Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bicycle Diaries

At our house we just finished reading Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne (Penguin Group 2009).  Byrne, who most know as the lead singer for the rock band Talking Heads, is also an author, conceptual artist, and bike rack designer.  Here's the fly-leaf copy for the book:

Since the early 1980s, David has been riding a bike as his principal means of transportation in New York City. Two decades ago, he discovered folding bikes and started taking them with him when travelling around the world. DB's choice was initially made out of convenience rather than political motivation, but the more cities he saw from his bicycle, the more he became hooked on this mode of transport and the sense of liberation, exhilaration, and connection it provided. This point of view, from his bike seat, became his panoramic window on urban life, a magical way of opening one’s eyes to the inner workings and rhythms of a city’s geography and population.

Bicycle Diaries chronicles David’s observations and insights — what he is seeing, whom he is meeting, what he is thinking about — as he pedals through and engages with some of the world’s major cities. In places like Buenos Aires, Istanbul, San Francisco, and London, the focus is more on the musicians and artists he encounters. Politics comes to the fore in cities like Berlin and Manila, while chapters on New York City, and on the landscaped suburban industrial parks and contemporary ruins of such spots as Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Columbus are more concerned with history in the urban landscape. Along the way, DB has thoughts to share about fashion, architecture, cultural isolation, globalization, and the radical new ways that some cities, like his home town, are becoming more bike-friendly — all conveyed with a highly personal mix of humor, curiosity, and humanity.

Byrne seems remarkable well versed in urban planning - he's a big fan of Jane Jacobs, for example - and he provides many unique insights into transportation policy and city life.  I'm thinking of adding this book to my students' optional reading list.

Jamie Baker Roskie

PS Yes, I realize this is my second rock-band-related post in a row.  Maybe we need a new subject category?

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