On the way to an appointment this afternoon I caught a fraction of an interview on the radio about creating a “shared space” experiment behind the central station Amsterdam which currently a chaotic, life-threating meeting point of pedestrians, bicycles and scooter traffic between ferry, train and city commuters.
The idea of shared space is that the segregation of pedestrians and vehicles is minimized by removing features such as curbs, markings, signs and traffic lights. Instead there is one “shared space” in which each component has to observe, respect, and respond the to the behavior of the other.
The origin of this theory was in face a Dutch man, Hans Monderman, who believed that we are slowly losing our capacity for socially responsible behavior and that the more rules and structures we create the more our personal sense of reasonability and personal sense of space diminishes.
“When you don’t exactly know who has right of way, you tend to seek eye contact with other road users. You automatically reduce your speed, you have contact with other people and you take greater care.”
It got me thinking about human behavior and the false sense of security we achieve from rules, regulations and “curbs”. Take an employment contract or public services as an example. We get so used to the assumption that if we do our job well we are offered stability by means of a salary. This can make us complacent, lose our entrepreneurial spirit, ignore our development. Thus the growth of “job crafting” and the loss of “lifetime employment”. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has slightly guiltily stepped over some trash on the sidewalk thinking “I didn’t drop it there” and making the assumption “it’s someone’s job to clear the streets”? The fact that there is a structure, contract or law in place somehow takes away my personal sense of ownership.
Instead of being afraid of uncertainty, lack of structure, open-endedness I wonder if we shouldn’t embrace it? Ask yourself the question – how would my life look if I took responsibility for forming and living it in a way that’s in line with my my goals and values while considering those around me? Much as a cyclist would have to focus on where they want to get, taking into account the surrounding pedestrians and cars in a shared space?