Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Turning Off Traffic Lights - Part 2

A couple of years ago I blogged about the counterintuitive idea of removing traffic lights to reduce traffic congestion, accidents, pollution & road clutter.

More recently we have seen the results of the fantastic traffic re-engineering scheme in Poynton, Cheshire which shows how much better roads can be for all users.

This morning I was lucky enough to witness an outage of the traffic lights at the junction of Fosse Road and Hinckley Road in Leicester (one of the first junctions to have lights I believe).

Did this lead to crashes, road rage and general chaos?

Absolutely not. What I saw was a textbook example of how Leicester drivers can behave in a sensible and conscientious way when faced with an ambiguous traffic situation. Drivers spotted the lights were out, approached the junction with care and filtered off politely, stopping to allow nervous pedestrians to cross too. In addition, the typical queues that I witness at this junction every morning on my walk to work were completely absent.

Here's a rather shaky phone video of what I witnessed:-

Update 12/06/13 - here's how the junction is at the same time of day with the traffic lights working:-

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

City of Culture Bid: Looking Beyond Diversity

I was delighted to learn that the City Mayor has given the green light to Leicester's bid to be the 2017 City of Culture.

However, I already have nagging doubts about the direction this might be taking.

It's the flogging of the word 'diversity' that concerns me. We've made diversity our official civic religion in Leicester but I think we should place more emphasis to the ways in which we mix to give us the best chance of winning City of Culture.

Let's be clear, my wife is of a different race, religion and nationality to me and we have two lovely mixed-race daughters. My life is richer and more interesting as a result. I also think it's absolutely essential to continue the battle for equality so that that the diverse people in this city can all feel equally represented and respected. But diversity alone is just a statistic and having diversity doesn't necessarily mean harmony or cultural significance. It's what we do with it that counts.

Leicester has done something with it, demonstrated by the extent of blending, mixing and intermarriage between different groups of people. This is something to celebrate because A) it is somewhat unique to Leicester and B) is a living testament to the efforts in race relations and community cohesion that this city is rightly famous for.

I took my five year old (mixed Anglo-Singaporean-Indian) daughter to Chinese New Year party at one of her schoolmate's houses the other day. There were around 10 children there and all but one of them were mixed race. This is backed up by recent census data and it's high likely that mixed race people will become the majority in places like Leicester in the next 50-100 years.

Even our existing 'monocultural' festivals such as the Caribbean Carnival, Diwali celebrations and St Georges Festival are becoming increasingly mixed events, both culturally and racially. This is one of those exciting times when new culture emerges.

To me, mixing is one of the most culturally significant things about Leicester but it rarely gets much attention because it tends to happen quietly and without fanfare in our homes, workplaces, schools, etc. Also, those who participate in mixing are not one single cultural or political group whose voices get heard clearly.

Regarding the City of Culture bid, it's absolutely right that Leicester should bid for this and I think we have a great chance of winning. But I also think we need to do more than just celebrating our individual immigrant groups - something which was born out of a desire to welcome newcomers (noble though that is) -  and put more emphasis on new home-grown, hybrid and shared culture.

Already, the first item posted on the Leicester bid's Facebook page was the question "Who is your favourite international artist? Who would you invite to Leicester when we become City of Culture in 2017?" To me, this question implies that authenticity and value can only be acquired from outside and suggests an underlying lack of confidence or awareness of the richness of our home-grown talent. Any bidding city with enough money can import performers from across the World but then there's a big risk that the whole exercise will degenerate into an unoriginal 'World Music' kludge rather than something that truly represents us.

Instead, I believe we should be uncovering and celebrating the culturally unique things that our city has produced (through cultural mixing or otherwise) - the food, music, art, science, sport, business, language, humour. etc. If diversity is to be a selling point then we should be looking at how other mixed cities like New York or Rio de Janeiro celebrate their collective uniqueness not just their ethnic statistics.

Let's celebrate the fruits of diversity, not just the facts of it.

Here are just a few suggested examples of the sorts of mixing that Leicester has produced or nurtured:-