The struggle for a car-less city center

While many cities have toyed with the notion. Splashed the message on snazzy marketing campaigns. Went on CNN, BBC, you name it, to push out grandiose plans. Few have ever accomplished the feat. And the feat we’re speaking of is banning the car.

Many point to Venice as the only car-free city on the planet. This might be true however it was certainly not a strategic objective of the Italian government. The fact Venice is small and built on a series of islands leaves it in a unique position. And while cars could very well be introduced, allowing residents and tourists the luxury to wander about and not have to worry about traffic is the plus Venice authorities are seeking, especially as it relates to being able to attract tourists to the city.


Revolutionized Mobility

While it is undeniable that the car has revolutionized mobility and made all our lives not only easier, but more enjoyable, the automotive vehicle is facing a backlash. Pollution concerns are growing by the day and cities from Oslo to Madrid have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars putting together elaborate plans to ban cars as a result. A common argument is one floated by car-banning proponents worldwide – in U.S. cities like Dallas or Houston, up to 70% of land is passed over to parking. The country’s housing crisis is due to lack of land. Get rid of cars and problem solved! Sounds simple enough, right?

Wrong. Experts from multiple disciplines agree that the best way to kill a city (the city center more specifically) is to hinder people’s ability to arrive there. Getting to a city center via one mode of public transportation is tricky. Many people live in areas outside the city center and without a car would need to take 2 if not 3 or 4 different modes of transport to arrive. This is a hassle for many, and that leads the many to their car.


Facilitate Vertical Connectivity

Chengdu is the capital of the Sichuan province, located in southwest China. It’s a sprawling metropolis, home to 14.4 million people and growing. The architecture firm SmithGill was commissioned in 2012 to re-design the future of the city, with a “walkable” concept in mind. Bridges with high-rises to facilitate vertical connectivity, no cul-de-sacs, lots of intersections. The plan was extraordinary, according to architect Chris Drew who worked closely on it. Yet, at the end of the day Chengdu deemed it unworkable. Less traffic to the city center would run the risk of isolating it, the same worry throughout many U.S. and European capital cities.

In much of the developing world car ownership is on the rise. Lots of journeys also entail people in cars traveling to areas of the city that are not necessarily the city center. And then the issue of leaving the city center only to those who choose to go carless could end up marginalizing populations and depleting the center of potential revenue. There is a reason very smart people have been struggling with this for decades. Expect the struggle to continue. Protection Status
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