Hi. I’m Rachel Smith. I’m a Researcher-Author–Speaker and an Urban & Transport Planner. I’m passionate about urban planning, understanding modern lifestyles and saving money.
I’m the Founder of Underspent. My goals are to help make our towns and cities places where people can afford to live, work and play (Underspent Towns & Cities) and to help men and women change their spending and transform their savings so that they can be financially secure and ready for the future.
I’ve spent the last 17 years working in urban and transport planning in the public and private sectors in the UK and Australia. I have 2 TEDx talks, I’ve published 4 books and I’ve won national and international awards. I’ve spoken at more than 200 conferences around the world including in the House of Lord’s London. I was part of the BMW Guggenheim Lab, I’m a columnist at Sourceable and I’m a regular on TV, radio and in print media.
I’m underspent because I didn’t buy anything new or 2nd hand during 2014 and I saved a staggering 38% of my take-home salary without dramatically changing my life. It started as an experiment, but it changed my life, so I kept on going.
“Rachel Smith is one of Australia’s brightest thinkers on the perpetual challenge of urban planning” (News Limited)
“an emerging International Talent” (The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York)
“her dedication to the environment is inspiring and her passion for cycling is unmatched” (TED, New York)
Why Cycling Rachel Smith?
- Cycling Super Highways – My first dream is to build Cycling Super Highways. My vision is that anyone will be able to safely ride a bicycle regardless of their age, gender, physical abilities, cycling skills and road safety awareness. When the Los Angeles Department of Transport said “for the bike to catch on we need a revolution in our bicycle infrastructure” they were right. If we really want riding a bicycle to be a central part of our lifestyle, our transport system and our cities we need an ‘infrastructure revolution’. That’s why I created Cycling Super Highways, 7 metre wide bicycle ways with six lanes for slow, medium and fast bicycle riders, completely separated from all parked and moving cars.
- Floating Bikeways made out of waste plastic – My second dream is a floating bikeway on the Sydney Harbour or on the Thames in London, constructed out of recycled waste plastic and used aluminium drink cans. Let’s use our waste. David de Rothchild built his Plastiki boat using used plastic drinks bottles, Vertec build road bridges with waste plastic and in Kuranda, Australia benches in public places are made from old plastic milk bottles. I’d like us to innovate and build floating bicycle paths from waste plastic. Imagine it. Watch my TEDxQUT talk “Who says building the impossible is impossible?”
- Lazy Sunday Cycle – I’m the co-founder of Lazy Sunday Cycle. LSC is all about normal people, in normal clothes on normal bikes. It’s not about no special clothes or specialized and technical equipment. We encourage and enable anyone and everyone who wants to ride a bicycle for fun; people who are ‘interested but a little bit concerned’ about cycling, people who just want to get out there and have a go at cycling, enthusiastic bicycle riders and people who want to cycle with other people so that they can chat. It’s aimed at young people, old people, families with children, children with stabilizers, people with fancy bikes and people with cargo bikes and people with bikes with baskets!
A few cool things!
- I was hand-picked by former Queensland Premier Hon Anna Bligh MP and Transport Minister Hon Rachel Nolan MP as a curator of the art+place panel
- Winner 2015 Key Person of Influence Publish Award
- Nominated for 2015 Queensland Premier’s Award for leadership in sustainability
- Finalist 2014 BUPA blog awards
- Winner 2008 AITPM Janet Brash Memorial Scholarship
- Winner 2003 CIHT BP International Road Safety Award
- Finalist for the 2004 International Walk to School Week Award
- I developed two award winning primary school assemblies. 1) Ready Steady Road Safety – An interactive quiz show primary school assembly based on the TV programme ‘Ready Steady Cook’ which questions the ways in which we travel to school and why and 2) Finding Nemo Outside School – Based on the Disney movie ‘Finding Nemo’ this assembly looks at the dangers on the way to school and at the school gate and allows primary children to identify safer ways to travel to and access school
- In 2005 I convinced Disney Playhouse TV company to work with me and the walking bus kids at Devoran Primary School to produce a children’s television programme for the UK and USA on the benefits of sustainable travel – alas without Mickey Mouse – but we had our own red carpet ‘Premiere’ in the school hall
- I’m a member of the Chartered Institute of Highways and Transportation (CIHT) and the Australian Institute of Traffic Planning and Management (AITPM)
How and why I became an Author – At the start of 2014 I was frustrated and like most people working in engineering/professional services consultancies I was living in fear. It seemed like everyday a co-worker, colleague, friend or industry peer was made redundant. So called ‘leaders’ in my industry didn’t seem to be doing anything and conversations at the coffee machine, seminars and BBQs revolved around the latest rounds of redundancies. I was sick and tired of the constant negativity. In March 2014 I “put my money where my mouth was” and I took myself to a one day entrepreneur and brand accelerator day. One week later I signed up to the 40 week Key Person of Influence entrepreneur course. I didn’t have a business idea, I didn’t have an ABN…. I didn’t have a clue! I did however have a very real sense of urgency and an almighty amount of drive and determination to succeed. My colleagues, managers and peers thought I was insane. “Why waste your own personal money on a business course” they typically said and “If I had spare cash I’d spend it on a holiday” or “why waste your time and money writing and self-publishing a book”. It was one of the toughest, hardest and most rewarding 40 weeks of my life. An intense journey of professional and personal development. I found my purpose and my WHY, I self funded and self published 2 books, I created two businesses, I learnt more about business than most business people will ever care to learn, 6 months after I finished the course I got myself an ABN(!) and I met the most incredible, inspiring and generous people I have ever met in my life. I now have 2 businesses; Underspent & ‘City Planning for Modern Lifestyles’. I’m not sure where my journey will lead, but it’s been one very exciting adventure thus far.
My story – According to medical research I should be dead. In 2001 I was involved in a near fatal scuba diving incident. Thanks to the incredible medical team at DDRC in Plymouth I am alive. Cheating death changes your perspective on life and definitely makes you seize every opportunity… I’d studied rural and urban transport as part of my Geography degree, but had never considered a career in transportation. I graduated in the middle of a downturn and so I qualified as a specialist adult literacy and numeracy teacher and taught adult literacy to those who has slipped through the conventional education system. I was privileged to undertake research for the UK Further Education Funding Council, in partnership with Devon County Council, during 1999. As Project Officer I was made aware of “real” transport issues affecting the lives of people in remote rural areas: social exclusion, very limited transport availability, isolation from shops and employment opportunities, and the huge cost of owning and running a private car. My fondest memories are of a local blind society eager to help me improve bus routes; of Kate, a sixth former, travelling daily to college across the Devon Cornwall border by taxi and then two different bus services; and of Gerald, a quadriplegic, whose attendance at college – despite all the travel difficulties – was the highlight of his life. The project was all the more special for me because I had, only a few years beforehand, spent cold winter mornings travelling on a draughty, dirty and old double-decker bus, winding along the country lanes to get to college. Not only did I want to help improve transport generally, but I also wanted to prevent others from spending the hours of uncomfortable travelling that my peers and myself had endured. My hard work, dedication and sheer motivation paid dividends. The research was awarded significant funding and generated many trial projects to help students and the wider community. But most importantly, and ironically, my younger sister, her peers and the people of my home town benefited from better and more affordable public transport. From that moment I was hooked on transport planning and helping people to solve real transport problems. This is where my journey of transport and education began. In the days before ‘transport planning’ I was part of a scuba diving expedition in the Bay Islands off Honduras sponsored by David Bellamy and in that time gained a Coral Cay Diploma in Coral Reef Surveying, worked on environmental (water) research for an international pharmacy manufacturer, owned my own scuba diving school, worked as a PADI Scuba Diving Instructor (which is quite amazing for someone who never really graduated out of Mrs Hulme’s shallow end class at swimming club!) and sold a few time share holidays from a call centre. I’m a qualified marine medic with the International and British Divers Marine Life Rescue teams and in the past I’ve has rescued a number of stranded mammals including 2 dolphins, 3 seals and a whale and I was once the midwife to a grey seal on a Devon beach… nearly loosing 4 fingers in the process. I have been a brass musician since the tender age of 5 years old (when my instrument was actually bigger than me) and I have passed UK Royal School of Music practical and theory Grades 1 – 8 almost all with distinction. I’ve performed in London’s Royal Albert Hall and competed in the UK and Australian National Brass Band Championships. In my spare time I love horse riding, surfing, beach days, yoga, meditation, reading, hiking, kayaking, going to the movies and riding my pink bicycle. In my ‘extra spare’ time I’m writing two children’s book, but I don’t expect to be the next J K Rowling…