David Byrne, former Talking Head, visual artist and writer, might want to put urban planner on his resume too.
The New York-based writer led a panel on cycling and the city Saturday at Toronto’s International Festival of Authors.
Byrne’s fellow panelists, Toronto Cyclist Union’s Yvonne Bambrick, NDP leader and former city councillor Jack Layton and urban planner Ken Greenberg, would’ve made a fine panel on cycling issues in Toronto but having a musical legend on your bill certainly helps fill seats.
Byrne’s presentation was a wide-ranging look at urban planning, architecture and, of course bikes. The crowd applauded when Jane Jacobs was mentioned, a sign that Byrne was probably preaching to the choir.
And like his book, the observations that Byrne makes while on his bike are entertaining. Riding on a bike “you come across things and see things you wouldn’t see if you were in car,” he said. And when you’re a traveling musician like Byrne, you can certainly come across a lot: BBQ shacks in Virginia, floating whorehouses in Holland, a three-piece band “median age six.”
But brought up some practical ideas too. He mentioned the battle in Portland over turning over streetside parking to bike racks. It was a move which was fiercely resisted by local shopkeepers who only relented when they realized that, a bike rack could potentially be parking for dozens of customers and made their storefronts more visible.
The Toronto Cyclists’ Union’s executive director Yvonne Bambrick followed up Byrne with a plea for the audience to get involved in cycling issues in the coming election year and the NDP’s Jack Layton reminded the audience just how far cycling has come in Canada. Layton remembered just how dangerous it was being on his bike in 1960s Montreal. “Riding your bike down Ste. Catherine, you had a target on you. Cars made sure you knew you were unwelcome.”
Urban planner Ken Greenberg ended the panel with an inspirational slideshow of bike utopias around the world. “Complete streets” in Coppenhagen, pedestrian plazas in Stockholm and Malmo, families learning to ride near Tokyo’s Imperial Palace. His presentation almost stole the show from a former Talking Head. That’s no small praise.