Plastic and its appended industry has a lot to do with this. So has population growth that puts inexorable pressure on natural resources that we as humans seem intent on paving over, cutting down or grubbing up.
Environmental issues are now so huge that none of us really knows where to start to make a difference on a global scale - and so we tend not to do anything.
The inclination is to take refuge in our programmed response. Effectively, to want to be ‘wrong with everybody else rather than right by ourselves’. It takes a brave person to stand apart.
There’s a comfort in bending to the pressure of ‘needing’ to function within the framework of our society. So, we get up, take the kids to school, go to work, pick up the kids, cook a meal, sleep and repeat.
In that cycle, the idea of not buying processed and easy to assemble meals or to take longer to do the school run in a vehicle that doesn’t keep us warm and dry is completely outside our terms of reference.
When we think through the logistical issues of, for example, replacing a car with a bike, of course we think it through.
How do I get the kids there? Who does the shopping? It costs how much? I need to get to work in a suit…
Sometimes we do nothing.
Sometimes we bite the bullet.
Gradually, though, our environment shifts. Scooters appear. Bikes fill cycle racks. Colleagues turn up to work in commuter trousers that repel the cycling splashes. Parking fees and fuel costs become a topic of conversation. Bikes arrive at school gates and outside supermarkets. Farmers’ markets and smaller town centres are more accessible, because parking is easier.
Small examples of people taking action are happening every day in Milton Keynes, but they’re subversive when seen against the norm. A bike in a traffic jam is difficult for a driver to compute and a bike on a Redway is invisible to cars. In our town, one of the fastest growing technology hubs in the UK, we are seeing the shift across generational demographics. Older folk who have stopped work, and younger people who have decided that car ownership is simply not worth the investment, are getting around differently.
However, because these groups are not spending their money on the same things as the bulk of the working population, their voices aren’t as easily heard, even if their new habits are seen. Consequently, our councils have a dichotomy: hope that parking revenues return from the acres of paved areas dedicated to the car, or invest in creating a greener urban landscape where residents can spend time more pleasantly and move around with less impact?
Today, signals of a redesign are not obvious and so it’s our problem as individuals. Asking a council to provide cycling and walking infrastructure before you’ve created the demand simply won’t work. Markets satisfy demand. They rarely create it, in physical sectors, before there’s a really good chance of the supply being consumed. In other words, don’t ask Milton Keynes Council to improve the Redways until you start using them. Whether you know it or not, there is technology in place to count cycle journeys so if you’re out there, they’ll see you.
Oddly, Milton Keynes is one place where a dedicated infrastructure was created before any demand existed. Redways, park routes, cycle parking and even bikes and cargo bikes are all available yet demand is low.
So, it’s up to you. Ride your bike, use your legs, get on a bus or do all three, if you want to see change happen around you. If you take the car, you’ll be looking at CGI graphics of town centres looking like parkland for years to come without ever seeing it where you live.
It’s up to you.
Photography by Chris Henley.