Meet Mexican urbanist Gustavo Gutiérrez next Wednesday, 22 June

Gustavo-GutiérrezFive years ago, Gustavo Gutiérrez was arrested for the infraction of riding his bicycle at night in his hometown of Aguascalientes, Mexico. Today, there are 25 new miles of bike lanes in Aguascalientes and a strong bicycle lobby whose members participate in local government and in the national bicycling movement.

As an advocate for sustainable mobility, Gutiérrez is a part of the movement in Aguascalientes and a part of the international team at Minneapolis’ Community Design Group. Next week, he’ll be in the Twin Cities speaking about his work helping to make Mexico’s motor city more human.

Gutiérrez admits it’s a huge challenge changing the transportation culture in a city that is not only home to Nissan, Mercedes Benz and Kia manufacturing plants, but also is proud of its identity as a car-manufacturing hub. Yet Gutiérrez and his cohorts are making real change in this town of 1 million people.

The town has the highest mode share for bicycling in Mexico at 4.5 percent of daily trips – mode share in Minneapolis is 4.6 percent – and a Critical Mass attracting 5,000 cyclists per week. Gutiérrez sees a lot of opportunity for cycling within the physical layout of Mexican city centers, which tend to take a more organic form with short, irregularly shaped streets, similar to those found in the medieval city centers of European.

The organic streets of the city center in Aguascalientes become more regular and grid-like further out.

The organic streets of the city center in Aguascalientes become more regular and grid-like further out.

While city centers offer opportunity in their physical layout, cultural expectations add a challenge, especially for women. As an example, Gutiérrez cited his own mother, who was told by her father that it wasn’t appropriate for a woman to ride a bike. He and fellow organizers are working to teach more women to ride bicycles as a practical approach to empowerment through a program called Mujeres BICIbles.

“Right now, politicians only view the city as an economic space but it is not just that. It is also a social, cultural and educational space,” said Gutiérrez.

This is why Gutiérrez is focused on promoting the benefits of human-scale cities – such as the opportunity to improve quality of life for half the population – and making bike advocacy fun: as they say, you get more bees with honey.

“Society depends on human contact, if people don’t have the possibility to be in touch with one another, the city is not the best invention in the world,” said Gutiérrez.

Come for the inspiration and stay for the beer and free appetizers – hosted by Community Design Group – at East Lake Brewery next Wednesday, 22 June, 5:30 – 7:00 p.m.

This event will also serve as a fundraiser for Streets.MN. Thanks for considering supporting the work of our volunteer-powered blog!