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The Oakwood Community Bike Rack

A Study in Neighborly Economics

With six people living in our house and only two cars, we have a lot of bikes at Oakwood Community. For the past few months, we've been stashing the bikes wherever we can. Jayme and I have a double-decker bike rack in the front hallway, but that's only enough to fit our two bikes. Any more, and they start blocking our walking space. That left us with three extra bikes that we had to find a space for.

What we needed was a bike rack for our front porch. We talked to a local iron working business, but our budget was low, and their rates were a little high for us.

Enter Tom Dawson. One of our interns, Chris, is volunteering on a project restoring an old cemetery for the Lakewood-Tuscaloosa neighborhood association. Tom is one of the organizers on the project, and he also works in the planning department for the city of Durham. We approached him in the hope of figuring out where the city gets their bike racks, and how we could get one like it. We got something much better. Turns out Tom knows how to weld, and was hankering to get his hands on a project. We worked out a reasonable price, and Tom put together a list of materials he would need to get the project done.

Enter Matt Dudek and Jessie Gladin-Kramer. They're neighbors of ours, who moved into a historic house in the neighborhood, which they've renovated. Their blog about the process is called "Shake the Frame," and it's got a lot of great photography and cool stories (Jessie's a professional photographer). They're also working on renovating another house to provide an affordable, well maintained rental home in our neighborhood. Around the time we started talking to Tom about a bike rack, Matt gave us a tour of the rental house, which they had just finished gutting. There were lots of old water pipes lying in the front room, which were perfect for Tom's bike rack project. Matt generously offered to donate as much pipe as we needed.

Fast-forward a couple weeks. August 31st, Tom came by with the bike rack. As you can see from the picture above, it is a work of art. Gorgeous and industrial looking, yet organic at the same time. It is built from the pipes of Matt's house, preserving the connection to the history of the neighborhood, along with some old railroad spikes and ties, connecting the neighborhood history to the story of Durham, which grew up around railroads, and is still punctuated by train whistles, and the chugging of the trains down the tracks. The shape is reminiscent of a pair of horns, giving it a further connection to the Bull City. It was far more beautiful and laden with meaning than we were expecting from a simple bike rack.

The only problem was that it just barely fit on our porch, which didn't leave enough room for the bikes. We tried a few different configurations, but just couldn't make it work in the space we had. Tom generously took the rack with him and and reworked it, shortening the horns enough that it worked better with the space. A few days later, he brought the rack back, with its new dimensions.

We paid Tom for his efforts, with a little extra for the work of resizing it at the end. In a wonderful spirit of generosity, he turned right around and donated the entirety of what we had given him to The Scrap Exchange, a local organization devoted to reuse of old materials, who had recently been ousted from their old space when the roof caved in, and are currently trying to find their feet in a new space.

It blows my mind how our humble need for a bike rack has become a vehicle for bringing together our community, for promoting a spirit of generosity, and for reminding us all of how we depend on one another.

We are deeply grateful to Tom and Matt and Jessie for making it possible.

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