Author: J.H. Crawford
Publish Date: 2002
Publisher: International Books, Netherlands
About the book:
We are all aware of the anti-car movement from newspaper reports of worldwide demonstrations and events from time to time. Are they part of the lunatic fringe? Increasingly their critique goes beyond environmental sustainability arguments and embraces urban design issues, in many cases backed up by in-depth analysis. So, as urban designers, we should take them seriously if not make common cause with them. For example a recent issue of Car Busters magazine looked at the medieval medina of Fez, Morocco as a model of the archetypal traffic-free city.(See www.carbusters.ecn.cz).
On any assessment, city centres are the places that ought to be traffic-free, as densities are high enough to offer practical alternative ways of getting around. Despite the City of Westminster’s and the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s view that traffic is the city’s economic lifeblood, most continental cities that have any pretension to be civilised and pleasant, give over considerably less space to traffic than do British cities. The only reason urban designers hanker after retaining traffic, is that cities have evolved in such a way that insufficient pedestrian movement is generated to keep streets and spaces lively.
Both new world and developing world cities have centres that are either gridlocked or low on pedestrian generation, and there is an environmental case that something must be done in the interests of global sustainability. There is therefore justification in examining the implications of taking traffic out of cities on a more extensive scale than has been tried so far, which is the theme of this book. The author is an American who has always been fascinated by European cities, particularly Venice and Amsterdam, and identifies the main difference with American cities as their lack of reliance on cars. He also catalogues all the problems that stem from reliance on cars. An interesting incidental is that American low density suburbs are not only environmentally unsustainable but also carry a huge bonded infrastructure debt burden.
Inspired by Christopher Alexander, the author advances typologies of all the urban systems and spatial patterns that would be necessary for a city to function without road traffic. Densities and the scope for urban interaction would increase considerably, and as urban designers we would welcome the availability of street space for multiple use, enjoyment and chance encounter instead of vehicular circulation. The typologies are applied to both the creation of an entirely new car-free city and to the partial or total adaptation of existing cities using examples in Lyon, Amsterdam, Manhattan and Los Angeles.
The problem is, of course, that draconian measures would be needed to implement such proposals, particularly in suburbs where the pressing need is not so apparent, and the author is effectively postulating a political sea-change as a result of some future environmental crisis. In current circumstances gradual change is more likely to result from policies such as congestion charging. Nevertheless the book demonstrates methods and mechanisms, even to the extent of non-road-based servicing of buildings, which could be used to make at least parts of cities car-free.
(This review was first published in Urban Design Quarterly 87, Summer 2003 and is reproduced with the Editor’s kind permission)