Bicycle Mayors are active in almost 90 cities around the world. They are leading dynamic changes, using cycling to tackle everything from air pollution to mental health and community strength. But the real power of their role comes from the network; the opportunity to share ideas and insights across international boundaries instantly, to increase and accelerate their impact. Here, we look at one example of this partnership in action.
Cape Town in South Africa recently held an event called ‘Co-create My City’, established as a platform for South African and Dutch counterparts to exchange innovations for a sustainable future. What better innovation to bring to such an event than the humble bicycle? While some focus on new technological innovations to address our most pressing challenges, BYCS and the network of Bicycle Mayors understand that one of the most important solutions is already here.
Therefore, Cape Town Bicycle Mayor Lebogang Mokwena was invited to help shape and contribute to the event, to explore ways to put cycling into future planning. To strengthen her ideas and creative thinking, Lebogang asked Natheer Halawani, Bicycle Mayor of Tripoli in Lebanon to join her at the event. An immediate connection was made and the two started using their different experiences from their cities to develop new ideas.
Lebogang is well known in Cape Town for her work helping women from disadvantaged backgrounds to learn how to cycle to enable them easier access to education, employment and essential services like healthcare, to enrich their lives and opportunities.
One sunny morning, she took Natheer for a ride through Khayelitsha, one of the city’s townships. Hoping to show Natheer differences cycling infrastructure between the central parts of the Cape Town and its geographic margins. Natheer was struck by the relative flatness of the terrain, making cycling a viable mobility option, and how few – if any – cyclists could be seen in the neighbourhood. Strikingly, the pair had to drive 25kms from the city center to reach Khayelitsha; a spatial feature of many South African cities compounded by a limited public transportation network.
A few days later, during the pair’s bike ride with, among others Dutch Consul-General, Sebastiaan Messerschmidt, Lebogang comments on Cape Town’s cycling culture: “In a context of very little social solidarity, I believe a cycling culture can help us break down existing racialised divisions, even though we come from different places.” The universality of cycling is something both Lebogang and Natheer strongly believe can change a community.
“We both face slow bureaucracy, corruption and sometimes lack of governmental interest,” Natheer adds, “but it certainly does not stop us from pushing on forward, emphasizing the benefits of cycling.”
Cycling through Cape Town is something Lebogang has done hundreds of times, but with a new friend from a different culture to guide, she was able to see her own backyard differently, and identify new opportunities.
As Lebogang puts it: “Every now and then you need someone who looks at a certain situation with a new set of eyes. I appreciated the opportunity – the different context brings a new perspective”.
“Often we are so immersed in the problems and limitations of our society. But if we take a moment, and allow others to help, you might soon find yourself looking at your country anew.” At BYCS, we don’t want to impose the Amsterdam cycling model onto the world. Every city is unique, and we believe that every city can learn from each other to make positive changes. Together, we can achieve more. It might sound simple, and that’s because it is.
Collaboration across traditional borders generates interesting perspectives and we see this is the essence of the success behind our Bicycle Mayor model. Everyday these volunteers work hard to make the future a better place; a future where cycling is ‘the simplest solution to the world’s most complex problems’.
The exchange that Lebogang and Natheer had in person is also happening everyday online between Bicycle Mayors around the world. Lebogang and Natheer have experienced what it is like to talk, meet and get support from each other. And they know they are not alone: a network of 87 Bicycle Mayors (and counting) is behind them. Together we make way, together we are redrawing what the future looks like.