The hard activist yards vs. the fantasy and vision
- It seems to me whilst we can be dreaming of the brighter scheme of
things (perhaps it's an American trait?)we're forgetting that cities
like Canberra in Australia have had the potential to be relatively
car free all along. It has the highest bicycle use of any state
capital in Australia, has a high provision of green space, yet seems
in some part to have defied the intended outcomes of such planned
The age old phenomenon of people congregating in pretty limited areas
such as town centres happens in Canberra as well. The interstitial
green spaces are deserted and people don't walk their dogs or play
frisbee in these palatial parklands (probably because they're
surrounded by roads and rather nondescript housing). The bus system
in Canberra is excellent possibly as there is no other public
transport option. It is quite frankly the best bus system I've ever
been on (and yes, I've been to other cities in the world and
experienced really crap buses). Canberra's buses run on LPG, btw. The
road system in Canberra works well, for the time being and for the
pretty low volumes of traffic it carries. Canberra could greatly
benefit from a tram network connecting its main town centres.
On another bent, why are we suggesting public transport be free all
of a sudden, or all at once? I may be playing devil's advocate here,
but why isn't there a big push first for a huge increase in petrol
prices for private vehicles (single occupant for starters) and then a
phase-in of LPG or Natural Gas fuel technologies with a view to a
final conversion to other, more sustainable energies. I believe Tom
Hartmann has a point when he recommends we use petrol to power
existing technologies which produce the hardware of sustainable
Then we can work on making public transport free. For now a reduction
in fares would be a welcome relief, especially for the residents of
Sydney who (and I mentioned this, but no one seemed shocked by it?)
have had to absorb in the last 18 months to 1 July this year a near
25% increase in public transport fares!!! This not only sucks, but
it's disadvantaging those on the dole, old age pensioners and the
As urban planning/design and transport activists we shouldn't lose
sight of the fact that first we need to make things affordable and
accessible to the general public. Some gentrified interpretation of
what is quality public space and transport provision isn't going to
propel this push for a car-free environment indefinitely. It has to
be triggered and spurred-on by academics and activists, but it must
be _wanted_ by all the ressies and the general public who will
ultimately inherit these schemes. They need to feel consulted and
therefore included and have an according sense of ownership in
this "new urbanism". Inevitably, in the minds of many, a scheme is a
scheme, or a theory is a theory and there comes the chorus of "we've
had you lot before". In this country (Australia, if you've already
forgotten) there's still a healthy scepticism of grand plans dictated
from on high. This is manifest in a basic distrust of authority. This
causes the community to bind together and demand what it wants and
needs and not accept what is being provided (or not as may be the
case). It was the "visionary" planners and academics of the 50's and
60's in Sydney who sought to destroy a selection of rather valuable
heritage precincts and buildings to be replaced with concrete slab
piazzas topped with Le corbusier-esque tower blocks!
They never went ahead because of resident and public opposition.
Sydney is the home of the construction work "green ban".
It is a matter of degrees - we must start gently and work up to a
really big bang,e.g. to the point where millions are spent on
bulldozing motorways or wholesale adapting them to new uses such as
housing, light rail, cycleways and town squares. That's my pipe
dream, and I know it's in the wings, but still decades off.
To conlcude, I feel we here are definitely not lacking in vision -
that's great. But what about small steps to victory? It fits better
with me. Right now I'd like to get a section of guttering (kurbing)
lowered near a pedestrian access ramp of a local supermarket and a
bike rack put in near the shop entrance so I can ride to and lock up
my bike at the supermarket on my way home from work. It would be VERY
convenient for me and several others to start. It's these small
improvements to amenity and access in our cities and towns that
encourages a move away from personal motor transport to cycling. A
small, but significant step.
Where do I buy the "Car Free Cities" text in Sydney? Is it available
in a normal bookshop or do I have to have a credit card and order it
online? (just joking...I hope!)
- Sam Hodgkinson said:
>On another bent, why are we suggesting public transport be free allBest thing that could happen would be the announcement that fuel
>of a sudden, or all at once? I may be playing devil's advocate here,
>but why isn't there a big push first for a huge increase in petrol
>prices for private vehicles (single occupant for starters)......snip
prices for cars and trucks would be increased by, say, 5 cents a gallon
every month for 25 years. That lets people start to make intelligent
location decisions and to search for fuel-efficient alternatives.
It would also provide major funding for public transport, first in
R&D and system design, and then later, as the real money starts to
flow from higher gas taxes, actual construction.
>It is a matter of degrees - we must start gently and work up to aIt's not a dream--they've already spent millions tearing down
>really big bang,e.g. to the point where millions are spent on
>bulldozing motorways or wholesale adapting them to new uses such as
>housing, light rail, cycleways and town squares. That's my pipe
>dream, and I know it's in the wings, but still decades off.
freeways in the USA--first in San Francisco (Embarcadero Freeway),
Portland (the freeway along the river), and now probably in Milwaukee.
>Where do I buy the "Car Free Cities" text in Sydney? Is it availableOrdering information is available at:
>in a normal bookshop or do I have to have a credit card and order it
>online? (just joking...I hope!)
Stock will not be available in Australia until some time in July
or August; if you need the book fast, you can order it directly
from the publisher by airmail (costs US$13 extra).
Stock is now available in the USA. Best way to order until we
get the mess cleaned up is from Amazon.com (sorry, but most other
booksellers still have the wrong information for the book).
J.H. Crawford _Carfree Cities_
- J H Crawford wrote:
>It's not a dream--they've already spent millions tearing downOne thing that helped get the ball rolling in San Francisco was that
>freeways in the USA--first in San Francisco (Embarcadero Freeway),
>Portland (the freeway along the river), and now probably in Milwaukee.
earthquake back in 1989. Dawson
- MI think San Francisco needs to be held up as an example to all those
> who think changing our existing cities is a pipe dream, and that theI am glad you posted the list of San Francisco's achievement in preventing and
> only way forward is to ruin virgin land with experimental car-free
> cities that may or may not work.
undoing mistakes. It is terribly tempting plan from scratch rather than work many
solutions to the problem. But we must work with what is.
So, throw this to everyone who has the tiniest hint of a solution -- what would
you do to de auto Los Angeles?
I am convinced that small solutions, small accomplishments will raise hope and
confidence that the problem can be solved.
Every solution, every effort is worth hearing about.
For the American Midwest, I think some town councils could be pushed to require as
part of road improvement that a very wide sidewalk, wide as car lane, suitable for
both pedestrians and bicycles, be part of the package. If a township widens a
mile of road, then that mile should have a parallel bike/sidewalk lane built at the
same time. It would not be as expensive as building road because it would not
need the weight bearing foundation.
The point of making safe pedestrian and bike ways is that it would provide an
alternative that is not present in a lot of sprawl subdivisions. There is no
certain connection between points except by auto!
- Martha wrote:
-- what do you do to de-automobilize Los Angeles?
I believe the biggest obstacle is the average citizen's complete lack of
experience in what life is like in more densely built-up urban areas.
People don't have to grow up in real cities to appreciate them, but I
think it takes at least some first-hand experience visiting them to
truly understand the high quality of life available in a walkable city.
The nimby's and the density-phobes are probably never going to let
anyone build a carfree city in an existing American suburb. At least as
long as cheap gas remains available. But right now there are many
places where a single complete carfree test district could be built-up.
With careful planning and wide participation by all interested parties,
a carfree district like the one proposed by Crawford could quickly
become a genuine model of a real, walkable, villiage-like community,
with sufficient wholeness, completeness and urban amenity to inspire
suburbanites for miles around.
There's a large abandoned industrial brownfield site on the edge of
Ventura that comes to mind. Several architects, planners and city
officials who sit on the redevelopment agency in charge of figuring out
what to do with this site will be sitting in an assembly room this
Friday night, listening to J.H. Crawford speak. Send good vibes.
- Mike Lacey wrote:
Yes but most communities then were not planned on mass they grew up in a
more organic fashion, and believe are more beautiful places as a result.
It is true that the wonderful organic beauty of great Old-World cities
cannot be replicated on mass. It requires time, patience, sensitive
design skills and craftsmanship. It can, however, be planned for (see
'A Pattern Language', and 'A New Theory of Urban Design', by Christopher
Nobody wants to live in a so-called "planned community". The phrase
reeks of sterility; of one persuasive idiot's "vision" imposed upon the
hapless masses. Central Paris would not be the superlative thing of
beauty it remains today though, if not for the extensive, brilliant
plans that have been executed and refined there over the years. Many
small, semi-rural areas of the American midwest have grown up
"organically", entirely free of the burdens of planning. These 'towns'
are remarkeable only for their fragmented, disorganized, ugliness.
The problem with all the planning that's gone on recently is that all
the planners were/are either Modernists or artless, single-minded
traffic planners with no clue about how to design human spaces. The
planners of previous centuries designed spaces and places with only
human needs in mind, which is why they remain lively, and feel organic.
Seaside is disappointing, for a number of reasons, especially the fact
that to most people it represents the sum of everything that New
Urbanism has to offer. I'm with you in making the densification of
existing urban areas the priority and opposing the destruction of virgin
land. But if Seaside didn't exist, that once pristine coastline would
still be gone. And in its place would probably be something far worse
- Good points Todd.
The key, I believe, is to allow for organic and diverse (multi-
developer) growth within a strict set of pro-smart-city regulations
such as green belts, parking restrictions, transit quotas and minimum
I once read that 70-80% of new developments lack sidewalks - simply
requiring the developer to provide sidewalks would be major step.
--- In email@example.com, "Todd J. Binkley" <tjbink@b...>
> It is true that the wonderful organic beauty of great Old-Worldcities
> cannot be replicated on mass. It requires time, patience, sensitive(see
> design skills and craftsmanship. It can, however, be planned for
> 'A Pattern Language', and 'A New Theory of Urban Design', byChristopher
> Alexander) .the
> Nobody wants to live in a so-called "planned community". The phrase
> reeks of sterility; of one persuasive idiot's "vision" imposed upon
> hapless masses. Central Paris would not be the superlative thing ofMany
> beauty it remains today though, if not for the extensive, brilliant
> plans that have been executed and refined there over the years.
> small, semi-rural areas of the American midwest have grown upThese 'towns'
> "organically", entirely free of the burdens of planning.
> are remarkeable only for their fragmented, disorganized, ugliness.all
> The problem with all the planning that's gone on recently is that
> the planners were/are either Modernists or artless, single-mindedorganic.
> traffic planners with no clue about how to design human spaces. The
> planners of previous centuries designed spaces and places with only
> human needs in mind, which is why they remain lively, and feel
> Seaside is disappointing, for a number of reasons, especially the
> that to most people it represents the sum of everything that Newvirgin
> Urbanism has to offer. I'm with you in making the densification of
> existing urban areas the priority and opposing the destruction of
> land. But if Seaside didn't exist, that once pristine coastlinewould
> still be gone. And in its place would probably be something farworse
> than Seaside.
- I greatly admire Joel Crawford's reference design for a car-free city, but it is only a reference design, not the ideal solution for all cities. Joel is against tree-lined streets, preferring green backyards and a clear distinction between the built city environment and the countryside. He has a point, but many people, like me, love tree-lined avenues and lots of vegetation in the city. There's room for both in different districts of the same city.
Living in Brussels (Belgium, Europe), I appreciate the diversity of architecture here. Traditionally, Belgian developers carve up a plot of land into building plots (a process which is subject to planning permission), but instead of building uniform housing on the whole development, they sell each plot individually. The buyer is either free to engage his own architect and builder and build whatever he likes - within the limits of the outline building permit, which limits the part of the plot which can be built on, the height of the roof, etc., and subject to detailed planning permission - or the developer sells a finished house, but the buyer chooses everything, so every house is different. Uniform housing estates also exist in Belgium, but are the exception rather than the rule.
However much I love this diversity, I also appreciate the clean lines of classic boulevards in Paris, and the beauty of the English Cotswolds, where every building is in local Cotswold stone, and any other building material would destroy the charm. Again, there is room in our cities for uniformity and diversity.
While I would argue for planners to leave as much freedom as possible to individuals to design their own houses, I also think there is room for much more stringent rules to ensure environment-friendly development. Instead of draining the rainwater from our roofs into the sewers, contributing to localised flooding during heavy storms, then pumping our rivers dry to extract drinking water, which we use for a multitude of purposes besides drinking, why not require every house to have a plumbing system collecting rain water from the roof, storing it in an underground tank connected to the taps (faucets) used for watering the garden and washing the car, to toilets and washing machines, with a separate plumbing system supplying mains drinking water to the kitchen and bathroom for drinking, cooking and washing?
Our roofs also provide an ideal site for solar collectors. It is already economic, even in temperate rather than tropical climes, to use solar power to produce hot water - the initially greater cost of the installation is recouped during its lifetime - and it would be cheaper still if it were compulsory, producing huge economies of scale as this marginal technology became mainstream. In sunnier climes, solar panels on each rooftop could generate most of the electricity each household needs, reducing the need for dangerous nuclear power, highly polluting thermal power stations burning fossil fuels, and ugly power transmission cables. These solutions are economic for the individual in the long-term, although initially more expensive, and would do wonders for the environment.
All housing should also comprise an easily accessible space for storing bicycles. Here in Europe, many people own a car and a bike, but still use their car for short local journeys, which would be ideal for a bike, because the only place in their house or apartment where they can store their bike without it getting in the way is the cellar, and it is difficult to get the bike in and out, whereas the car can be parked on the street in front of the house (when I first moved to Brussels, I kept my bike in the lounge; when my wife joined me she insisted I move it to the cellar). Many car journeys could be avoided by designing housing with convenient and secure bike parking. Other people would like to ride a bike, but their accommodation has nowhere suitable for storing it. Vast spaces are occupied by parked cars, but the authorities will not allow a secure bicycle shed to be built on the public highway, allowing several families to store bikes in the space which would otherwise be!
taken up by a single car.
Much of the beautiful architecture in Brussels has been destroyed by the grand designs of transport planners. Much of central Brussels was torn down to allow the construction of the rail link between the North and South stations. Despite this devastation, the overground North and South stations are still the main stations, rather than the underground Central station. Tourists and locals alike are unable to walk comfortably from one beautiful spot to another, because they are separated by the wide roads and tunnels of the inner ring road. Long road tunnels link the motorways to the city centre, bringing in huge numbers of cars which simply won't fit into the city centre, provoking horrid congestion and pollution. And vast swathes of the inner suburbs were razed to the ground to build the metro ("cut and cover" is much cheaper than tunnelling). The once extensive tram network has been progressively dismantled, as the busiest sections have been replaced by the metro, and most oth!
er sections have been removed because they were perceived to get in the way of cars, and replaced by buses. Only recently have the city planners started to build reserved sites for trams and buses so that public transport can move faster than the congested car traffic, thus providing an incentive to use public transport, which in turn reduces the number of cars on the road and makes the remaining cars move faster.
Many of us are convinced that Brussels would have been better off without a metro system, but with trams running everywhere on reserved sites and with systematic priority over cars at intersections. The metro was designed to get public transport out of the way of cars - and because of the prestige which a metro lends to a small city like Brussels, pretending to be a big city like Paris or London - rather than to offer efficient mass transit. There are now plans to build an RER (like in Paris) - a mass transit system linking Brussels to the dormitory suburbs and nearby cities. The reasoning is that only such a prestige system can entice car drivers onto public transport, and the refusal to give trams and buses priority over cars on our crowded roads, because the car lobby opposes any reallocation of road space.
- Mike Lacey said:
>I once read that 70-80% of new developments lack sidewalks - simplyMy, how low we've fallen. The notion of accommodating the
>requiring the developer to provide sidewalks would be major step.
pedestrian is now seen as unecessary and too costly.
How is it that anyone ever permitted developers to
When I visited relatives in Ormond Beach FL recently, I
noticed that their suburban sprawl, built around 1965,
did have sidewalks. However, on a morning walk, I noticed
that the sidewalks petered out just a few streets north
(i.e., built a few years later). Strange world.
J.H. Crawford _Carfree Cities_
- Martha Torell wrote:
>> In SF, everytime a parking lot is turned into a four story apartmentOh, Martha since your in Michigan, I found some URLs that might be of
>> the place fills up before it is built. I'm sure the same applies in
>> New York, Chicago, Philly etc. The potential for density increase in
>> exsting cities is almost infinite, the demand is enormous.
>Very good point about the demand. In Royal Oak, Michigan by no means
>an SF, a few blocks of old grid suburb were bought and razed. The
>suburb just happened to be be adjacent to a newly widened 696. Luxury
>condos were built. The population density was higher than the old
>suburb, even with its old fashioned small lots and houses. The condos
>not only sold before they were built, but they had increased in value so
>much that many of the buyers resold them at a enormous profit before
>they even moved in!
interest to you. Dawson
> In SF, everytime a parking lot is turned into a four story apartmentVery good point about the demand. In Royal Oak, Michigan by no means
> the place fills up before it is built. I'm sure the same applies in
> New York, Chicago, Philly etc. The potential for density increase in
> exsting cities is almost infinite, the demand is enormous.
an SF, a few blocks of old grid suburb were bought and razed. The
suburb just happened to be be adjacent to a newly widened 696. Luxury
condos were built. The population density was higher than the old
suburb, even with its old fashioned small lots and houses. The condos
not only sold before they were built, but they had increased in value so
much that many of the buyers resold them at a enormous profit before
they even moved in!
> Mike Lacey said:This suggests a really innocuous, non-threatening way to advance car
> >I once read that 70-80% of new developments lack sidewalks - simply
> >requiring the developer to provide sidewalks would be major step.
> My, how low we've fallen. The notion of accommodating the
> pedestrian is now seen as unecessary and too costly.
> How is it that anyone ever permitted developers to
> omit sidewalks?
free living. A developer could hardly object to that requirement
coming from a city council. Sidewalks. Sidewalks wide enough to allow
two people to walk comfortably side by side. World's full of joggers
now. Developers around here are beginning to feel the squeeze, no one
likes sprawl or the people who build it. Developers promise little
parks, and get stoplights put in and power lines moved. Wide sidewalks
would be a small concession.
When cities are rated as good or bad places to live, is the number of
miles of sidewalk part of that consideration? It should be.