Monday, April 25, 2011

Gentrification of Bike Culture

The beginning of something new in Norfolk was appropriately foreshadowed by the barista hanging out on the roof on 35th street two weeks ago.  She sat atop a building in the Park Place neighborhood that has long been abandoned but is on the market looking for a new owner.  We all know the beginning of a revival in a neighborhood starts with young people (or is it the gays and the artists?) who shout from the rooftops that hey, this place is cool (or insert a synonym for cool) so get in now before it loses its edge.  I couldn't help but be drawn in by her symbolic presence. 

People have been making their homes in the Park Place section of Norfolk for over 100 years.  Most would agree there are contractions there—the neighborhood is on National Register of Historic places, and it was once home to a thriving middle class black community.  Yet it has a high crime rate for the past couple of decades, and revitalization efforts are slow to bring back the middle class.  There is a wide newly paved 35th street business district sitting ready for a surge of flight back to the city, yet the complications of zoning stores once used by for a automobile driving public have helped slow efforts.

It’s the perfect location for a bicycle planning meeting.  The abandoned building sits next to Kerouac cafe, the 24 hour antithesis of IHOP.  There is no fighting a Panera crowd or making sure we have on collared shirts or being worried about letting an expletive slip out when we meet a Kerouac. 

Don’t get me wrong though, this was a power meeting if I have ever been to one.  It marks one of several meetings that have taken place—the first time EVER such meetings have taken place—in which the city of Norfolk is partnering up with a loose conglomerate of cyclists (Bike Norfolk) to make the first EVER organized Norfolk Bike Month happen.
Jesse lead a meeting of cyclists ready to change infrastructure, safety and attitutes toward cycling in Norfolk.   He kept us focused on the goal of assisting with Norfolk Bike Month in May with the view that success there will lead to more coordination with the city on other concerns we have long had about riding bikes in Norfolk.

 Melissa with Seven Venues, and Jennifer with City of Norfolk Parks and Rec are leading the city's efforts in raising bike awareness and fun during Bike Month.  They are working with Bike Norfolk, vendors and sponsors to present 5 days of events in May.  It was awesome to sit next to people who are being paid to make cycling fun.

 Wes presented the plan for Bike Norfolk to participate in Art Everywhere, a downtown Norfolk grassroots, get art in the street effort.  It happens this year beginning Saturday, April 30. 


There are few places left that let you write on the walls as here at Kerouac.  I guess the tipping point in any gentrification process is the point in which the markers disappear, a fresh coat of paint builds a new wall, and cyclists are safely riding the streets of Norfolk.  I look forward to that day.

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