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996Re: [carfree_cities] new vs. old

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  • Doug Salzmann
    Jul 4, 2000
      Neil wrote (in part):

      > Surely if the carfree idea is to
      > benefit a great number of people, these existing districts,
      > streets and buildings in the existing cities must be
      > transformed rather than supplemented or even, heaven forbid,
      > supplanted.

      Hello, Neil, and welcome.

      As Joel Crawford has indicated in his response, the necessity of
      transformation of existing cities has not been overlooked. However, such
      transformation presents special problems and extra hurdles not faced by, for
      instance, projects in blighted brownfields.

      As you note, many European cities have retained, at least at the centers, a
      pre-autocentric infrastructure that will lend itself reasonably well to
      conversion. A few of the older North American cities (including Montreal,
      as Louis-Luc observes) also have salvageable cores.

      For most cities, parts of cities and suburbs developed since WWII (to
      greater or lesser degrees, on both continents), however, the demands and
      pressures of automobility have resulted in built environments that will be
      very difficult to re-shape. Making them over into workable carfree cities
      and neighborhoods will require what one designer friend refers to,
      technically, as "scraping away all that crap, including many of the
      streets." Transformation of these places will not, certainly, be
      impossible, but it will be costly and painful, and the process will be
      fraught with political peril.

      I think that, for the near term, carfree development will be most
      practicable and effective in blighted districts near existing city centers,
      where we can take advantage of relatively "clean canvases," extensible
      transit systems, existing amenities, etc.

      As for the awful mess of sprawlburbia, spreading its ugly tentacles into
      every nook and cranny of the countryside, its day will also come, indeed,
      isn't so very far away. In the not-so-distant future, the emerging
      permanent energy shortage will make low density sprawl extremely uneconomic.
      At that point, there will be much less resistance to re-working the inner
      suburbs into more functional and livable forms. What about the outer
      suburbs and edge cities? Maybe we'll mine them for recyclables and let the
      fields and forests reclaim them.

      > A new city - almost certainly in North America - would be
      > a fantastic benchmark and flagship project for the concept
      > of carfree and is a worthy goal, but would in fact be a
      > lesser challenge.

      That's true. And, much as we all wish to avoid greenfield development,
      cooking up a few carfree cities "from scratch" will be essential to
      demonstrating the benefits and workability of the form. People will need to
      experience "pure carfree."

      > For the masses to benefit, our existing
      > cities must be revived, rejuvenated and liberated from the
      > oppression of the car.

      Exactly right. One step at a time.

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