What’s next? Everything.

Being in the ‘place between’ stories can get (too?) comfortable.

Place between stories

Place between stories

After several years of discomfort and kicking the constant quest for meaning and recognition via one’s profession, something settled. My life led me gently back to basics, and fulfilment came from simply doing things that came naturally. Walking, gardening, drawing and painting, writing, cooking, tending the home and relationships. That was all going on when I was focused on my work as well, but it was my work which established my rhythms, and now it is the day itself, the earth’s cycles, and my body.

The long periods of deep uninterrupted focus needed to progress on my book resulted in new insights and excitement as previously unrelated areas began to reach out across ideological space and contact each other. The book is also an excavation of sorts, and I am undertsanding better where I’ve arrived and how I got here.

In the meantime, I joined a neighborhood traffic action group and worked with them for 2 years. Our successes led to the town council wanting to work with us, and now several of us are involved with plans to take what we’ve learned to other villages. Added to our weekly meetings are also planning meetings with the municipality.

Then one of the people I was working with on that project is involved in a regional version of Let’s Gro, an alternative festival held in Groningen. I went to the first meeting for ‘Let’s Win'(short for Winsum, a largish town close by) and suddenly found myself in a group where for once, I wasn’t the only one interested in transition, and alternative forms of art and community building. It was just amazing, inspiring, and the dynamic of the meeting captured my imagination, highlighted my research on my book, and also let me see what my contribution could be as far as facilitating more creative approaches in a number of areas.

So, oops, I have another project to be committed to. All of a sudden, I can’t just take off on my Pieterpad walks, but have to schedule them between ….meetings! My life is suddenly full of meetings! And more responsibility! Is this truly the direction I wanted to move in?

One aspect of the place between is that while you are waiting for what’s next, the possibilities seem endless. I guess one reluctance is that when things start to take form again, I have to make choices, and all of a sudden things get narrowed down again.

So I’m thinking about these things now. It seems that this social engagement is a natural outgrowth of having pulled back out of society for several years. I now feel called to share some of the things that have become clear. And I definitely want to collaborate. So these needs are being filled by the path my life is taking at present. But I am reluctant to let go of the long easy (well,not always) days of doing what I want when I want, and having time to really listen and reflect.

Slow down! You’re driving through our living room!

offering a treat for good behaviour during one of our actions

offering a treat for good behaviour during one of our actions

Early this year, I wrote optimistically about the action group I’m involved in to try and improve traffic safety on our road. Below is our first action, ‘At home on the street’, a living room set up on the side of the road, with the carpet extending onto the road- to try to communicate that this is not only a through road, but people live here.

'At home on the street', thumbs up for a good driver

‘At home on the street’, thumbs up for a good driver

Now, a year on from our first action in the summer 2013, we’ve gained experience and wisdom. And we see more clearly just what it is we are up against.

heavy freight vehicles on our country road

heavy freight vehicles on our country road

heavy vehicles on our country road

heavy farm vehicles

The situation: we live on a country road in a beautiful agricultural area. However, it is also a provincial thruway used intensively by agricultural machinery and and heavy freight trucks.

There are, including cars, an average of 1500 vehicles passing by our door-  per day!!

And according to official figures, 80% of them drive too fast, making crossing the street a life-threatening experience, and the question of children playing on or near the road unthinkable.

heavy freight carriers on our country road

2 years ago, taking into consideration the years long complaints about the road, the province carried out a complete renovation of this piece of the N983. There were aesthetic changes meant to emphasise the neighbourhood aspects of the road like new streetlights and cycle lanes, new paving, as well as ‘shared space crossings’. But most importantly, the speed limit was reduced from 80 to 60km/hour just outside the village, and from 50km to 30km/hour within the village boundaries.

Very few drivers, including locals, observe/d the 30km limit. Despite our complaints the province claims that the overall speed has dropped some, to a bit under 50km, and those are the best results we can hope for. They consider the changes a success!

A year on down the line, we now have two light displays-one at either end of the village- showing people their current speed; and as an experiment, the province has placed cement obstacles at intervals down one side of the road.

When these, plus our months of friendly and attention getting actions, didn’t have the impact we’d hoped (in many cases it made people more aggressive!) we turned to the police to ask if they would help enforce the new speed limit. The story we got in answer to this is too absurd for words!

Evidently, the police (municipal)  can’t initiate action on our behalf. They must receive an order from the people responsible for the road (the province). The province doesn’t see that there is a real problem here. But it gets even better, even if the police would come here and give speeding tickets, these won’t hold up in court because the road doesn’t fulfil the qualifications for a country road (remember the renovation that was supposed to ensure this?). Certain elements in the design of the road indicate it as a through road- not a residential area. When we asked why this was allowed to happen, our civil servant contact says, ‘You attended the planning meetings, so why didn’t you tell us you didn’t want this?’ But of course those of us at the planning meetings didn’t have the technical expertise to foresee the consequences of this kind of decision.

So after our summer break, in our first meeting we realised that what we’re really up against is much bigger than a localised question of speeding cars through a village.We now know that we’re trying to change deeply ingrained mentality and behaviour. In our culture and here in Holland for sure, people don’t pay attention to rules unless they are forced to. As long as no one in authority is watching they will break every rule they can. So we’re up against habitual antisocial behaviour which is accepted as normal. Also, people don’t like others to change things, what we get a lot is,’We’ve been driving this road for 30 years at 50km, who are you to tell us we should change now?’

No amount of argument about danger for children and pets and older people helps,’There have always been children living near this road, none have ever been hurt’.

….yet.

Also, though no one will admit it, the province is dragging its feet on providing the one solution that would solve the problem- place obstacles in such a way that cars can’t go faster than 30km. Personally, I think it all comes down to politics and money- they are unwilling to antagonise the farmers or trucker businesses that drive through here.

So that’s what we’re up against. From the original team of 8, there are 4 of us still actively functioning in the group. For some, a year of intense volunteer work, self funded, with few visible results, was too discouraging; for others, their work is now taking precedence. For those of us left, admittedly weary and discouraged but still committed, our immediate strategy is to unite with surrounding villages who have similar problems.

If you know of any success stories with these kinds of citizen-based actions, please do let me know!