There’s a place called Aotearoa New Zealand, in the South Pacific. We have a few pretty humble sized cities here, but traditionally planning has not been great for all the people that live in our urban areas. I happen to know a few of the superwomen that spend a lot of time volunteering to contribute to our cities, working for safer urban environments, to give people equal opportunities to all the special things happening in our cities and to make cities better places for everyone.
One such woman is Catarina Gutierrez, based in Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand’s very quaint little capital city. She’s pretty fond of her Wellington life, and describes it as having everything; the coffee, the beers, the beards… but lacking one thing: bikes.
Catarina came to Aotearoa from Portland, a place where, as she puts it, “Cycling is so normal, you don’t have to be an ‘advocate’ for it.” Then she moved to Aotearoa and found out the hard way that it’s pretty difficult to cycle anywhere here, without feeling the need to join a bicycle advocacy group, so joined Cycle Aware Wellington.
Catarina is a Digital Marketer at ThankYou Payroll in Wellington. She refers to herself as a storyteller for social enterprises. She’s also the head of the Wellington chapter of Women in Urbanism Aotearoa, and an unashamed urban and bicycle advocate, as well being pro-walking — in the last year she’s gone through three pairs of shoes. That’s probably a pretty good indicator of a dedicated urbanist; or at the very least that she lives in a reasonably good city to walk in.
She’s also passionate about women in business, championing “Unconferences” for women called “Women Who Get Shit Done.” Unconferences are like a conference, but smaller. They’re self or co-designed, so there’s no need to stick to a programme or a schedule that’s produced by an event organiser, and attendees get to set their own rules.
The most recent of these conferences involved 120 women and their children at a three day conference in Ōtaki, where they talked about topics from harassment and politics, to knitting, growing your own food, and recycling. The event attendees were diverse in age and ethnicity and they made up a positive network of active women.
During her time in New Zelaland, Catarina has also lived in Christchurch. Devastated by earthquakes in 2011, when Catarina lived there, Christchurch was (and still is) piecing back together their city. Following the earthquakes, an interesting project called Gap Filler formed to help rebuild Christchurch’s urban spaces. One of the gems that sprung up was an urban bicycle collective called RAD (Recycle A Dunger) Bikes. Through this group, Catarina gained a lot of knowledge and skills as a bike mechanic skills, something she has since taken back to share with Wellington.
Through this experience, Catarina became fascinated by how male-dominated the bike shops in Aotearoa were and still are. Even though RAD Bikes had a fairly even gender split, and often there were days where the majority of people in the space were women, Catarina was still inspired to challenge the normative set up and what people experience of bike stores. She saw the need to make bicycle stores more inclusive places — places where women would be free from feeling threatened or patronised. In fact, the phenomenon of bicycle stores being unwelcome spaces is well documented; Grease Rag tackles it here.
She set her sights on challenging Wellington’s Bicycle Junction to change. Since its inception, Bicycle Junction has since been one of New Zealand’s coolest bicycle stores. But even its management recognised that there was room for improvement. “They wanted to make the space more special, and more women-friendly. There are plenty of shops in Wellington that focus on cycling as a sport,” Catarina explains, “But there were no shops with a commuter focus or getting families on bikes.”
Catarina had observed mothers with strollers struggling to fit and move about a bike repair shop, for example, as well as the overwhelming discomfort many women experienced as customers. She set herself a goal to make the space into a welcoming space for women. “Bike spaces need to embed a culture of acceptance, and to be welcoming spaces for everyone,” she says, “if we want more people on bikes. And we do.”
So with Catarina’s steer, Bicycle Junction rebranded itself (see here, the website is fantastic). It became an event space, where they regularly host workshops after hours for women, and it’s also a neat place to grab a coffee and hang, challenging traditional bicycle shops, which focus far too much on road bikes, mountain bikes, and, to be frank, men in Lycra.
They’re also really lovable, hosting events like cooking eggs and bacon while cycling. They even draw people from outside Wellington, like myself, who traveled from Auckland to purchase my bike. The demand for friendlier, more inclusive bike stores is very real, and I wouldn't have bought my bike anywhere else. Catarina recommends telling local bike stores that you and your friends want these things from your local bike shop, hopefully giving them the mandate and will to change. By demanding more inclusive and better spaces, it will encourage retailers to start catering to women, children, families – essentially anyone who wants to ride a bike, and make them feel like a welcome part of the cycling community. Maybe one day, Aotearoa, like Portland, will be a place where riding a bike is just… normal. Catarina is helping us get a little closer to that every day.