Hello, my name is Jonathan Daly, I am...
My passion is the human experience of the built environment
More about me
I was born in Ireland and now live and work in Australia.
My main interest is exploring the relationship between urban environments and human behaviour - how design influences the experience of the city at both an individual and social level.
My professional career path has been anything but conventional. It started in planning, looking at the relationship between transportation and land-use development before expanding out into urban design, architecture, environmental psychology and behavioural science.
The common thread throughout my career has been the human experience of the built environment.
I approach this subject from two distinct but interrelated angles. The first is behaviour change, which focuses on retrofitting problems created by poor design. The second is behavioural design, which applies behavioural science in design to improve the human experience and minimise problems in the future. This is a practice I call 'Urban Behaviourology'. Although I work across a range of contexts, I am most interested in the public spaces of cities, particularly inner-city streets, and how we share them with different people and for different uses. I am fascinated by the interplay of design and human psychology - how one influences the other, and how the outcome of this relationship affects the experience of these spaces.
For the last five years I have been preoccupied by the changes taking place in western cities, particularly the increasing density of people, cultural diversity and difference. I am interested in how these changes are represented in the design of our public spaces and whether or not current practice is adequate to meet the changing needs of our cities.
Through my work I have observed and documented what you might call 'urban frictions' taking place under these changing conditions. Different cultures interpret and use public space in different ways. Some rely more on negotiation rather than formal direction. The latter is how we design and manage most western cities but, for me, the question is whether or not this is appropriate for now and the future.
My love of bicycle culture
I believe sustainable cities - economically, socially and environmentally - need a balanced transport system, and this must include cycling. However, I support a normalised culture of bike riding, which comprises people of all ages, genders and social standing riding in everyday clothes, on upright bikes and (preferably) without a mandatory helmet law.
Few things are more divisive in Australia than cyclists and motorists sharing the road, but add in the helmet law debate and it gets very messy. My perspective is beautifully captured in the following quote from Jonathan Swift, “Reasoning will never make a man correct an ill opinion, which by reasoning he never acquired”.
There is no silver bullet, which includes infrastructure. While I wholeheartedly support the need for better bicycle facilities, I find the idea of "build it and they will come" absurd. Not only is it a misquotation from a fictional movie (actual line is "build it and he will come"), it suggests that people are ruled only by the physical aspect of our world, excluding the social and psychological.
Many advocates proclaim 'separated bicycle lanes' as the answer to the conflict between cyclists and motorists on our roads and streets, but this is too simplistic given the complexity of the issue. Since when did creating divisions between disparate groups bring them closer together - think the peace wall in Belfast, the Gaza strip, Berlin wall, the use of highways to separate the rich and the poor and of course the former segregation of black and white people. I do agree that we need to separate bikes and cars on some roads, like the ones that connect places but I also believe that if we have to separate bikes and cars in the centres of our cities, in activity centres and in neighbourhoods, we have failed to design and manage them properly.
My thinking on this issue has developing from looking at the success stories of several cities around the world where cycling is thriving as a normal daily activity for many people, places like Copenhagen, The Netherlands, Tokyo and Bogota, Columbia.
What I have found is that there is always a back story to the one commonly told, which tends to suggest that it was all down to the construction of bicycle infrastructure. The truth is much more interesting. In all of these stories, cultural change preceded the physical changes. My favourite is the story of Antanas Mockus, the former mayor of Bogota, Columbia. With no money to change his city, Mockus used highly unconventional tactics based on the work of two Brazilians - Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed, which was based on Freire's earlier work. The results were astonishing. Mockus helped to reestablish a sense of citizenry in Bogota, which the World Bank rewarded with significant investment that allowed the next mayor to deliver the physical changes in the city.
Copenhagen is often citied as a cycling utopia, with hundreds of kilometres of separated bicycle lanes, but what you don't often hear is that two thirds of their network is shared with motor vehicles. If this is the case how can cyclists and motorists share the same space? The answer is that they, like many northern European countries, have changed not only the quantity and quality of their bicycle facilities but the entire system - the physical, the regulatory and the social.
My theory, based on the experience of these case studies, is that if we can change hearts and minds in Australia to see the role and benefit of a strong bicycle culture, then all of the bicycle infrastructure won't be met with the kind of resistance they currently face.
Ingrid Gehl, Environmental Psychologist