Towards Carfree Cities V

As is stated in Tor Åge Bringsværd‘s Den som har begge beina på jorda står stille (He who has both feet firmly planted on the ground stands still) — tilfeldighetene er våre venner (coincidences are our friends). Shortly after writing about car-free cities, car-free Budapest in particular, I came across a conference in Budapest that will be in a couple weeks time, and it was organised by the World Carfree Network that happened to be within walking distance from me.

I am usually a little stand-offish for classic green groups. They may be more often right than wrong and the issues are important, but they tend to be wrapped in a moralistic and often apocalyptic language. The message that comes across is “We know what is best for you and if you don’t do what we say the world is going to end.” As a rule I would say that green groups are better at identifying problems than at prescribing solutions.

This network is more interesting than that. Cars are not bad because they are inherently evil. Cars are bad when they do harm, and the harm they do depend on how they are used and where they are. The probably most ecologically sustainable and diverse human habitat ever created is the city. Even if it was not, the city is where most people choose to live, and the number of citizen in the workd is increasing. Making better working cities will make improve the life of the greatest number of people.

Cities are not created equal and there is a rich choice of cities to compare with. Apart from the basics – a place to work and a place to live – cities offer benefits like a rich social life, cultural, architectural, and historical depth, a wide variety of entertainment, good communications. A badly run city can be experienced as a dangerous, polluted, lonely, noisy, crowded, and hostile place.

Traffic is not the only factor to determine the “niceness” of a city, but it is likely the most important one today. In the early years of the industrial revolution the cities were blighted by heavily polluting industries and endemic poverty. Urban renewal in city by city has now cleaned up recreational areas and repurposed heavy industrial parks, typically into shopping centres, new industries, or high-rent apartments. Moving cars out of city centres will be next in line.

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