Build a car-free city to set a template and an aspiration for wider future change

What if the focus was changed? Instead of diluting all of that effort, focus it. Find an existing town or city, or even build a new one, radically committed to removing private car ownership as a cultural norm. A community in which private vehicles are prohibited, and the roads, parking spaces and driveways are reclaimed for human beings. Find the scattered individuals across the nation who would embrace this change, and collect them together, providing support for relocation – and don’t just take things away (cars and roads) but actively replace them with the ingredients for a community where it is possible to live and work locally: the businesses, the infrastructure, the governance to make it work. Use that chance to build a society that will inherently be more engaged in local community and local government, where civic leaders will walk to work, and see and talk to the ordinary folks they will meet on the way. Build a city where mobility is not about transit of people and goods over large distances, but where as much as possible is produced and consumed locally, and mobility is about interconnectedness of local individuals and businesses, community groups and sevice providers – where belonging is transformed from a marketing cliche to an authentic reality. And then publicise the result; let the rest of the nation see what they are missing out on; showcase those people who can safely let their children walk to school; who can throw spontaneous gatherings in the streets without hindrance; who can wake in the morning and open their windows to nothing but the peaceful sound of birdsong. Play on that social-media fuelled culture of a fear of missing out; if lockdowns can persuade hundreds of thousands to run out and get a puppy, then seeing the safer and better city their own children are missing out on might inspire people elsewhere to push for change where they live. Use this experiment to prove what can be done, and set a model which the rest of the UK and the rest of the world will be jealous to follow. It would need care and planning, for sure. If an existing town or city was selected, there would need to be a way to help those relocate who are not ready for that level of change; and provision would be needed for those with reduced mobility to still get the support they needed. For sure, some vehicular transport, private or state controlled or both, would still be needed – but the first lockdown showed that it is possible to have a functioning society with a hugely reduced movement of people and products by motor vehicle. Would a public-hire EV fleet be the answer? Would every ‘street’ need a road down the middle, or could every other street be completely greenscaped? How would visitors to the town/city and links to the transport network beyond be handled: park-and-ride type schemes, mobility-as-a-service interconnects, or exclusively traditional large public transport hubs? Many researchers and planners have already speculated on all these questions. The point is, select one place, focus in the effort, and make it happen, in full and not in part, reinventing from the bottom-up, not tweaking with minor changes and trying to tiptoe through a minefield of public opprobrium. It would still be controversial of course; it would be challenging, but it could be so much more worthwhile and impactful than the scattered small changes we are seeing across the country. And by showing what was possible; by proving that life could be better if reinvented with a focus on local engagement and local connectivity – it might do something more important: it might really start to change the hearts and minds of the vast majority of people elsewhere in the country, to accept the changes which are so essential for the sustainability and stability of our nation through the 21st century.

 

 

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