There’s a lot we have yet to learn as a species, but one message that does seemed to have sunk in is what a powerful tool a bicycle can be to give impoverished people mobility and independence that opens opportunities to break out of poverty. Whether it’s Bike Town or 88 Bikes or Wheels 4 Life, there are numerous efforts under way to bring bicycles to areas that desperately need them. Pedals for Progress is one such enterprise, and its work in Rivas, Nicaragua, is the subject of a new documentary, The Bicycle City.
The film is directed by Greg Sucharew, who writes:
When I was first introduced to Pedals for Progress about a decade ago I knew I had to find a way to share their story with the world. It was enlightening to me that a device as simple as the bicycle could have such a dramatic effect on someones life. But it makes perfect sense. Mobility is a prerequisite to participation in almost all sectors of society, from health-care, to politics, to education, to business. And the bicycle is perhaps the perfect tool to enable people to get the mobility they need, especially in the developing world.
Bikes are affordable, they are easy to maintain, they are environmentally friendly, they promote the health of the people riding them, and when used by a vast majority of the people, they can bring a community closer together. When you ride a bike you are out in the world, not secluded from it. You can wave and speak to your neighbors as you pedal by to your destination.
Not only is our film the story of how the bicycle has allowed people a new sense of personal responsibility and dignity, by allowing them the opportunities to provide for themselves, but it is very much a story of a community struggling to find the best way forward after a very difficult period in its history.
Perhaps we in the developed world can learn a lesson or two from the people of Rivas. We are also entering a very difficult period. Our economies are singularly focused on the consumption of fossil fuels which are not only, as you know, environmentally damaging, but are also running out. Our reliance on the automobile has spurred an unsustainable suburban sprawl across the landscape. And our population, at least here in the United States, is becoming increasingly unhealthy.
Sucharew and his crew followed a number of Rivas residents whose lives have been changed by bicycles, including Julia Jiron, who makes her living from her vendor’s tricycle selling coffee and other goods fronted to her by a butcher, who gives her 20 percent of what she sells, and Frank Alemdarioz, a city engineer who’s crafted more than 600 bike taxis but inexplicably is barred by law from building more. The trailer is very much a teaser, hooking you into stories about people lives, until you can’t wait for the full feature.