The Community of the Future

The Community of the Future

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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14 comments

  1. Ted Culotta

    My dream is to win the lottery and do nothing but devote myself to raising money (some of it from my lottery winnings!) to build velodromes like the one shown here so that kids all across the country can earn varsity letters in track cycling. We can develop generations of kids who love cycling.

  2. ScottyCycles62

    I live about 10 miles from the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista California. They have a BMX track and Circuit Course for road bikes however neither is ever available to the public to use while the Olympic athletes aren’t there or using them. It would be nice if they were. Maybe a local developer will build an athletics based community nearby on the land that is still available. Unlike South Carolina we have hills!

  3. Velo Zephyr

    Rock Hill is neat, but don’t you already live in Colorado Springs where there’s also a world-class velodrome, BMX park, countless bike paths, cycling industry headquarters, and huge mountains?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Velo Zephyr: Um, no. That would be Patrick O’Grady who tag-teams with Charles Pelkey on Live Update Guy and also contributes to Adventure Cycling. He had a long and respected run with VeloNews and drew the much loved Mad Dog cartoons for said publication. I live in Southern California and can’t draw. The best I can manage is to say my name rhymes with his. Also the lots of bike paths and cycling industry headquarters is more the domain of Boulder.

  4. Josh "Too Tall"

    Why do we love Velodromes and how is this one more Utopian than the next? Patrick nails it, this one has intends to become the sustainable community cyclists dream of.
    There are other things that make Velodromes places for mere mortal cyclists to escape reality. Compare a day of watching Track racing to farm league baseball? Sure why not? You are up close and personal with amazing athletes for the price of a couple hotdogs or less.
    As a participant you enter a world of cycling where the playbook is still the same as it ever was. Cuss out loud or have a lame equipment failure during a race you might get a $25 fine. When you yell “Stay” riders actually “stay” and don’t flip you the bird. Velo racing is special, go for a day and you’ll know what I mean. Peace, TT http://www.velocipedesalon.com http://www.ballersride.com

  5. Greg

    May not be utopia (no hills); but, it is a start. Wish we could have something like this in VA. Hope this helps cycling in their area.
    Bravo, Rock Hill.
    Greg

  6. Kurti_sc

    Thanks for the clarification. I always thought Padraig was a pseudonym for Patrick and you were one in the same
    Next for a clarification. Both South Carolina and North Carolina have great hills ( blue ridge and the smokies) but yep, Charlotte is flat as a fritter
    Hincapies development peaked interest with us, as we live in the region, but was way overpriced and really just seemed elitist. At least the Rock Hill development seems to touch the middle class. I wish them success. For those of us 1-2 hours SW I do hope we get another , more reasonable attempt. I think somewhere in the understanding of Utopia, it isn’t limited to the über wealthy.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Kenny: even though Hunter Thompson wrote that there is “nothing more helpless and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge,” I take that as a compliment.

      Mike: I should have an update on the letterpress printing in the next day or so, but honestly, I’m having serious trouble with the paperback printer. They’re completely unresponsive. Once I can find out what is going on, there will be an update.

  7. Mike

    Sorry to go off subject, but posting where I’m supposed to doesn’t seem to reach anyone… 306 backers worth $26,000 would really appreciate an update on your Kickstarter.

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