VeloCityRuhr is an innovative civil society project, but who am I to judge? Let me talk about the approach we use so you can make your own conclusion and hopefully be inspired as well.
Founded in 2010, the overall goal of VeloCityRuhr is to make cycling the leading mode of civilian transport in the Ruhr Metropolitan Region in Germany. As difficult as this might sound, there is nothing new about it: there are bicycle clubs and environmental offices trying to achieve the same aim, both here and elsewhere. Being professionally engaged with logistics and traffic in the Ruhr area, and having been a moderate cyclist, I have learned a thing or two about cycling. But it only became a key interest of mine when I learned that despite the large number of actors involved in cycling advocacy, they did not work well together. This is true for a lot of other networks focusing on things other than cycling – be it in a company or in an initiative. Therefore, I hope to inspire others who want to take action, or improve their actions, by better connecting the people working on the issue.
A clearing house as a way to share information
I realised that a clearing house was the missing ingredient in the field of cycling advocacy in the Ruhr Metropolitan Region.
VeloCityRuhr is intended to be a clearing house. I see this as essential not only for our project, but for any organisation that depends on a lot of actors and even more on information from these actors. The first clearing house was a warehouse or a market where producers delivered their goods. The clearing house operator handled and sorted the goods and customers took what they needed. This principle was later adapted for financial transactions, with the aim of reducing actual money transactions while trading at a high frequency. In academic literature and research, this kind of financial clearing house is given the most attention. However, clearing houses can also trade information. Maybe the most popular example is the Clearing House Mechanism (CHM) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its national and local subsidiaries, which have created a biodiversity knowledge network for scientific and technical cooperation. A lot of databases, even websites, are being called clearing houses. The organisation ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability) states in its publications section that it serves “as an information clearing house on local sustainable development by producing annual newsletters, regional updates on activities, case studies, training guides and fact sheets”. Besides the focus on information exchange, the main functions of a clearing house principle are communication, network development and cooperation. So, one could think of the whole ICLEI network – as well as the CBD network – as a clearing house for Agenda 21 and sustainable development at the local level. Well, at least I do.
I realised that a clearing house was the missing ingredient in the field of cycling advocacy in the Ruhr Metropolitan Region. There are two networks that could serve as a clearing house: the ADFC NRW (General German Cycling Club in North Rhine-Westphalia) and the AGFS (Working Group for pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly cities, municipalities and districts in North Rhine-Westphalia). But they fail to do so. The former say they are not concerned with the local level – that is best left to ADFC district associations; both organisations mainly work only with their members at the state level. When I talk about gathering, processing and displaying/distributing information, developing a network, and communicating as well as cooperating with each other I think of everyone, literally everyone – not just members under a certain organisational category. Of course you cannot simply put all interested and interesting people in one big forum; people who have tried this have been frustrated very quickly as it is simply not doable. On the other hand, you cannot simply work in isolation if you want to effect larger change. But, sadly, this is what is still being done. Even within administrations of a few thousand or even a few hundred employees I have seen departments that do not talk to one another. When we suggested they might talk to citizens or associations, they could not grasp why it might be useful. So the solution is to develop a network that includes every discipline and every level, i.e. one that is inter- and transdisciplinary. To do so, network researchers argue, we need brokers (not only more than one, but also different kinds). These different brokers have to be in different, namely the right, “places” and they need to have the right competencies.
VeloCityRuhr: A clearing house for cyclists in the Ruhr region
So, what does VeloCityRuhr actually do? We gather (by searching the internet or going to events), process and display or distribute information on our wiki, calendar, blog and newsletter. While doing so we learn about initiatives, projects and the actors running them. By communicating with our partners we also develop a network which we are strengthening and deepening by cooperating with each other whenever necessary and possible. On our website you will find a section that shows not only our own projects (such as photo portraits and our wiki) and joint projects (such as cycling with kids, our bike rally in Dortmund and free cargo bike rental), but also independent initiatives that we like and that see themselves as part of VeloCityRuhr (for example, the bike kitchen, cycling film festival and the bike shelter).
When asked if there are more cyclists on the streets because of what we do we always reply that the journey is the reward. Our biggest success so far was the “Fahrrad-Sternfahrt Dortmund”, the first bike rally in Dortmund, with different feeder rides merging into a single bike rally of about 2,000 cyclists. With this year’s run we aim to double the number of participants. And of course we hope that some will ride their bikes more often in everyday life.
Why do we do this work? Because we can. Not only to reduce carbon emissions and serious accidents, but also because we want to increase exercise, communication and improve the quality of life for our fellow citizens. Most importantly, we cycle ahead because we like it and because we like to grow with our challenges. There is no task we have to do, no department we have to staff, but there are skills we want to improve and actions we want to take. This is how we understand sustainable development.
Of course, we sometimes get frustrated – but then we simply stick to the saying you need ambition to start a project, and endurance to finish it. And this, again, is like riding a bike.Tags: Movement Profile