The Axis of Dirtbags and Yuppies

I’m very happy that there is a good network of mountain biking trails where I live, though I rarely use them. But here’s how stupid I am: I’ve always thought that bike infrastructure for daily life (getting around town, running errands, biking to work) was it’s own thing, and not related to recreation.

I live where I do, in large part, because of the quality of life that comes from not-too-shabby city cycling infrastructure.

So I often would roll my eyes when my local bike advocacy organization sent out announcements like this:


New Bike Trail

Grab a pick and a shovel. Move rocks and dirt, just like a Soviet forced labor camp! Manacles will be provided, but bring your own long sleeved shirts, long pants, and work boots. Tons of rocks — er, fun!

Seriously?, I’d wonder. You think you’re going to get people excited about cycling with an invitation to do heavy labor? This town needs to help people get of their cars and to their jobs. Why the focus on cycling as entertainment?

But as a concession to one of my sponsors (said local bike advocacy organization), I attended a National Bike Summit session titled “Making the Connection between Recreation and Conservation.”

It turns out there’s also a connection to the in-town everyday cycling that I prioritize.

Worker Attraction Study: The role of Arizona's open spaces in attracting critical high-skill workers
Catchy Title

It turns out that high-skill, high-wage workers, such as engineers and health care professionals, (a) can live and work just about anywhere they want, and (b) they are attracted to live and work in places where there are opportunities for outdoor recreation.

According to recent research, said Luther Propst, a board member with the International Mountain Biking Association, the generation of workers that cities need the most like hiking most of all, but cycling was a close second.

And way, way down on the list: golfing. Cycling is the new golf.

Communities that take steps to provide for outdoor recreation are going to win in the new economy.

Rattling off the findings of a forthcoming “Worker Attraction Study,” Propst, said that previous studies only looked at the effect of public lands on rural towns.

Luther Propst and Brady Robinson
Luther Propst (L) and Brady Robinson (R)

In the past, people would find a job, and move to where the job was. That is shifting now, says Propst, to a model where people pick where they want to live, and then find a job. And it’s quality of life that motivates highly-skilled workers. Yeah: those bike lanes that I like so much, but also those mountain bike trails that meander outside of the city.

And according to Brady Robinson of the Access Fund, it’s not the aging environmental establishment who will save the conservation movement so that those high-skilled yuppies will have a place for the recreation that they value so highly.

No, it’s those dirtbag climbers and mountain bikers with no apparent job skills. (His words, not mine.)

Robinson’s presentation was a rerun of this TEDx talk:

The Nature Conservancy is the world’s largest environmental organization. It claims a million members, and has preserved 119 million acres of land and 5000 miles of rivers. These are impressive numbers, but there’s one trend that’s troubling: The median age of their membership is 62, and only eight-and-a-half percent of their members are under the age of 45. Now this lack of engagement with the younger generation, as well as a lack of engagement with people from diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds is a serious problem for all the big conservation organizations in our country…

[W]here will future financial and political support for conservation come from?

So the great cycling cities of the future will depend on the symbiosis of dirtbags and yuppies — and successful trail workdays.

My participation in this years’ National Bike Summit was made possible by these sponsors.

Campfire Cycling Flagstaff Biking Organization Bike Virginia
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