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Joint MFYS/Cosmopolis Seminar: Simon Batterbury (BCUS visiting fellow)

22 May 2015 , 13:00-15:00 (please note: time change!), MFYS, U-Residence, 1st floor, VUB

Community bicycle workshops and sustainable urban transport: vive l'atelier!

Community bike workshops (ateliers vélo/fietswerkplaats)  rely on voluntary labour, and cheap or free premises, to provide an 'urban commons' where people learn to fix up a working bicycle, and source their parts and tools.  Some were established over thirty years ago, but numbers have increased in Western cities as cyclist numbers are rising. Recycled bikes and parts are salvaged and restored by children and adults needing transportation or those wanting to achieve "vélonomie", assisted by staff and volunteers. Academic research on workshops is very rare, so I have interviewed participants in several Brussels workshops, and five in the US, to discover their history, mode of operation, budgets, and contributions to urban sustainability.

Early research reported on suggests 1)  a variation in spaces occupied, from squatting to ownership, influenced by financial means, location, and real estate markets. 2) A variation in mission, from "creating vélonomie" in a small neighbourhood or social group, to becoming large social enterprises with paid staff and an international agenda. 3) Not all workshop participants are activists!  Social entrepreneurs and crusaders start workshops, but enlist others attracted by the culture or "vibe", bringing different skills and political views. 4) Workshops are "networked" and generally community-minded, but there are signs of emerging competition and tensions. Like all successful participants in the "community economy" their (two-wheel) future is unclear - there will be a diversity of organisations and missions, with varying importance for creating new rights to the city.

Simon Batterbury is Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at the School of Geography of the University of Melbourne, Australia, and visiting researcher at the Brussels Centre for Urban Studies. He works on environment and development issues in West Africa and Oceania, in addition to urban research. He has been co-editor of the Journal of Political Ecology since 2003.

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