Denis de Verteuil is headed back to grad school this fall to study Urban Planning at The Ohio State University, but he’s not taking the summer off. Instead, he’ll be leading a group of 30 cyclists on a two-month cross-country ride called “Bike & Build” where stops are made along the way to work on affordable housing projects with Habitat for Humanity. We recently conducted a Q&A session with Denis to find out more about this project.
Q: What got you interested in participating in Bike & Build?
A: Well, I was completing my last year at the Knowlton School of Architecture at OSU and I was looking for something different. I heard about Bike & Build from a friend, who’s roommate was doing the event. I went to their website and realized, with my love for cycling and my creative building background, that this was my adventure. I completed the trip from Boston, MA to Santa Barbara, CA in 2009 left such am impact that I decided to lead this years Northern US trip from Portsmouth, NH to Vancouver, BC.
Q: Have you participated in other types of long-trek rides or cross-country rides?
A: Not before Bike & Build. I was a bike commuter when I worked Downtown. I lived in Rome, Italy for 3 months and when I came back home I gave up my car. I cycled everywhere, but nothing compared to touring. For training, I completed two TOSRVs and joined in on a few COP rides. These were the closest I got to long/tour rides before my 2 month cross-country extravaganza.
Q: Are specific communities selected for the home building portion of the trip, and are there different needs in each of these communities where awareness is being raised?
A: It doesn’t matter if it is urban or rural, east coast or west, every community has issues with affordable housing, and we try to help as much as we can. Communities usually contact us because they know that we have lots of volunteers and grant money to give. Each build site and needs are completely different but all with the same purpose: to create affordable housing and build up community. Last year we set trusses, roofed, painted a homeless emergency shelter, build a shed, built/painted a fence, landscaped and met with local affordable housing organizations. One of the trips (Boston2SantaBarbara) has a build day with the local Columbus Habitat for Humanity on July 7th.
Q: Do you see similarities between the sustainability of human-powered transit and the community-driven mission of affordable housing?
A: I feel that accomplishing this feat by bicycle shows people our commitment of time and energy (literally) to the cause. Some people we meet think that our mission is so incredible, they go pretty far to show us the appreciation. For example, the city of Portales, NM, who’s mayor met with us to declared July, 29th Bike & Build Day. People have let us stay in their homes, and lots of people have fed us across the country.
Q: With you heading back to grad school in the fall to study Urban Planning, do you think this experience will lend itself toward your studies?
A: Of course! This trip is one of the reasons I am going back to grad school for Urban Planning. I want to help create better communities that flourish with the vitality of the local culture and help Columbus get proper public transportation, bicycle rights and pedestrian/human scale in our city. Through this trip I was able to wake up in a new city/town everyday and see how others live their lives. These experiences I wouldn’t trade for the world and I am about to get another summer’s worth.
Q: Where can people find out more and donate to the cause if they’re interested in supporting?