dence for residents. Vast parking lots and towering garages clutter the landscape. Big box stores catering to out-of-town left Traffic on the streets in shoppers (drivers) have replaced locally-owned mom and Barcelona, Spain. pop stores. Crawford argues that cities explicitly designed below A quiet street in carfree for car-dominance (including Los Angeles and Houston) Venice, Italy. are nearly hopeless. “Transportation structure determines and dominates land use,” he says. “As long as cars occupy urban space, you can’t achieve decent urbanism.” Socially speaking, he has a strong argument. A study done by Joshua Hart at the University of West England found “a dramatic decrease in the social life of streets with heavy motor traffic.” The 2008 study conducted in Bristol involved interviews with 60 households. They found that the average person on a street with heavy car traffic claimed to have less than one-quarter the number of local friends and half the number of local acquaintances as their neighbors on streets with light car traffic. The people on streets with light traffic also reported having a sense of personal responsibility for an area much larger than their
counterparts on heavily trafficked streets. The Hart study reaffirmed what a host of American and European studies from the late 1960s and ’70s first indicated about the car’s deleterious effects on society. A nearly identical study was performed in San Francisco in 1972, with strikingly similar results. Research from that era helped form the roots of today’s anti-car movement. In a particularly colorful example from 1975, an Austrian civil engineer, Hermann Knoflacher, donned a set of wooden boards the size of a car, called it the Walkmobile, and took to the streets. The stunt, performed to draw attention to the vast amount of space devoted to cars, was a hit and replicated throughout Europe and parts of Asia. Crawford, who currently resides in Ulster County, New York, is working on a new project. He recently stumbled upon a vacant area of land in Philadelphia. “We were looking at Google maps and said, ‘well, look at that,’” he recalls. He found approximately 220 acres along the Schuylkill that were vacant, formerly part of a municipal gas works. He wants to turn the area into a carfree neighborhood. The space is ideal because of the railroad line running through its center, its proximity to Philadelphia’s downtown and its size, which is big enough to support residents’ daily necessities. Crawford didn’t catch the carfree bug overnight. It was a slow progression, filled with periods of regular car use. His spent some time Carfree Cities is working at the New Jersey available now from International Books. Department of Transportation, a natural fit for his fascination with public transportation. In wasn’t until 1987 that he first asked himself if carfree cities were possible. “Then the final piece of the puzzle was my trip to Venice,” he says. Venice is, indeed, a completely carfree city (though not free of motorized boats). Its streets and buildings are laid out on a small, walkable scale—it is a pedestrian’s paradise. Crawford gets a bit of excitement in his voice when he talks about the Italian metropolis. Venice is comparable to the center of York. Both are old cities that were not rebuilt for the needs of cars. Because of this, they both have thriving street life. In the foreword to Crawford’s Carfree Cities, James Kunstler describes that vibrancy as “the spark of life.” An authentic city, he says, like a body, adds up to more than the sum of its parts. cowbell
Published on Nov 30, 2010
Published on Nov 30, 2010
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