Archive for February 2nd, 2007

Non-native speaker

Vagablogging, run by travel writer Rolf Potts, posts today some useful tips on picking up languages and immersing yourself more fully into a foreign culture:

[…] there is probably no better way to travel abroad than with some knowledge of the local language. Not only is communication possible on a deeper level, but you learn to use or expand what some researchers have discovered to be different parts of the brain. In other words, you learn to see the world with the fresh perspective of a child, even while engaging in potentially existential conversations in new and often exotic settings. And I won’t even go into the political, social, and economic benefits of learning a foreign language which Americans — from all walks of life — are now realizing to be of fundamental importance as global citizens. [full post]

Community cycling around the world

Paris City Hall recently committed to making the French capital a city of bicycles by announcing its plans for a new free bicycle service:

Joining other European cities like the Dutch capital, Amsterdam, Paris wants to make thousands of bikes available for free to commuters, strollers and tourists – in part to help cut down on pollution. (AP)

The city contracted French company JCDecaux to operate the service, which will have over 14,000 bicycles available by the summer.

David Lebovitz, an American cookbook author living in Paris, says that the bikes will be able to be picked up and dropped off at one of any 1451 stations around the city. He also writes that many Parisians are pretty irate over the new bike lanes – this surprises me; I guess I held delusions of the French riding contentedly on old single-speed cruisers, smoking cigarrettes as they coast, picking up baguettes and cheese on their way to the cafe…

The success of this system is going to depend on whether there’s some enforced rider accountability – while the Dutch seem to have inherent good-nature, community bicycle programs all over the US and in England have failed because the bikes simply get stolen.

Madison, Wis., tried to create a “Red Bike” community program (i.e. red spray-painted bicycles are free for use) but cheapo thieving students decided it would be fine to just buy a lock and keep the bikes for themselves – many a neglected red bicycle can be seen around town forlorn and in disarray, locked to some post.

But several non-prof organizations, such as the Austin Yellow Bike Project or the Bicycle Kitchen (LA), have provided a way for locals to get a bike on the cheap and learn to maintain it themselves.

If we’re to have any hope for ending global warming – or even just creating healthier, more engaged communities in this increasingly fearful world – these kind of commitments to cycling need happen in every major city, and out to the burbs.


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