the a to b's of diversity

What makes up Diversity isn’t just the colour of our skin, what our bodies are like, or our family history. It’s not just what we were born with. Diversity is also who we choose to be: our behaviours, habits and actions. 

It’s easy to think that we’re all pretty similar in this regard. We’re all students that diligently get up on the first alarm in the morning, eat our well-rounded granola and yoghurt breakfast and take our time on the morning stroll to uni, knowing we have plenty of time to make our much-loved 8am lectures. Right?  

When we look at UC as a whole, we as a collective exhibit an incredibly broad collage of different ways that we go about the same thing. No example of this is so obvious as the diverse ways we go about getting from ‘A to B’. 

It’s not just what we were born with. Diversity is also who we choose to be. 

It might surprise you to learn this, but for the last half century, UC has surveyed students and staff on their travel habits. The ‘UC Travel Survey’ began in 1966 and has run every 4 years since – with the next survey due this year. It is a treasure trove of data for any aspiring postgraduate mathematics students hiding away in a dark corner of Erskine, but it is also a shining example of how diverse we students are and have been, over the history of this institution. Like the good engineering students’ we are, we have attached some key figures from the latest report (with the caption underneath not above!). These show how funky the flavours of our transport pie are, and also how they’ve matured with age since 1966 (like that Country Red Wine goon sitting above the pantry since 2017).  

We know most students don’t enjoy looking at data and graphs as we do, so let’s cut to the chase. Approximately half (41.04%) of students drive to university. Of the remainder, about half walk to uni, a third bike, and the rest either bus, scooter, or skate.  

This graph says a lot about our city, our campus, and us students. Firstly, it shows that the university is quite accessible with almost all substantial transport methods being represented. This is something we should be proud of. From ‘skater girls’ to ‘back-of-the-bus bandits’, there is a place for everyone. On the other hand, the graph also shows that we are extremely biased. Over 40% of us drive to university. Meanwhile, over the last few years we, as a collective body of students, have been calling out for more sustainable practices at uni: less plastic, get rid of the coal burner, join the student strike for climate! But are we really living up to our own rhetoric? 

This is where one of the key components of diversity comes in to play (and usually the contentious part): with such a range of diverse options accessible, what do we want our pie chart to look like? What should it look like? And what actions should we take to make it so? 

We believe this isn’t what our pie should look like. Like pineapple on a pizza, our high car driving stats are a scourge on this crust! We live in a beautiful flat city, with a relatively good climate, strong public transport infrastructure, and a university that is engaged with students and want alternative means of getting around to be non-alternative (see the awesome work done by the UC Sustainability team). Additionally, the construction of excellent off-road cycleways by the Christchurch City Council over the last few years (and continuing over the next few – e.g. along Ilam Road) means that we are the perfect city for biking (take it from a Wellingtonian).  

What if the numbers were reversed? What if 40% of students biked, and less than 20% drove? We’re not saying ban driving to university. Cars have their place, absolutely (James still drives a ‘93 Subaru Legacy when he needs to). Diversity is about accepting the differences, understanding each’s strengths and weaknesses, and being brave enough to make changes to our behaviour in line with our principles. We are at the precipice of reshaping our country for a green new world. That change begins city by city. And we can bring that change about right now, on campus here at UC.  

“Okay. I’m on board. But how?” you ask (conveniently for this article’s next point). “After all, we’re already so set up for driving. Drivers don’t make room for cyclists. What about when it’s raining? What if I need to get groceries on the way home? Or pick up a stray puppy? Or if I’m tired?” We would say “These are valid points, and ones we all have to work through. But the solutions are already out there.”  

Three things are needed for us to successfully overcome these challenges:  

  1. The right bikes for Christchurch. If you want to get groceries, carry textbooks, or bike when it’s wet, then a cheap all-terrain warehouse bike isn’t going to do the job. You need a bike that has a basket or a rear rack, and has mudguards/fenders to prevent splashing from the wheels. Then it’s surprisingly easy to go almost every day without the use of a car. (If you’re interested in what sort of bike is right for Christchurch, look up ‘Flat City Bikes’ on Facebook*).   
  2. The infrastructure for cycling. With the cycleways; new bike parks at uni; and active investment and interest by the council, schools and uni, Christchurch is already a great place to bike and it’s only getting better. By joining our voices together, we can have an influence on these decisions too (If you’re interested in this, join the ‘Cycling Christchurch Chat Group’ and ‘Spokes Canterbury’ on FB).  
  3. A change in culture. Let’s embrace the diversity of transport in all its forms and be accepting of each other and our differing needs. When we drive, let’s be more courteous to cyclists. When we bike, let’s be courteous to pedestrians and be sure to signal for drivers. When we walk, let’s be courteous to each other (and try avoid walking in fresher packs that take up the whole footpath from C1 to UniHall!) Let’s decide collectively what our pie chart should look like (instead of just the opinion of two writers in the student rag) and together take action with conviction to make it a reality. (If you’re interested in this, then take action). 

We can’t choose who we are, but we can choose how we act. So, let’s make UC’s ‘transport pie chart’ taste great again. 

*Note on writer interests: George and James are two postgrad students with an active interest in developing Christchurch into a sustainable and exciting city. To address the issue of the right bikes being inaccessible in ChCh they started Flat City Bikes and are taking pre-orders currently on a run of commuter bikes designed for Christchurch. 

By George Stilwell & James Ramsey