Bicycle Diaries: Street ballet - Part II

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3.8.06

Street ballet - Part II

As a Middle Eastern city (eight time zones away) fights to live, I am writing about another city, Chicago, in which I love to live ... and bike. Without the city, I don't think Critical Mass would exist.

Why?

It always begins at Daley Plaza, our political and artistic heart (y'know, the Picasso sculpture). As Roland Barthes wrote, the heart of a city
... is always full: a marked site, it is here that the values of civilization are gathered and condensed: spiritual (with the churches), power (with the offices), money (with the banks), the market (the stores), the language (with its agora, cafes, and promenades). To move through the city centre is to encounter the social truth to participate in reality's magnificent excess.
If anything, Critical Mass here is always a magnificent excess. Christians and anarchists ride side-by-side on their freakbikes. BMXers pop wheelies then cork traffic for bike commuters. The great majority of pedestrians and motorists alike treat the mass as if a circus has come to town. Or to borrow from Jane Jacobs, it is a wonderful, whacky, spontaneous ballet of the streets choreographed by absolutely no one.

Critical Mass thrives in Chicago because it's the successful urban marriage of a collective passion for bikes and how each rider acts on this passion. It's attraction is that it connects very unique people in the open on the streets. Therefore, it's apparent value is all those diverse actions rarther than one big collective action.

If we start to believe that the mass is something larger than the riders, that it has something to say or do, we're devaluing this diversity and making the riders into idiots. Riders simply get together once a month to spontaneously celebrate the ride each in their own unique way. In other words, the beauty of Critical Mass lies in its essential meaninglessness.

You might just disagree with this last bit. I got the idea last night from reading Jaron Lanier's, Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism. While he doesn't write about Critical Mass, his critique of the rising herd mentality on the web has a lot to say about the criticisms often levelled against Critical Mass.

Yikes! this final bit, in typical fox fashion, will have to wait until tomorrow ... or perhaps Saturday %)

[note: Don Sorsa took the 3rd photo. To see all of his photos go here]

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