Remember Utopia? You know, where everyone is equal, needs have been dispatched with all the relentless force used to stamp out smallpox, and disease and suffering are as alien as Ugandan at the U.S. border? Yeah, practically speaking it’s more laughable than a Bill Cosby routine. The only place we seem to be willing to entertain even the faintest fantasy of utopian society is Star Trek: the Next Generation. And if that’s the very best we can muster, it may say less about cynicism than it does about our real understanding of human nature. We just know not to expect perfect. Not even from Apple.
But we also appreciate that there’s no reason not to attempt to make our communities better. All the strides we’ve made in bicycle advocacy work in the last few years—from bike paths to bike lanes to sharrows—demonstrate that we do understand that the communities we live in can at least be incrementally more livable.
Remember Pla d’Adet? That was the gated community that was supposed to happen just outside Greenville, South Carolina, where George Hincapie lives. A bunch of his rich-guy buddies (if memory serves they were really buddies of Thom Weisel). It was going to have a clubhouse much like a country club, but this one was going to be focused on cycling. The hundred or so acres all that was going to sit on is still a field.
While I was in Charlotte for NAHBS, the folks at Gita Sporting Goods were pretty excited to take me by the Girodana Velodrome. I’ll admit that I was more excited to see Gita’s headquarters and warehouse. I was anticipating all the killer ancient stock they had hanging on their walls. And I had good reason to, right? A velodrome with no racing is only marginally better than a theater with no movie showing.
Or so I thought.
First, the Giordana Velodrome is an outdoor, concrete 250-meter track with 45.-degree banking in the turns and 17-degree banking in the straights. It was designed by German velodrome designer Ralph Schürmann who comes from a family of velodrome designers responsible for more than 100 velodromes around the world. It’s a true world-class facility that has already hosted multiple national championships. It offers a variety of racing and training schedules, plus certification classes and even youth programs. It’s a busy facility, which is what you want to see if you hope not to observe bulldozers knocking the thing down after ten years.
If that’s all I’d seen, this post would have been over by now.
The Giordana Velodrome is but one piece of the 250-acre Riverwalk development in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Once we were finished with 25-cent tour, Thad Fischer, the velodrome director asked if we wanted to see the BMX track. Whaaa?
As it turns out there’s more to both Riverwalk and Fischer. The latter is an employee of the city of Rock Hill and serves as the town’s Cycling Coordinator. Think about that a second. This town employees a capable guy to manage their community’s cycling programs. Yes, the have enough cycling programs (or will have) that they’ll need a full-time employee to oversee them all. The former is built around the promise of raising families with a range of shopping and recreation close enough that you can keep your car parked at least some of the time.
When I saw the map with all the different facilities they were planning, I felt like I’d been brained with a backhoe.
Above is the facilities center for the Novant Health BMX Supercross Track. I shot this image from the top of the start ramp.
In addition to the velodrome and the BMX track, there will be all the other amenities you’d expect to see—baseball diamonds, tennis courts, parks with swing sets and jungle gyms. But the cycling doesn’t end with those two facilities; the development will host a permanent criterium course. Yes, permanent. I got chills typing that. When not used for racing it will remain closed to cars and serve as a bike path. There will even be a permanent cyclocross course plus mountain biking trails.
The development will be years in construction as the velodrome is the only piece of the project that is completed. The first homes in the development are slated for move-in this month. Property values are likely a bit higher than in neighboring communities, but it’s hard to argue with a new, three-bed home for $250k. The commute to downtown Charlotte is but a half hour.
The development takes it’s name from the Catawba River than wraps around the development. The Catawba is popular with area paddlers. Plans for the town center portion of Riverwalk include enough shopping that a stay-at-home parent could manage with a bakfiets. There will be a YMCA near the velodrome and (better yet) a microbrewery just yards from the bleachers.
The only reason I haven’t already started packing is because this place is damn flat. It may not be bowling alley-flat, but from the top of the BMX ramp there wasn’t a single lump of ground identifiable in any direction. I just don’t see how I can live without mountains.
There’s a kind of tragedy to the Riverwalk development. Why is a vision like this so rare as to merit a post? Utopia may be as unachievable as world peace—sorry, same thing—but there’s no reason we can’t dream larger than we have. It was the dreams of our forebears that gave us the lives we have, lives free of smallpox and polio (so long as you get your vaccinations) and that include plasma-screen TVs and the Internet. Riverwalk is a dream we can replicate, a dream of a better kind of community, not just for cycling, but living more locally, a dream I’d like to pass on to my kids.