Mommy PhD: The 21st kilometer

I tried to explain it to a friend: “It’s like the 21st kilometer of a half marathon,” I said. “You know the end is near but you are so tired it takes all of your energy to just put one foot in front of the other. That’s all you can do… keep shuffling forward.”

Never having run long distances herself, she gave me a blank stare. By this stage my own long-distance running was a hazy memory but the last kilometer of those three half marathons I managed to complete, were seared into my memory.

The last stage of the PhD was so arduous that it really felt like the best analogy. The good intentions, the clear purpose and the joy that got, and get me going, on this journey had all but vanished along the way. All that kept me moving forward was bloody-minded determination to cross the finishing line despite the pain.

Like running, like child-birth, like nothing else I have experienced before, I just kept going with the PhD because I couldn’t not finish. And I just didn’t have the energy to decide to do anything different.

Parents, pangs and walking to school

There’s something aching beautiful about the sight of young children walking, cycling or scooting to school. Hair flaying, rosy cheeks, eager faces…there are few parents whose heart doesn’t melt at the sight.
I may be a hopeless romantic, but the sight always brings pangs of wistful nostalgia for my own school days. For most of us with school going children we, too, walked those streets, making friends with the neighbours’ dogs, and the neighbours along the way, getting to know the corner shop, the post box, the dip in the footpath where the rain always lingered. For those children unable to experience that freedom to roam the streets, something very special has been lost.
In Cape Town’s poorer communities the picture of children daily en route to school is more out of necessity than choice. In the more affluent suburbs the gleeful children who do walk the streets are usually accompanied by ashen and rather anxious looking parents, and for once their anxiety isn’t about crime. Rather it’s about the other suburban parents driving their own kids to school. In a hurry. Not looking. The fear is of collision, crash, worse….no wonder so few of us who have choices take the risk and let our kids loose to get to school under their own steam. And yet by accepting this situation, so much is lost. Not only for our kids, but for ourselves and for our cities. Enrique Penalosa, former mayor of Bogota calls children “a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people.”
By this rubric Cape Town is failing miserably.

Cape Town 2050?

A Commuting future, 1950s image

What, I was asked, did I think that Cape Town would be like in 2050? My mind immediately jumped to a 1962 edition of The Star newspaper giving future predictions for Johannesburg by ex-president of The Royal Institute of British Architects, Sir William Holford. Holford spoke of coin-operated taxis which could be picked up on any street corner (Uber?!) and completely segregated road systems so that pedestrians never had to cross a road. Oh and helicopters. Lots of helicopters. So with due humility here’s my prediction for 2050:

The Cape Town day starts early in 2050 with the mosques calling to prayer. The background hum of traffic that Gran spoke of, though, can’t be heard. Whatever cars are on the road became quiet electrics or hybrids a long time ago. The cars rushing through to town as the mosques call out are avoiding the “congestion charge” which starts at 6:30am and lasts all day. By the time it was implemented in the 2020s the “congestion charging” wasn’t the political problem that everyone expected. After all, by 2025 every car had an automatic payment system for the licenses and so charging a bit for using the road when it was busy was no big deal. Anyway the gridlock got so bad that something had to change and the only thing that they knew would work (because other cities had shown that it could) was the “congestion charge”.
When cars became part of the “Internet of Things”  then speeding cars were automatically controlled by the System. “Speeding” became technically impossible to do in town. The city councils lost a lot of money that they had been getting from speeding fines. By automatically charging cars for how much they contributed to the congestion and gridlock, then the city council got one of those rare win-wins. They reduced the congestion which everyone complained about, and they raised money. At first everyone complained that the roads had become a rich person’s playground. Anyway, the council had no choice but to invest massively in the public transport systems so in the end everyone won.
I can’t believe my grandparents devoted so much of their money to owning and driving a car! Imagine! What a burden to have to look after it, pay for space to park it, not to mention the fuel they had to put in. Fuel is so expensive these days thanks to the carbon charges. I would rather just walk or cycle when I can. Now that the cars are self-driving with collision control and I have my under-skin GPS then it’s really safe to cycle and my battery pack gets me up the hills. I also get money taken off my hospital insurance premiums every time I walk or cycle. For the longer trips about town I use one of the public transport systems or, if it’s to somewhere unusual, then I just use a vehicle optimiser on my smart phone  or Uber which means I get to share a car with people vetted automatically by Facebook to go where I need to go. Easy.
One of the great things about Cape Town in 2050 is that every Sunday over 100km of roads in Cape Town are closed to cars for five hours of “Open Streets”! After the congestion and carbon charges came in then people couldn’t afford to go to the beaches and parks so much and so they started looking around for more local things to do. “Open Streets” was the perfect answer. For five blissful hours we get a break from the busy-busy of the city. I learnt to run, skateboard, skate and cycle on an Open Street, and so did most of my friends. We call them “Slow Sundays”. I love Cape Town.






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