August 11, 2010
Following up on last week’s incredible story of a pedestrian and cycling community based on Zermatt, Switzerland (but located in South Carolina!), we’ve gotten the inside scoop on the appropriately named Bicycle City.
While we’re seeing more projects that address critical world issues (see: MoMA’s upcoming exhibition Small Scale, Big Change, for example), the planners behind Bicycle City see the city plan as a holistic approach to solving society’s problems as it addresses several problems at once, like obesity, climate change, and alternative energy.
Co-founder Joe Mellett tells us that he envisions car-free towns as a “showcase for wind and solar energy as well as architects who specialize in green and LEED-certified problems.” (Especially prescient, perhaps, since the Southeastern United States is one of the worst perpetrators of carbon emissions in the United States.)
We chatted with Mellett about his grand plans for car-free living and what it takes to build a contained community in the Bible Belt. Interview after the break.
What inspired you to start Bicycle City?
In college I rode with a few friends of mine 4200 miles across the US and realized it was a great way to see the country and interact with communities instead of just driving by. Later I moved to Phoenix — such a cookie cutter city — and I was hit a few times while riding my bike.
In his book Megatrends, John Naisbitt projects that in the future communites are going to be “high tech, high touch.” With more technology, people will want to embrace the touchy feely parts of life in tandem. And in the 1970s, Richard Register coined the term “eco city,” which suggested new model for community design.
Amsterdam, Netherlands (one inspiration for Bicycle City). Photo via ski-epic.com
So how did the development idea get off the ground?
I pitched the idea to some developers mainly interested in golf communities. The National Sporting Goods Association statistics say that cycling is more popular than skiing, tennis, and golf combined.* So I figured, if there’s room for hundreds of golf communities [in the US], why not one biking community?
How do you see the Bicycle City concept expanding?
We eventually want the cities to be linked via trails. We picked Columbia, SC, because of its proximity to an Amtrak station. We want to partner with developers and license the Bike City name, allowing development of other communities that go by rules we set: car-free, vehicles must park around perimeter, LEED-certified homes, and animal protection laws.
What’s the status of the first Bicycle City?
In Columbia, we’re now building trails and an access road. The first ten lots are being offered for sale within the next two months. And we have about 1500 people signed up through the website for information on living, visiting, or working there.
We don’t have a specific timeline or number of people targeted since we are more interested in quality than size/speed (and the market will help dictate the number of residents). We have 160 acres now and an option on another 628, so with more than 1 square mile there is opportunity for diversity and mixed use.
Who are your partners in the project?
We have listed on our website several of the people who have influenced or helped with Bicycle City — they are not all financial partners but part of the team in some way. For example:
Urban planning advocate Mike Lydon is serving as an advisor to Bicycle City. Lydon co-founded Street Plans Collaborative after working for renowned town planning firm of Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company.
Anne Rusk, who holds a PhD in Architecture from the University of Michigan, has worked for 25 years on conceiving bicycle environments for all populations. As a research fellow at Harvard University, she is currently studying 20 bike paths across the U.S. as part of an NIH grant.
Columbia native and Harvard M.Arch graduate Ozzie Nagler is consulting on the project after many years of urban design and teaching experience in South Carolina and abroad. Ever the visionary, Nagler incorporated underground parking into his design for the Seoul Olympic Village (1988).
Single family house in Farmstead (a possible example of what Bicycle City aims for: unique, non-cookie-cutter building)
Last but not least: why South Carolina?
Lexington County, SC, was attractive to us for a number of reasons including:
- South Carolina has year-round cycling (mild weather!) and is located in the eastern seaboard growth path from Boston/NY to the north and Florida cities to the south.
- Columbia has car-free bicycling and walking greenways and a proposed extension to route 77 whereby people can travel safely by bicycle toward Bicycle City.
- The local Amtrak Station in Columbia about 12.7 miles away and near the bicycle greenway.
- Community events such as the Tour de Midlands bike ride.
- Green destinations like the new State Farmers Market less the five miles away. We have land set aside for organic farming – surplus could be sold at the farmers market.