|Robin DeWan is a musician, writer and conceptual artist living on Suomenlinna. He holds a degree in literature from the University of California.|
NOTHING LASTS – not even good ideas, nor fine feathered friends. Helsinki recently got stung with a double whammy this spring when all 16 flamingos at the Korkeasaari Zoo met their end in one fell swoop at the teeth of a wild fox, and the city announced that its free-to-use public bicycle programme would be discontinued.
The appearance each year of the green CityBikes was a sure sign that summer was on its way. The concept of a two euro deposit against a spin around town on two wheels seemed like a brilliant idea – both environmentally friendly and convenient. The yearly service had been in operation from May through September since 2000 and was getting rave reviews until a couple years or so ago when issues with damage began to mount. It only takes a small percentage of vandals and thieves to bring down the entire system. The bikes were occasionally trashed after joyrides, sometimes tossed in the bay, and they were even stripped for parts – which can’t really be used on regular bikes.
As late as 2008 there was enthusiastic talk of expanding the CityBike programme and even launching a next generation of urban bicycles like the ones already operating in Paris, Lyon and Stockholm. I don’t know how those cities are faring with the experiment in free-use bikes, but it sure seems dismal that Helsinki has to scuttle the idea due to unreasonable maintenance costs.
The loss of the CityBike programme speaks of larger issues. It’s as if society just isn’t ready to evolve past a certain point yet. Ignorance and the destructive impulse are as pervasive as ever. Standing on a shore line in Espoo recently, enjoying a crisp, spring day full of sunshine, I looked down at the pile of flotsam and jetsam that had washed up and contemplated the meaning of the debris: empty beer bottles, graffiti spray-paint cans, Styrofoam – I was just wondering where a public CityBike was to complete the picture.
The Chilean flamingos that were slaughtered at the zoo is another story altogether – also a major bummer. Apparently a wild fox had wandered over the ice and climbed the fence of the birds’ menagerie one night. The flamingos were supposed to be kept inside during the night but something went foul (no pun intended). It’s amazing how disaster can strike so suddenly; that’s how it usually happens.
The pink flamingos and the green bikes may be gone for the time being but we still have those mad, pimped-out chopper-bicycles cruising the streets of Helsinki; and those black and white Barnacle geese are back in full force, so at least some harbingers of summer are showing signs of resilience. Everything is impermanent. Appreciate what you’ve got.