Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ciclo Urbano opens on Paseo Boricua

by John Greenfield

After five years of operating out of the back of a storefront near North and Western, in May West Town Bikes community cycle center moved to a new larger space at 2459 W. Division on Humboldt Park’s Paseo Boricua Puerto Rican business district. Founded by Alex Wilson, West Town is a not-for-profit which teaches bicycle safety and maintenance, and other life skills to youth, as well as providing open shop sessions and mechanics classes for adults.

Partnering with the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and the Division Street Business Development Association, West Town is launching a new retail store called Ciclo Urbano (“Urban Cycle”) at the front of the space, offering used bikes, basic commuter gear and repair services. In cooperation with the cultural center and its community center Batey Urbano (“Urban Gathering-Place,”) the shop will host programs for underserved youth, teaching mechanical and entrepreneurial skills and offering opportunities for creativity and adventure through bike building and travel.

A grand opening celebration and fundraiser took place on Friday, May 1, starting with a parade leaving from the old space, 2418 W. North, to a block party at the new one, departing around 5 pm. The festivities included live music; Puerto Rican cuisine; and beer from New Belgium Brewery, whose Tour De Fat bike festival raised several thousand dollars last year for West Town, making the expansion possible.

Recently Vote With Your Feet met with José “Jay” Rivera, a Columbia College film student who volunteers at Batey Urbano, and José Luis Rodríguez, Program Director for the cultural center’s CO-OP Humboldt Park obesity prevention initiative, at Café Colao, 2638 W. Division. They talked about how their organizations promote a healthy community and the significance of the new shop to the neighborhood.

José "Jay" Rivera and José Luis Rodríguez in front of the new Ciclo Urbano space

VWYF: Jay, how’d you get involved with West Town Bikes and Ciclo Urbano?

Rivera: When I graduated high school my sister got me a bike and I rode it every day. It was just one of those bikes you get from a department store like a Wal-Mart or something and it started to break down on me. One of my roommates had an old Schwinn Suburban so I put new tires on it and started riding that, to school and along the lake. When that started breaking down I tried to fix the small things.

CO-Op already has a program called Muévete (“Move Yourself,”) with free dancing and aerobics classes at the Humboldt Park Field House. There was a conversation about me maybe joining Muévete and adding a bicycling component since I was riding every day instead of taking the bus. Also Co-Op sponsored a fresh fruit market called Conuco on Saturdays and Alex Wilson used to sell bicycles there. I met him when I bought a bike from him. I got involved in the Build A Bike workshops at West Town and a year and a half later there was talk of bringing a shop to Division Street and they asked if I was interested in helping out.

VWYF: José [Luis Rodríguez,] why is obesity a problem in Humboldt Park?

Rodriguez: Among the Latino population in Humboldt Park, both Puerto Rican and Mexicano, the overweight and obesity rate is close to 50 percent among the young, between the ages of two and 18, and the adult population runs at around 32 percent. This can be attributed to a number of things. One of them is the lack of physical activity. Kids don’t get out as often as they should. They’re not engaged in sports activities, they’re not engaged in riding or walking in the neighborhood. They’re much more sedentary.

And this happens across the population as a whole – it isn’t something new. But this impacts us specifically because one half of the young population has a problem that will eventually lead to something much greater. The diabetes rate among Puerto Ricans in Humboldt Park is 21 percent – that’s very high. The mortality rate is 68 deaths per every 100,000. Obviously there are a lot of other factors that lead to diabetes but obesity is certainly one of them.

CO-OP Humboldt Park came about after a study by Sinai Urban Health Institute which looked at six community areas and their rates of obesity among children and adults. That study was followed up by a survey that we did at one of our street festivals called Fiesta Boricua. From that survey we held a community meeting with the support of a local church. From that we began looking at the issue of obesity as a problem that needed to be addressed.

And this is where Muévete comes in, in terms of providing a space and a place free of charge where residents who are overweight or obese can go and exercise. We have a really good participation rate with 40 to 45 participants at every one-hour session who are getting aerobic activity. It’s low-impact aerobics, it’s not designed for folks that are already physically fit. It’s really for community residents that are not doing anything at all, so they can go somewhere and see other people that look like them and have the same issues. They can begin taking charge of their own health.

That’s part of the physical activity component but we’ve always said that physical activity is not just aerobics. Over the summer we started a walking program five days a week and we saw biking as another component. So there are five or six activities that we want to promote and get community residents involved with - aerobics, walking, biking, swimming and skateboarding – so we can get the entire community involved in some kind of physical activity. The young are more in tune with skateboarding and biking.

So for us as CO-OP our thing is that we have a problem and we have to address it and try to figure out what can be done. It’s not enough to say, “Go to the doctor.” It’s not enough to say, “Go on a diet.” There are a lot of other things that are involved. We have to capture people’s imagination and engage them in such a way that that they take ownership of the things we do.

So biking is something that can involve more young people and capture their imagination. It addresses health issues, but also environmental issues. With all the talk of reducing our carbon footprint … I’m 48 years old and when I was growing up we didn’t have computers or Nintendo. I can remember, six, seven days a week we were riding bikes, playing baseball, playing basketball, playing “Catch One Catch All.” Today most young people don’t do any of this. So the whole idea is to give young people something healthy and constructive to do.

VWYF: Jay, tell me about Batey Urbano.

Rivera: The Batey is about seven years old and I’ve been with it three years, since I started high school in this neighborhood. It was started by a group of young college students that felt that there was no place in the community where kids of color could channel their energy into something positive. There wasn’t a particular idea of what the space would be it was like, “OK, we have money for the first month’s rent and for the sign – what do we do with it?” Nowadays we’re funded by grants and donations.

One of the things that make the Batey unique is that it’s run by a collective of youth. There’s no board or anything. On any given Friday there’ll be a hip-hop night where young people come out and do their stuff or people from other cities come and perform. There are poetry nights and film nights, where we watch a film and discuss it. There are also nights when we bring professors in for teach-ins.

During the week we have classes called BACCA, Barrio Arts, Culture and Community Academy. In that we teach on-line radio and have our own station, [The website currently is down as they change servers.] We also have classes in photography, journalism and graphic design. Right now we’re working on a campaign against underage drinking and using all the different media that we’ve taught the students to try to figure out how to reach the community with flyers, advertisements and radio spots. We’re moving towards having video labs and teaching film.

One thing we’ve had since the Batey opened is a policy of no racist, sexist, homophobic language in the space. It’s a way to question the way that we speak to each other and how we treat each other and how do we turn the Batey into a safe space where people can express themselves creatively.

VWYF: How is Ciclo Urbano going to be a valuable addition to the Paseo Boricua?

Rivera: A lot of people in the neighborhood associate bicycling with yuppies but Ciclo Urbano is going to change that perception. Service is going to be available in Spanish or English. The shop is going to provide bicycles and gear to the community at reasonable prices. For example, it will be the first shop in the city to sell used tires and patched tubes. In an emergency you’ll be able to pay three dollars for a tire that will keep your bike rolling. This also cuts down on waste and has an environmental impact.

Alex Wilson leads West Town Bikes students on a ride

They’re going to offer cheap or free Build A Bike classes for young people. And young people are going to have a voice in what kind of other programs they would like to see. There’s talk right now of a bike-sharing program – those details are still being worked out. There will be opportunities for jobs and internships for kids who complete the youth programs.

Rodriguez: The relationship between West Town Bikes and the community has been wonderful because West Town has approached this in a very mindful and respectful way. Puerto Ricans have been in the neighborhood since the ‘50s, after being displaced from other parts of the city. There are historical markers here and the flag arches over Division Street, but some people move into the neighborhood and they’re clueless.

Ciclo Urbano was a case where someone approached us and said, “How can we work together to do something mutually beneficial?” Alex Wilson and West Town did a presentation for the board of the Division Street Business Association explaining how in the future the shop would represent the community in terms of staff and programming. The board voted overwhelmingly in favor of his proposal and the DSBA actually wound up moving offices so that Ciclo Urbano could have a corner space. This isn’t going to be just another bike shop – it’s going to be a model for how to put together a business that’s culturally relevant.


Rosaileen said...

What a great blog, very informative and interesting.

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