Behaviour change

Big Red Cars Breed Car Addicted Kids

The Wiggles' Big Red Car, but imagine if it was a Big Red Bike instead.

The Wiggles’ Big Red Car, but imagine if it was a Big Red Bike instead.

Ah, The Wiggles. Bless them, with their Big Red Car. I don’t know a great deal about them, aside from their colour identifying polo necks and the fact that they travel about in a Big Red Car, as I am more from a generation of Fraggle Rock, The Amazing Adventures of MorphThe Wombles and Sesame Street, but the latter seems to be ubiquitous no matter what your generation. Anyway, regarding The Wiggles, let’s focus on the car, people, let’s focus on the car.

The above photo is of the The Wiggles’ Big Red Car as it sits outside my local supermarket, hungry for a tired parent to feed it coins, begging for a small behind to settle down onto its plastic seat, pleading for the grip of a tiny hand on its steering wheel, so that it might commence its thirty second jiggle and sway as it entertains an altogether unsuspecting, small passenger; the same little soul that is ‘driving’ this red beast, although not in a legal capacity for some years yet. Driving The Big Red Car for them is, quite literally, their first ‘joy’ ride.

And with it comes what? The idea that this is the goal. This is fun. This is something to aim toward. And, perhaps most terrifying, this is utterly normal. Professor Carolyn Whitzman from The University of Melbourne penned a fantastic chapter in Transforming Urban Transport: The Ethics, Politics and Practices of Sustainable Mobility (edited by Nicholas Low) called ‘Harnessing the Energy of Free Range Children’, noting the connection between transport patterns of children and transport patterns later in life. In short, if you drive your kids to school, the chances are pretty spectacular that your kids are going to drive as soon as they can, they will look at PT options than those not driven to school and are highly unlikely to investigate active transport (namely cycling and walking) as viable transportation options. I would suggest that with The Wiggles showing grown men driving about in The Big Red Car and then having rides where you, as a child, can ‘drive’ around in The Big Red Car, we are perpetuating this lifelong habit.

This is further reinforced by the nursery rhymes that we sing to our children. A very cursory search for transport nursery rhymes  provides a treasure chest of songs about transport and, while I grant you, most are about public transport (there seems to be a virtual obsession with trains, perhaps indicating the time period from which they were written and gained in popularity), not one can be found on riding a bike. That’s a huge oversight, in my book, but also a great opportunity. Along with these missing rhymes, where are the oversized, novelty bikes for children to sit on top of and maybe experience pedalling a stationary bike? Where is the innovation, the alternative?

It would be terrific if we could all live in Copenhagen and have our 8 year olds get their ‘license’ to ride a bike. It would be fantastic to have our children have that same sense of pride and aspiration at being a proficient, confident bike rider. As it stands we are miles away from such a possibility, here in Australia. But if it’s true that we should start as we wish to go on, shouldn’t we be providing our children with a better start (and a better idea of normality) than ‘driving’ a novelty sized car and hearing songs such as Driving in my Car and I Love my Red Car (frighteningly, there is a ‘road version’ of this little ditty on YouTube)?

I know this is utopian in aspiration. Australia’s car industry has fuelled (ha ha! Get it?) perceptions of what mode of transport should reign supreme and I am not naive enough to entirely exclude the role that oil and big business plays in this discussion along with the status quo, the dominant paradigm and all the other stuff I riled against when I was in my 20s (and largely still do, I might add).

I guess I’m always amazed at how ingrained travel by car truly is but when looking at the facts above, it would be curious if it was any other way.

 

Advertisements

Doing it with the Danes

Copenhagen: a city that, you know, gets it.

Copenhagen: a city that, you know, gets it.

Facilitate (verb)
From the 1610s, “make easy, render less difficult,” from French faciliter “to render easy,” from stem of Latin facilis “easy” (see facile). Related: Facilitated; facilitates; facilitating. (from online etymology dictionary).

I start this little post with that tiny history on the word of facilitate as it is such a simple word but encapsulates so much about what a city or built environment could (and maybe should) do for its citizens. Depending on how a city is designed, how equitable it is, how healthy, how ‘smart’, how pleasurable, affordable etc. it will enable a citizen to be their best or not. The city, in this sense, facilitates good citizenry.

In Denmark (a place that should be the benchmark of how places should operate, in my opinion), this is evidenced in a myriad of ways, but most notably through policy implementation. Policies on health for example, don’t merely operate in a vacuum as they might in, oh I don’t know… Australia, where they are seen as isolated. They are incorporated into the city itself and the machinations of how that city operates. In doing so, the city becomes a space for policy to manifest, raising otherwise turgid documents from merely aspirational quotes, ideas and stats that no one will ever read.

In a practical sense, an example can be found through looking at the current policy on men’s health in Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics National Health Survey published in 2009 (which can be seen here), 68% of males over 15 years of age reported doing no exercise or having low exercise levels (supporting facts and figures can be seen here). Obviously, this is sub optimal and the government of the day instigated numerous policies to address such  pressing – and depressing – health concerns. So far, so good.

One of these policies was the Healthy Communities initiative, whereby local Councils and local organisations received funding to implement exercise, nutritional and behaviour change programs in the hope that such stark statistics would change, for the better. Along with Diabetes Australia, the Heart Foundation and others, one such organisation was Cycling Australia (CA) in conjunction with the Amy Gillett Foundation. It was explained that what CA’s role would be on the government website and for clarity, it is worthy of reading it in its entirety:

Cycling Australia (with the Amy Gillett Foundation) – AustCycle – AustCycle aims to equip people with the skills and confidence to cycle regularly through the provision of cycle training. The types of training courses range from beginner programs through to skills for riding in more challenging situations, including coping with traffic and riding safely in groups. AustCycle training courses are designed to teach participants of all ability levels how to ride in on-road and off-road environments and can be targeted for new cyclists or people who have ridden before and wish to increase their activity and bicycle use. Programs can cater for between three to eight students per Teacher depending on the skill, confidence and attitudes of participants.

The program uses a train-the-trainer model to train people to become accredited AustCycle Teachers who then deliver cycling training to the community through their own businesses or for an accredited AustCycle Provider (e.g., cycling school). AustCycle Providers are independent licensees able to run training courses that their Teachers are accredited to deliver. AustCycle Providers are usually small businesses, but can also include community groups, cycling clubs and local councils.

The AustCycle Teacher training course includes elements on nutrition, achieving a healthy weight through exercise and developing programs for individuals and groups to address healthy weight and fitness objectives.

For more information, visit the AustCycle website.

Now this brings me nicely to my point of this post. Whilst such programs may encourage some people to ride a bike more often, it is unlikely that such initiatives will have long lasting positive health implications on a large cohort if the built environment does not encourage (or facilitate) people to ride their bike. It seems to me that health programs and health promotion in general in Australia goes for the quick fix when it comes to cycling. It is far more effective to build separated bike lanes if you genuinely want your health policies to have desired, long term health outcomes, but it is also far more politically contentious. In annual reports it is easier to say ‘We funded all these organisations to come up with ideas as to how to reduce the inactive lifestyle of most males in Australia’, than it is to say ‘ We have put a lot of people offside by building better infrastructure for cycling, and we probably won’t see any evidence of how this will improve health outcomes for at least 3 more election cycles’.

Unless we have political will to genuinely change the paradigm as it currently stands however, we are simply throwing good money after bad. We know what we need to do. Currently, the built form of a city (and largely suburbia, too), does not facilitate riding a bike with ease and a tension therefore exists between policy, practical implementation and long term behaviour change and I would argue that it is this trifecta of ingredients that is needed for a citizen to be healthy. Unless the built form of a city changes to encourage cycling and make it easy, facilitating positive health outcomes for citizens is stymied by the city itself.

This whole post can be reduced to six little words: let’s just do what Denmark does.