Any visitor to a North American city knows that a lot of the geography is designed for single occupant car-based transportation. Anybody who’s spent months in any of these places knows that this car-focused design has been an unmitigated disaster. People are dying, the planet is being killed, and so many other problems stem from building cities for cars.
That badness all being acknowledged, we are at turning point of urban design. The evidence for making our streets for pedestrians over cars is overwhelming; cities which life easier on people are witnessing demonstrable benefits. Those benefits are quantifiable and more research comes out every month highlighting the benefits of desiring for people. Over at Strong Towns they have compiled a great article outlining some of the benefits of pedestrian friendly design.
The cost of paving sidewalks for people is minuscule compared with the cost of paving wide roads for cars, installing traffic signals, paying the salaries of traffic cops, etc. Even the cost of providing enhancements to pedestrian space such as trees and benches pale in comparison to what we spend when we build around cars.
Furthermore, the wear and tear caused by foot traffic is also negligible compared with the wear and tear caused by car and truck traffic, meaning that long-term maintenance costs for walk-friendly areas are also much lower than for auto-oriented places. (Ironically, most cities spend exponentially more on their roads while utterly neglecting their sidewalks.)
In short, a simple sidewalk could serve millions of people traveling on foot for decades, even centuries, with only a small amount of up-front investment and minimal maintenance costs for the city — yet it would support dozens or hundreds of local businesses. The same length of street designed primarily for cars would cost exponentially more to build and keep up and would only serve a handful of businesses.
Vehicles have been used to kill a lot of people throughout 2017, sometimes it’s an act of terror and other times it’s drivers being startlingly incompetent. Either way, people who walk are under threat from vehicular traffic in our cities (remember that everyone is a pedestrian). This past weekend in Toronto 11 people were struck in less than half a day by cars. The car-friendly designs of cities also make it easier for vehicular terrorism, safe streets can thwart some terrorists.
Why do we design our cities around cars and then allow people to drive recklessly? We shouldn’t.
Let’s try something seemingly radical: let’s say no to car culture in big cities.
Of course, the cities we have today could not ban cars tomorrow. No current public transportation system functions well enough to carry an entire city population. Not everyone can walk or ride a bike. Too many taxi drivers would be out of work.
We are not ready, but the car-free city is being tested in bits and pieces around the world. We should learn from all of them, and apply those lessons as soon as possible.
Oslo plans to ban all cars from its city center by 2019. Madrid has a goal of 500 car-free acres by 2020. In Paris and Mexico City, people are restricted from driving into the city center on certain days based on the age of their cars or the number on their license plates. Inside Barcelona’s superblocks, all car traffic that isn’t local is banned. Over 75 miles of roads in Bogotá, Colombia, close to traffic for a full day every week.
It’s no shock that cars are bad for health, what is shocking is that we continue to build cities to support automobiles. This is changing in some European cities and hopefully the idea will spread. Quite a few large cities in Europe are outright banning cars that use consume fossil fuels in the coming years (so residents with cars have a chance to get rid of their car). As the linked article says, ‘It’s not a human right to pollute the air for others’, we need massive change in how we treat polluters in cities.
Paris will ban all petrol- and diesel-fuelled cars by 2030, a decade ahead of France’s 2040 target. Copenhagen plans to ban diesel cars from 2019, while Oxford has proposed banning all non-electric vehicles from its centre from 2020. This would make central Oxford the world’s first zero-emissions zone, officials believe.
Sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans, including hybrids, will be banned in the UK from 2040.
Thanks to Delaney!
For too long cities have been plagued by NIMBYism – people who chant not in my backyard. People who oppose change have held back communities for too long and now people are shouting yes in my backyard – YIMBY. In Toronto the rise of this movement has led to annual event called YIMBY Toronto. The movement is international though and it’s primarily driven by people who have been negatively impacted by previous generations’ poor urban design choices. A whole generation is taking a negative and making it a positive.
The movement is fuelled by the anger of young adults from the millennial generation, many of whom are now in their late 20s and early 30s. Rather than suffer in silence as they struggle to find affordable places to live, they are heading to planning meetings en masse to argue for more housing – preferably the very kind of dense, urban infill projects that have often generated neighbourhood opposition from nimbys (“not in my back yard”).
Most people think living off the grid means living the countryside with your own well, reenable energy, and food source. The truth is that style of off the grid requires massive space to work (for example, a well needs a large area to collect water from), so that rural off the grid doesn’t work for everyone.
What is a person living in the city to do to get off the grid though?
Back in the 90s there was a competition throughout Canada to figure that out. One winner is still living in his house that is off the grid in Toronto.
“We promised to make the house self-sufficient and not use any non-renewable fuel,” Paloheimo said.
“Despite the home’s high-tech appearance, most of the products and systems are simple and straightforward,” said Chris Ives, CMHC project manager, said in a Toronto Healthy House report published after the house was built.
“Off-grid houses do not necessarily require hours of labour for upkeep. In fact, everything in the house is easy to maintain and available in today’s marketplace.”