Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dr. Davenport lectures on signage and discusses Cyclist's Manifesto


Dr. John spent some time in class today talking about the importance of signage for getting a space to used and then accepted and acknowledged as a city feature.

John noted how people can know a space with different names. The Anderson Bayou is also known as the Cedar Sykes Bayou. The space where Riverscape is developing was known as Lemon Farm, said Ricky Coleman in history lesson at the Bayou Cleanup on Saturday. He said when he was a boy a man named Lemon used to milk his cows there and his grandmother used to churn that milk into butter for Ricky's breakfast.

Turning to the Cyclist's Manifesto, John noted two themes:
1. Signs and Signifiers in the American Landscape.
2. "In love with the machine, out of step with society."

Who rode the bicycle to significant effects, how they rode it, the result, and what the social commentary was about the ride:

1. Hiram Percy Maxim
MIT grad, the first to strap a motor to a bicycle, contemporary with Henry Ford. At first wouldn't go over hills or any incline and was highly unstable. He becomes a lead engineer at a car manufacturer. Many others throughout the U.S. working on the bicycle idea as transportation, including Ransom Olds and Henry Ford.

Leads to "Maxim's Theory of Motor Madness" -- the bicycle leads to people asking for more roads and places to pedal; after the car replaces it, the bicycle doesn't start selling highly again until the 1970's. 1973 is the high mark in bike sales and still has been passed.

In the 1880's the League of American Wheelmen emerged. The bike is a luxury good at first, but becomes more affordable. The LAW become the "respectable riders," with others seen as less so, e.g., "The Rolling Hoodlums" -- two stripes of wheel jockeys. They're fighting over the symbol and what it means. Who should be riding it and what does it mean? Road surfaces improved at the result of the LAW's advocacy. After a group of cyclists was banned from New York's Central Park, cyclists then negotiated a place on roads. That was part of distinguishing themselves from the "hoodlum" types of riders, and helped define the streets as a public good.

Bicycle racing in the 1890's was seen as equivalent to NASCAR now. The racing is similar to Kirin racing in Japan that goes on now and is similar to Velodrome racing. (John shows a youtube video of a Kirin race -- excitingly close at the finish with dramatic crashes!)

2. Major Taylor
Professional cyclist who was African American in the 1890's (preceding the negro league in baseball); rode with success; but died penniless in a community hospital and whose invention of the steel wheel didn't take off.

3. Tom Cooper
National champion bike racer who was a vocal opponent of Major Taylor who also raced; Taylor was banned, attacked, ganged-up on, strangled, and knocked unconscious. The social commentary element of it shows how sport can serve as a venue for racial equality.

4. Francis Willard
A big figure in womens' suffrage, and rode a bicycle against the "better judgment" of men and cut off her blumers in order to ride. After crashing on her first ride she said she'd "tasted freedom... and it has done me no harm"...

5. Japanese Soldiers who fought on bicycles in World War II.

6. Dave Stoller
He challenged the cultural norms of sport; going European and risked being an "Italian bum".
On the issue of protest, "critical mass" is a movement of taking up public space and riding bicycles en masse. Though it has often been successful and peaceful, it has also led to disputes between motorists and riders. "Critical manners" is an alternative form of collective riding that is based on doing the same but without being antagonistic. Dr. Davenport says he realized today that he is Dave Stoller!

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