While on the streets enjoying ourselves, riding bikes, buying organic food, we have all been contributing to our economic recovery, one loaf at a time.
Europe is celebrating mobility week - and a car-free city and good food. It seems I have spent the week celebrating something. The entire week went by before I understood how important the trio of events has been, not only to my enjoying life in Brussels, but how these events are so important to economic recovery.
It all started on Sunday with the Day Without Cars - an annual Brussels event that is immensely popular, and growing annually. The size of the event has made its mark, its permanent inclusion in our summer fun. If anything, the single day is such a boon to business that it should be a multiple event each year. I mean, thousands of people are encouraged to get out with friends and family, ride bikes, walk - exercise. I am scarcely a family person, but even I can see the family collectives out together. Small DNA units riding miniature bicycles alongside their parental units. And mothers roller-blading along, pushing a baby carriage ahead of them.
But, apart from the immeasurable impact of family and friends out together, the community spirit developed, the pleasure to be had, there is a huge increase in economy. As I rode across Brussels, I saw café after restaurant after bistro overflowing with clientele. The Day Without Cars brings millions of Euros directly into local businesses. It is a financial gold mine. This is a Sunday and it simply had to be one of the most profitable days of the year.
It all sounds win-win. ... So, I want to have three per year. Not ten. Not every Sunday for a summer. They still have to be the event to get the support, the collective will. And with the increased number of carless days, people will be able to be brought along to a better awareness of the potential for the bike, or other non-car transport, that can be used every day. They might be able to bridge the space between events and ride their bike to work, rather than the current end-of-season arrangement where it is like the last hurrah. The next day, we expect snow.
That Mobility Week immediately followed the Day Without Cars has been the best timing. While still fired up by the bike ride, an opportunity to see the potential of two-wheeled transport. What surprised me about the European Parliament display of alternatives was how it was dominated by electric vehicles. Scooters, mopeds, motorbikes and the like. I am still a proponent of two wheels and muscle power and would have liked to have seen more basic bikes. I like electric options and what they can do. But they are still costly, still out of reach for the basic rider. .. But they were so exciting to see. And I have experienced their potential - I have been passed while climbing hills by electric powered bikes that have left me gasping for air, trying to accelerate to anything close to their speed.
But these bikes are less polluting, bring riders to the streets, far more in contact with local business than their cars, or being sealed in long underground metal tubes being rushed to various oxygen-access points (they are called Metro stops). And the money not spent on petrol can go to local businesses buying decent food to fuel your muscles. ... At least, that is my excuse for eating every crumb of food on my lunch plate or sandwich, biscuit or slice of cake left, by mistake, anywhere near my reach.
Detouring from the theme for a second, but just becasue I want to mention this... In my web travels, I stumbled across Sue Austin and her underwater wheelchair (website). I think it is stunning. This is not a pragmatic display. Disabled people can go underwater already with buoyancy aids and hand-held motors/propellors. But Austin took a wheelchair, the symbol of disability, underwater with her. The images become emphatic impressions of disability and mobility. It caught me off guards, challenged me about how I saw disability and mobility. In short, the images were, are, successful.
The last of the celebrations was the Good Food March. It was just yesterday and my work desktop is still cluttered with bread crumbs from the loaves I had to sample. The Good Food March coincided with a farmers market that filled Place Luxembourg. Both tied together perfectly and was actually one of the best events I have seen with the European Parliament. And the numbers, the interest shown, proves the immense interest that people have in their food supply. This single day pumped thousands of Euros into farmers pockets.
I count myself lucky to be living in Europe, in Belgium. There are markets all over the place and getting vegetables is pretty easy. But supporting farmers is simply important. And the range of product provided is vastly better than what is found on the supermarket shelves.
Oddly, supporting farmers was an issue I heard today on the BBC Farmers Today podcast. Irish pig farmers have established a DNA system to ensure that Irish meat is really Irish. Apart from the intention to identify Irish meat, it has also become a reassurance for consumers. More and more Irish consumers are making conscious decisions to buy from domestic producers. This is both loyalty to their domestic farmers but also a clear reaction to their financial crisis and the desire to keep Irish money in Ireland.
All this adds up. That the Good Food March, riding bikes, access to locally grown food, supporting local producers all has an impact on our recovery. Day Without Cars brought thousands of people onto the streets to enjoy the day. Millions of Euros were invested in local businesses. The more these events are repeated and encouraged, the more we will be suporting small businesses, local businesses. That is where the recovery will be most effective. Supporting local businesses is no trickle-down theory. It is direct, immediate and appreciated.