- a collection of notes and reflections on urban living from the perspective of a family of five in Tokyo. My epiphany was many years ago, but being hit by a motorbike and seeing my life flash before my eyes caused a sudden change that slowly made me reflect on whether American style auto-centric urban transportation of the Roosevelt era really is a capital G "Good Idea" for civilized modern cities in the 21st Century. This blog explores the good and the bad in urban planning and design, here and elsewhere. The goal is simple - not "death to all cars," just more walkable communities, quiet tree-lined streets, good public transport, traffic calming, Velib style bicycle sharing and a bit of common sense. The bolg is mostly theraputic, so I don't go wanting to throttle every dangerous driver I come across, but partly also out of a real desire to see positive change. This blog explores how it can be done, the people who do it, and how, in many small ways, this very old idea may at last have found its zeitgeist. Comments and suggestions welcome.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Extreme Golf

My latest hobby is "Extreme Golf". In Japan, the land of mountains, the only place left for golf courses is high in the mountains. Most people drive there by personal car - often alone, meeting their friends there, who also drive their personal car. This tradition has held me back from golf, as I avoid driving whenever there is another option. However, I lately discovered the golf delivery service, a service whereby for about 15 dollars you can have your clubs delivered from your home to the course overnight - and back again afterwards. Thus unburdened, I can take my racing bicycle on the Shinkansen (express train) and enjoy a leisurely ride from the nearest station up through the forests to the golf course. You may ask "What is so extreme about this?" Well, often tee-off is quite early, so not wanting to rush, I will sometimes take the train up after work the day before, and ride in the evening, camping out somewhere near the golf course in a bivvy bag, where I can wake to a stunning dawn and reach the club house in time for a quick wash, breakfast and still be the first to tee off. To be honest it is not particularly extreme at all but the golfers I know seem to think it is.

You may also ask just how much less impact is this when you are still sending a truck up the mountain. Well you would just have to see the truck - absolutely teeming with tens of bags to be delivered back to Tokyo. In Japan, many people do the same thing, but of course taking the shuttle bus rather than riding a bicycle from the station.

The moral of the story is that when you give people low-impact options, they can and will use them - it is not just about hardship, but in fact can be more pleasant and satisfying provided the right systems are in place.

My Extreme Golf is a flippant example but take urban sprawl for instance. Living in a sprawling auto-dependent city largely precludes low-impact living due to the transportation constraints. But put in just one car-free greenway that crosses the city from the mountain to the beaches, a few trains or trams and a good delivery system, and all of a sudden, people have an option that is not only low impact, but actually a better experience. Why are beachside houses so popular and expensive despite forecasts of rising sea levels? I believe it may well be because we have beach parks that enable healthy living options, while increasingly wider roads away from these parks cuts off other citizens from these wonderful places. Imagine now if one of these beach parks had a strip extending, not along the beach, but perpendicular right up towards the mountains, forcing all major roads to go under it and other to just dead-end. Immediately you have given thousands of people the option of ditching their car for a healthy way to get to the beach, and probably dramatically increased land prices around that strip. If I had my way, every beach town in Australia would have one or two of these green highways going out from the beachside or town centre. This is how governments can and should add value - because they are the only ones who can do this kind of thing. And if we don't we will find we are bonded to our cars like so many slaves to the machine.

The Paris' "Velib" system is another case in point. Give people a good, simple, convenient, low-impact, cheap, fun and healthy way to get about a city via a system that really works, and surprise surprise - what do you know? Tens of thousands of people start using it the very day it was introduced.

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