Towards Car-Free Cities

Guest post by “Roger”

Climate change begins at home. Especially in the 80% of British households which have one or more cars. There is a small but widespread movement looking forward to the day we collectively kick the car habit.
The ninth annual “Towards Carfree Cities” conference took place in York from the 28th June to the 1st July, its first time in the UK. This was the main event in 2010 for the World Carfree Network (WCN, ) with support from Carfree UK and a variety of other organisations bringing together activists, academics, planners and anyone else interested in living without cars.

Just what does living without cars mean? The WCN is a movement with all sorts of perspectives and views, but not a specific set of demands. There is, though, consensus on a lot of issues:

Diagnosis
Cars have transformed our lives and in particular our cities. Though we often believe this has been a change for the better; the damage we are doing to ourselves and others is a series of catastrophes: environmental, health and for communities. Carbon emissions are the tip of a stubbornly non-melting iceberg of harm and “externalized costs”.

Treatments
The problem is a political, economic, environmental, technical but perhaps above all a personal one. Car culture rests on people not just finding them useful but being more or less in love with their cars. If we’re going to cure the disease, and do it fast enough, all of its dimensions need tackling at once.

Some of the measures are, as one of the participants at the conference put it, “methadone” for the addicts: car clubs, taxis and car sharing all have their place, especially if they chip away at the default option of every household buying a car or three.
Then there are technical issues about how to design carfree communities either from scratch or by adapting existing cities. We too often forget that cars have only been around for 100 years but cities a lot longer. Cars have been one of the major threats to cities and been imposed on urban landscapes and communities at great cost. For some of the designs for car free communities look at neighbourhoods living carfree now in Amsterdam, Groningen, Vienna, Freiburg, Cologne, Hamburg, Zermatt and Nuremberg and at http://www.carfree.com which also drafts much larger scale car free cities.
Going car free is all about thinking globally and acting locally. It’s about convincing each household that the journeys it thinks it needs to make by car can usually shift to walking, cycling or public transport. It’s local authorities particularly around Europe that are leading the way. Car free areas are not plonked down in isolation. They work because public transport is planned and promoted.
Time though is running out. Every year that goes by sees another 1.2 million (and counting) die on the roads worldwide; as well as more people dying prematurely from preventable conditions due to inactivity like heart disease or pollution from cars. Cars are the single biggest source of atmospheric pollution and rising, around 14% of the world’s CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning (higher if you take into account raw material exploration, transportation, refining and distribution of fuel).
So what are we waiting for?

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