Think of Detroit and you probably think of urban decay, poverty, and shut-off water. With its abandoned buildings and the economic devastation wrought by the floundering American auto industry, once-affluent Detroit is now, for many, a symbol of the collapse of the American dream.
Jason Hall, along with other Detroiters, disputes this doomed vision of their city. Instead, they see that after decades of stagnation the city is undergoing a renaissance, with a flourishing downtown and a resurgence in business. To make sure that the rest of the community saw this shift and was empowered by it, Jason created an event called Slow Roll. The concept is simple: cyclists meet every Monday night and take a new route through Detroit. As the name suggests, they maintain a low speed, allowing cyclists of all skill levels and of all ages to join. The goal is basic, yet important: to reconnect the community with each other and with the space they live in. Through this reconnection, they hope to help revitalize residents’ image of Detroit, fostering a positive and hopeful view of the way the city is developing and rebuilding and countering the gloomy and outdated perception that many in and outside Detroit have of it.
Slow Roll is now in its fourth year and has over 2,000 weekly participants. It has also grown to be more than just a Detroit event – there are now chapters in Cleveland, Buffalo, Berlin, three cities in Sweden – Älvsjö, Malmö, and Jönköping – and even in Iraq.
For more information (and product placement), go here. (Screenshot from Apple.)
What interests us about Slow Roll is the way that bikes are being utilized as a means by which the community is effecting change by its own means. As Jason himself says, Slow Roll isn’t him or any single person; Slow Roll is the community itself. Here we can see how bikes are being used as not just a transportation device, but rather as a communication device – as a way for people to connect with each other and build something tangible.
Some similar ideas have been floating around the Champaign-Urbana area recently. For example, Neutral Cycle hosted and cosponsored a movie night over the summer that was prefaced by a community ride. The response was overwhelmingly positive and participation was higher than we had expected.
This suggests that maybe CU is another community that could benefit from the Slow Roll idea. Perhaps it will help us to better understand ourselves and the relationship we have with the physical space we occupy. It may also help use to better see and understand the changes that we see in the community and inspire us become a part of them.
I should add that there will be another movie night this Friday, September 12 at 8PM to be held at the Urbana Busey Bank parking lot, also cosponsored by Neutral Cycle. We’ll be showing Up, a Diney film produced by Pixar. Up is a comedy-adventure film about life, fulfilling your dreams, and growing up. Come by, enjoy a free movie, and (most importantly) connect with your community.
Should a Slow Roll chapter be established for the Champaign-Urbana community? Beyond this, how can we harness this same energy for Urbana-Champaign to bikes to change our community for the better? Post your ideas, start a discussion, and help us to organize a movement.