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Surviving the collapse

The list below from ‘How to Save the World’ blog, outlines possible scenarios for the collapse that I believe we in the UK will face before 2020.

1. Financial Collapse

What Collapses: Banks, currencies, the value of savings & assets

Signs of Collapse: Bank failures/rescues, stock/housing market collapses

Cultures at this Stage: Iceland during 2008 crisis

Coping/Resilience Mechanism: Eliminating and repudiating debts, using community currencies, let the banks fail

2. Commercial Collapse

What Collapses: Credit availability, trade, businesses, tax revenues, industrial food & energy systems

Signs of Collapse: Corporations become criminal, rampant corruption, regulatory mechanisms fail, trade and supply chains seize up

Cultures at this Stage: Russia after collapse of USSR.

Coping/Resilience Mechanism: building self-sufficient communities, local self-employment and essential supplies, creating a Gift/Sharing Economy

3. Political Collapse

What Collapses: Law & order, regulatory enforcement, safety nets, power grid & other infrastructure (including health, education, water and emergency response systems and the Internet), nation states

Signs of Collapse: Citizen unrest, surveillance society, scapegoating, rise in totalitarian governments, war and despotism

Cultures at this Stage: Afghanistan & Pakistan

Coping/Resilience Mechanism: creating local, direct (non-representative) democratic or egalitarian anarchistic institutions

4.-5. Social Collapse and the Disintegration of Humanity

What Collapses: Community: social institutions, trust, social cohesion, faith, cooperation; and then Humanity, kindness and compassion

Signs of Collapse: Permanent refugee cultures, disintegration of health care and waste management, endemic diseases, alienation, anomie, inurement, fighting violence with violence, hero worship, personal disintegration

Cultures at this Stage: Ik tribe of E. Africa

Coping/Resilience Mechanism: few or none

Dimitry Orlov’s blog, ‘cluborlov’ is also excellent on this issue.

I try to keep a store of food, water purification tablets and water filter hand pump, warm clothes, bikes, trikes and tools, and I am learning how to grow my own vegetables.

I am considering getting a power generator.


Time online – Digital Sabbath

I first went online in 1996 at Yilan Public Library, and had soon bought my own computer.

I have learned a lot from the Information Super Highway (remember that), I discovered that I was not the only person who thought cars were a bad thing. I found out about Critical Mass, Car Free Days and Reclaim the Streets. This inspired me, and I even tried to do my own.

I read about Peak Oil, whereby global oil production is nearing its peak and will decline. As the principle energy source for transport, this excited me, and boy was it exciting to see the rise to US$147 per barrel in 2007. Transition Towns were rising up, things were surely about to change.

The crash of 2008 was an eye opener, a veritable cornucopia of websites began to spring up to show that the system of money was little more than what is called a Ponzi scheme.

Then along came the School of Life, TED and so many useful tips on how to live.

Lots of discoveries, but it eats time, as recommended on The School of Life, I think I’ll start to take a Digital Sabbath, and I’ll start to do this on Sundays.

Guangzhou – mixed feelings

My first visit to Guangzhou, apart from in transit, was in 2000, when I stopped there overnight on the way to and back from the Shanghai Bike Show. Then as now I had mixed feelings about the place.

I really enjoyed both nights in GZ, met great people, as I danced, sang and drank the nights away, and in my mind when it came to having a good time, GZ ranked well above Shanghai.

And that is not to say Shanghai was no fun, in trade show mode running with the bike industry crew we had a few late night walks on the wild side, but somehow GZ had a feeling of being more friendly and open, and in some ways reminded me of Taiwan, which at that time had been my home for almost 4 years.

I was staying in a cheap hotel near the shopping district of Shang Xia Jiu Road, which is car free at night and the shops were full of branded clothing at knock down prices, fakes or factory rejects, who cares, these clothes served me well for years to come.

But on the negative side was the city planning, as with Taiwan there appeared to be a complete inattention to planning for pedestrians or cyclists, in Taiwan this is compensated for by the scooter culture, not so in GZ, where at that time buses or taxis were the only choice.

Travelling around mainly by bicycle, I discovered a city where bikes are useful within small neighbourhoods, but the propensity of car only main roads and provision of footbridges for cyclists to cross these great motorised arteries, makes urban cycling show, difficult and frustrating.

So here I am over a decade later, and my opinion of the city remains mixed.

Firstly the good.

Last week I visited the market near to where I now reside when staying in Guangzhou.   In this most international of markets Africans, Indians, Europeans and Middle-Easterners weave their way in between the Chinese majority. Stalls and shops selling everything from food to waterproofs, compete for space on a small network of lanes. Colourful, enjoyable street life abounds making sitting watching the world go by a joy, the opposite of the sterile shopping centres and department stores only a few hundred metres away.

Cycling around the city these last few weeks I have discovered many such islands of street life, tucked away on alley ways too narrow for cars or along quiet streets, in fact Guangzhou could almost be described as a patchwork of lively streets, cleaved apart by the main roads and network of elevated highways.

The negatives remain the same, the motorised traffic only roads, the footbridges for cyclists and police patrols making sure cyclists must get off and walk across junctions.

One positive is the expansion of the mass transit network, and travelling by PT is now much faster and more comfortable.

I personally prefer not to spend my time underground, and while the buses seem frequent, I rarely use them, as my first choice for a journey of under 10km will always be the bicycle.

Since I have now spent three weeks cycling through the city rather than the two days a decade or more ago, I find it hard to compare like for like, but things seem slightly better now.

While it still takes much more time to cycle around than it would for an equivalent distance in London, due to the detours and lack of priority, it is generally possible to pick a route along smaller roads and very occasionally find cycle lanes that are almost of some use for transportation purposes.

As an example, on the same night I discovered the market, I had originally set out to the train station. Cycling along the main road from the office, which in this case I think is allowed, I found myself on several occasions dangerously exposed to fast moving traffic turning right.

That night, while waiting to cross an intersection I a gazed out across this huge expanse of roadway occupying the very heart of the city, I realised the challenge that remains. I was presented with a vision of  an intersection where at ground level up to 10 lanes  filled with cars, trucks and buses arrive and depart in each direction, while the elevated highways up above were also full of traffic. The buses themselves were crammed with humanity. The narrow pavements too, were packed, especially at the crossings, as getting over these roads can take several minutes, and the feeling is that you are never safe.

On my return, crossing this Goliath of a road just so I could cycle back, seemed a task so daunting that I decided to find another way home, which led me to discover the other face of Guangzhou.

Back in China – living in a gated community – a model for car free development or evil middle class land grab?

I’m back in the land of my daughter’s birth, we’ve set up home in China, and it is some home.

Our ground floor flat with small garden, is itself in a much larger garden, a plush tropical paradise of a garden, teeming with life. Bugs and mosquitoes of course, but also butterflies, birds, and bats at night, while the lake lapping on the shore of the more expensive properties is full of carp. (No, the lake is not full of crap but carp, a brightly coloured fish).

Children’s playgrounds are dotted throughout this huge development, and it is of course perfect for raising children. Outside our house is a large carfree area, perhaps better described as a park, but even the roads around the community are relatively low car and slow car, with 15kmph speed limits throughout.

Sitting at the centre of the development is the ‘Clubhouse’ where one can sit on the artificial beach by the pool, play ten pin bowling, snooker, table tennis or eat western food.

All of this is of course protected by our local security forces and we are fenced in, or is it that the rest of the world is fenced out?

I used to hate gated communities, I remember arriving in The Philippines and wandering around the dirty roads of the suburbs of Manila and sneering at the rich pampered elites living behind their gates with manicured lawns.

Now I have lived in two myself, as they are the only places that it seems the car does not dominate. Where you can let a two year old run freely without fearing for him interrupting the never-ending flows of cars and trucks.

I’m not living here to shut out the poor, I myself identify more closely with the poor than the greedy, I simply want to live somewhere without motorised traffic dominating at least two of my senses at all times.

So what does this tell us, providing low car or car free village like life is seen as something for the privileged middle classes, but does it have to be like that, and is it really exactly like that?

The purpose of the gate in my mind is to keep out the fast moving cars, not the people, if anything the problem here is that there are no street vendors and no street life.

Perhaps therefore we should be pushing for the low and slow car residential zones thoughout the city, we don’t need gates of fences, we just need better planning. I would move into a non-gated low car development like a flash.

Car free gate free living is what I dream about.

A journey of ten thousand cyclists begins with a map

“To the man with a hammer every problem looks like a nail”
As World Streets readers are often reminded, great cities are complex living organisms, but in the world of urban mobility including the bicycle community, there are plenty of people each wielding different shaped proverbial hammers, from Public Bike Systems to cycle lane networks, all certain that theirs holds the potential to strike the magic blow to solve the transport issues for almost every city.
I arrived in China at the backend of last year with a mission to raise the status of cycling, which I saw as the problem for many of the cities here.
Was I right, or had I imbibed a little too much of the Mobility Management Koolaid, and events, marketing and promotion were actually nothing more than my own personal hammer searching for a nail to hit?
Some observations on urban cycling in China
The situation that can be observed in many Chinese cities is of actually relatively low levels of private car use, high levels of public transport use, comparatively good cycling infrastructure, and high but fairly rapidly declining levels of cycling.
Cycling projects are also fashionable, here in Zhuhai we have a beautiful ‘Green Way’ a cycle path running along the coast, Public Bicycle Systems are the new ‘must have’ item for cities all over China, and scores of Chinese cities take part in Car Free day activities.
All this, and yet I am told by bicycle industry insiders that national sales of low priced bicycles usually used as commuter bicycles, are declining by as much as 10% year on year. This I believe indicates that cycling for transport is declining at a similarly quick rate.
There are numerous reasons for this decline, and status is probably one, but factors such as theft, comfort and distance contribute.

Objective: More people cycling, more often.
Followers of this journal will need no introduction to the benefits to cities that Cycling England’s famous motto will imbue; cycling as a means of transport is efficient in terms of urban space, energy, noise, pollution and safety, and cycling is generally recognised as a component in increasing the health and happiness of citizens.
All of the above benefits can be presented almost like for like as the flip sides of the problems created by China’s infamous rapid motorisation.
Quick, someone do something!
Yes, but who and what?
The only people who can change a city are the citizens of the cities themselves; along with the city governments, the businesses and the schools.
The government must take the lead, and perhaps what we in the New Mobility community might be able to do, is to help is guide them to the best of what has been successful elsewhere.
As Laozi reputedly said, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.
Step One – Mapping the cycle facilities
Why start with a map?
This first step is critical.
It must be relatively quick, low cost and have a defined output.
It must be very easy for leaders of a city government to understand, have limited and clear objectives and make an effective contribution.
It must be a project that does not present any perceived risk of failure for a city leader, while providing a platform for the leader and the city to garner praise, plaudits and increased profile.
Ideally it should provide a vehicle to garner the support and contribution from all the key stakeholders; private sector sponsors, media, organisations within the city government, and the citizens themselves.
Considering all the options, mapping the cycle network is the only project that can provide all of these.
A map can also be used as a tool to identify where the demand for cycling is, where the pinch points occur, it helps establish a network which can then be fixed, and protected.
It highlights where infrastructure such as bicycle lanes, safe crossings, cycle parking, or even where the stations for a public use bicycle scheme should be placed.
It is sexy, it can be a combination of high and low tech formats.
If it is made ‘Open Source’ then contributions are requested from all the public, then it is an inclusive project.
It can also be launched, becoming publicity for cycling, information on where to cycle, and a tool for cyclists.
What needs to be considered?
1. Presentation:
Paper map:
A map must be easy to read, so when transferring onto paper based map it should be easy to carry, easy to read, and understand.
A pocket sized map with card covers that is easy to open is generally favoured.
For big cities it is usually necessary to divide the maps by region to keep legible, and a small pocket book approach can also work well.
Public Display
Ideally, maps of a city should be in public display at or near main transport hubs, and the cycle network should be highlighted.
Maps can be placed on existing street furniture such as public bins, and longer term the mapping can be integrated with other modal maps, such as the Spider Maps at every London bus stop.
Digital Map:
Digital maps hosted online are the future, GPS enabled phones are becoming more common and a digital map can be accessed by anyone with a smart phone, or a computer.
They provide the opportunity for presenting much more information than a paper map which must maintain simplicity.
They also provide an opportunity for updating and input by the local community.
There are some excellent examples of online route-planners for cyclists from around the world, and Google maps is now developing a Beta version of cycling routes in the USA, and provides a free editable platform.
2. Defining the cycle routes
A cycle network is more than segregated lanes, it includes quiet side streets, and even main roads where cyclists must cycle with other traffic.
Grading of routes can include a number of options.
Safety, segregation, by incline, by speed and quantity of traffic, directness to direction, by pollution, by vegetation, speed vs shopping, leisure vs commuting.
3. Listing other information
Places: Bicycle stores, safe cycle parking.
Information: Calories burned, CO2 saved, distance covered, time taken, elevation gained
4. Distribution
For online and paper maps getting it into the hands of cyclists and non-cyclists is a crucial part of the process.
It must be free, it must be available at as many outlets as possible. Schools, workplaces, transport hubs, shops, restaurants and universities.
Marketing from the very beginning, including sponsors, bike shops, media and crucially cyclists in the process of building the map will help with this.
The launch of the map should be a major celebration, but a map is not static, it is a continuous process.


道可道非常道 – The Tao that can be explained is not the everlasting Tao

The first line of the Yi Jing is so simple in terms of language that almost all students of Chinese will know the meaning of the words, and yet last year when asked to explain what it meant I was completely unable to do so.

After a few months of thinking I have reached the conclusion that it means something along the lines of: ‘You can’t put true understanding into words.’  However there is a contradiction here, as I am attempting to use words to explain the concept, and possibly what Lao Zi really meant was that as I continue to ponder this idea I may reach a different conclusion.

This morning I was watching a lecture by David Eagleman about uncertainty on the School of Life website (, he starts off by describing the discovery by The Hubble Telescope that staring deeply into one pin prick of dark sky revealed dozens of galaxies, each with billions of stars, and to scan the whole sky to this resolution would take a million years.

What does this have to do with New Mobility?

Well to begin with don’t expect me to be able to use words to explain it, so the first lesson I guess is that we all need to think carefully for ourselves.

However my own personal understanding is that while there are many really excellent academics, practitioners and activists, each with fantastic solutions to our urban and transport planning challenges, they tend to believe that if only they could convince everyone that they were right, we could solve all of the world’s problems. This of course is a fantasy, as we are actually attempting to plan for human behaviour, which itself is constantly changing.

Transport in China

Working on a shared transport conference in Kaohsiung in September and thinking where would be organise the next one.

Communist China, sharing was once a way of life, could we introduce them once more to shared cars, bicycles, space and information?

BRT lanes, DRT systems serving the suburban industrial zones, taxi sharing, bicycle lanes and shared spaces in the town centre.

Xiamen here I come.