friend and a lasting motivation in my life. RIP Adam. Read about him here, and here. I am sure he would get the joke. ~~

2 Responses to ““Burne”ing down the house.”
  1. patricia says:


  2. Maria says:

    What a great post Pat! You surely deserved the VIP seating, you took it all in and reported in a candid and articulate manner. Thanks for the BCGP props. We’re working really hard to make Philly a better city for bicycling.

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