Monday, February 23, 2009

Op-Ed: Eric Staller on "Cōnferrem" to bring together, roundly

Latin: "Cōnferrem" to bring together

Greetings from Amsterdam. Eric Britton has asked me to tell you about an "innovative transportation project" that we dreamed up here in Amsterdam a few years back and which you can now travel on in a fair numbers of cities in different parts of the world. It’s definitely transportation that travels well.

In the beginning was the bicycle. I set out to try to marry art with function and create something that would at once be beautiful and at the same time evoke the rich cycling tradition of my adopted city of Amsterdam, be unusual and engaging, give value to people and the human scale, to the idea of sharing as opposed to doing things in isolation, to the joy of being able to move through the city or the countryside under your own power. . . “you” being definitely plural in this case.

The “Conference Bike” ([Latin cōnferrem to bring together) is a perhaps strange looking red contraption (“any color you want as long as it is red”) which provides an agreeable travelling space for up to seven people to cycle and be together. It is at once an active transportation and a social act. You come together, you cuddle together, you look straight in each other's eyes, at the same time six of the seven are entirely free for gawking whatever there is to gawk.

What do you do with a bicycle built for seven? It may not be immediately evident so let me give you two very different scenarios to which they have been put since we developed our first one and put it on the street back in 1991.

Of course they can be used for friends or school classes or even strangers to get together to share a new mobility experience. But they also provide wonderful ways to give totally unanticipated opportunities for cycling to people who otherwise would never have had that chance. For example, they have been it available to provide unexpected opportunities and a sense of independence to groups of blind children, or children with motor or learning disabilities such as Down’s Syndrome and others. What we have seen is that they give joy, surprise and a sense of community to people who otherwise might be living very lonely lives. And the impact for those who care for them, and even for onlookers cheering from the sidewalks, can be an enormous gift all.

At a more mundane level, the world of work, some people have found that when you have a difficult contact situation or an argument going on, either in a company or say in a public interest group, a Conference Bike can provide an experience of sharing and eyeball to eyeball confrontation and ability to think, talk, and pant at the same time, that can be an interesting, if not exactly a step at least a push toward an evolving consensus.

We think that the US government should have a Conference Bike of its own and use it a lot to cōnferrem. So, to this end we would like to send one to President Obama for rides though all corners of the city with his family and dogs, and his cabinet. And which we hope he will also lend from time to time to the US Department of Transportation, to help them build their thoughts about creating a consensus for sustainable transportation, sustainable cities, and sustainable lives. That’s our Message to America.

Check it out -

Eric Staller,
Staller Studio Nederland
Amsterdam, the Netherlands

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