My summer research took me to Oulu, a place I’ve been dying to visit. Oulu is a small city in northern Finland, land of the midnight sun.
Oulu is strange, to say the least, and not just because my circadian rhythms were bugging out. Oulu has Copenhagen levels of mass cycling, except year round. I interviewed cycling experts in the city, and followed a few people around biking, as they sought nature in the city. I looked for reindeer, but found none, because they don’t exist there.
Oulu, to an extent unseen in most of the universe, uses biking as a basis for city planning. Old ladies bike in Oulu, little kids do it independently from an early age to get to school, and bike/ped pathways are a starting point, rather than an afterthought, in urban development. People in Oulu don’t describe themselves as ‘cyclists,’ bikes are boring like blenders.
Basically, some crazy Finnish man in the 1970s hoodwinked the city into building many bike pathways (shared with pedestrians), as the fastest way to travel in, and between, each neighbourhood. He’s a little revered by the cycling planners I talked to.
Today, Oulu’s cycling infrastructure is a lot like Ottawa’s, using dedicated infrastructure, decades old, along with ideas about urban nature.
Toronto and Vancouver have similar bikeways, always torn between providing safe space for beginners, along winding natural corridors, and commuters, who co-opt these bike routes for cold, instrumental efficiency.
Eventually, I reached Tallinn, Estonia, and presented an academic paper and small amateur film about this kind of cycling/infrastructure, at the international Nordic Geographers Meeting. I created the film on an Ipad focusing on GoPro footage I took in Ottawa and Toronto (I’m planning to edit it further, and post it on Vimeo, if anyone has any ideas on how to do that). In each of these cities, I asked an experienced cyclist, living in the urban core, to ‘bike to nature’ as I shadowed them while video recording and bantering with them about cycling into the urban wild.
Oulu may have insane circadian rhythms. Without doubt, it unfairly promotes itself as a reindeer city. And bikes in Oulu, boring little blenders, propel an urban population far and wide.