Top: the abandoned bike before the beautification project commenced. Bottom: post-revamp, and bright orange.
The rules which govern and shape our public spaces are important. When things go well they help ensure a city that is safe, accessible, and welcoming. They provide for everything from curb cuts so that wheelchairs and strollers can travel streets easily to noise restrictions in residential neighbourhoods that let residents sleep at night.
When things go badly, however, they lead to mindless, mind-numbing regulation at the expense of allowing for the humanity that must and ought to infuse our city’s streets.
And thus we come to the orange bicycle. Once a rusted old Raleigh, long-abandoned by its owner and locked forlornly in front of OCAD U’s Student Gallery on Dundas, it is now a neon bit of joy that enlivens a generally mundane block.
Unfortunately, it’s the new paint job that means the bike might get hauled away by the City.
The bike was given its new lease on life by Caroline Macfarlane, who works at the OCAD gallery. As she explains on the blog she co-authors, while tidying up one day recently she began mulling over the bike, and wondering why it had been abandoned:
It was a permanent fixture on the street, a gorgeous skeleton of an antique bicycle long forgotten. While I continued to clean the windows, I thought more about the bike. Why had someone left such a beautiful bike behind? Who was its owner? How long had it been there? I began to feel sorry for it, and that’s when I decided that [co-author and colleague] Vanessa [Nicholas] and I should reclaim it… We would plant some flowers in bike’s basket, even better, we would also paint the frame of the bike, all of it and in NEON.
On the only day that it wasn’t raining last week, I set myself to work on the Raleigh. I sanded …and then I primed it. As the bike went from rusted brown to white people began to ask me about it. What was I doing? Was it a memorial? The long forgotten bike was creating some buzz. Once the primer was dry, I spray painted the bike neon orange.
The community’s response, Macfarlane continues, was immediate and overwhelming: people stopped to snap photos, kids ogled the ride enviously, even the local cops on patrol piped up, suggesting which flowers might make good additions to the bike’s basket.
And that is when someone decided that rules mattered more than this modest sign of life. On May 30, at 10:05 a.m., a ticket was issued and affixed to the bike. The work of the City’s Transportation Services department, it reads: “Bikes are prohibited from being stored on City property. Please remove it immediately or it will be removed by City Forces at your expense.” Macfarlane’s thoughts? “The funny thing is that this bike has been sitting in the same place for years, unnoticed by the city. However, once it is brightened and made beautiful, it’s got to go.”
A city that cannot brook small signs of creativity and engagement at the gentlest brush up against the rules, that chooses to squelch these tokens of love—and that is what they are—for neighbourhood and community and streetscape, is a city gone wrong. Rules matter, yes, but so does knowing how and when to make the judicious exceptions that preserve their spirit and not just their letter.
Macfarlane and Nicholas are inviting interested residents to email them with their arguments for why the bicycle ought to be allowed to remain as and where it is.
Images courtesy of Caroline Macfarlane.