The death of the car: the birth of a new style of cities
Let’s learn from our mistakes
It looks like the car has been with us forever. It´s a symbol, one of the most powerful icons of prosperity, progress, money and power. Inside a car you are powerful, you move fast, you don´t feel the weather, you show your curvy metallic polished muscles.
It´s not easy to think of our civilisation without cars, but the petroleum propelled vehicles are still brand new… 150 years? My grandfather met this invention quite late in his life. And me, already, I´m starting to see how hybrids first, electrics later and driverless vehicles are starting to take over.
Nowadays, there is a huge market around the kind of cars we know and use but, to be honest, if we can connect our routes to a satellite controlling each vehicle’s movements, we don’t need to drive, nor to be alert to what´s happening on the road. In case we are going to crash, the controller will stop it. In that case, of course, private property, ownership of a car doesn´t make much sense any more.
As in many other aspects of business/life, we are staring to buy a service, not an object: AirBnB, Zipcar, Velos Jeunes… Probably some cars will still remain in some way, but not as we know them today. It´s true that some things in history were reborn after the moment they stopped being useful anymore. We have the case of swords and white weapons. Since the moment fire guns appeared, the swords experimented a new reinforced life through the new trend of duels. Something similar might happen, maybe as a luxury item.
However, I´m more interested in how this will affect the life and structure of the cities. Currently what´s stopping, delaying and spoiling the development of some potentially strong societies is precisely traffic. Take a big asian growing capital: Jakarta, Manila, New Delhi… and then clear off their biggest problem: urban traffic and the congestion and pollution that it triggers. The scenario changes upside down. Now you can be competitive, you may not be inefficient any more.
I don´t think that the smartest Smart City will take the lead. I´m absolutely sure that this will not make the difference. But traffic yes. Cars. Cancelling cars, clearing off the problem. Yes, the first one to be brave enough to take cars off the core of the city and in shifting to a new model of transportation, not based in petroleum nor in ownership any more, will rule the world. Or at least will take a lead for some important years in this new world we are starting to sense in front of us.
It’s easy, evident, but you need to be strategically pretty brave. And, of course, things have to be done phase by phase. If you clear off the current main way of transportation you have to prepare the structure for a new one right away, and you have to deal with all the cars that still people own. So, with determination but wisely.
Photo via Spike
Let´s take again Manila, Jakarta or Delhi. Erase every car from the streets. Now look at it: it’s empty, fresh, and transmits such a good mood that you feel you could do whatever you wanted. With those broad roads empty of rickshaws, cars, trucks, vans and other wheeled fauna, we have the brand new fabric for the transportation of the future.
With the roads absolutely clean you could create such a rich and efficient public (common) transport that you could hop on and off at any moment of the day at any point of the city. Freight should be also addressed in a new way, probably inserting special nodes for this kind of interchange of goods depending on the size and, maybe, making a difference for in-town movements and inter-town displacements.
Cars will not fully disappear, it´s neither possible nor feasible, but the amount of them that get erased off depends strongly on the kind of city and society we are talking about. Of course, it´s not the same for Europe, America (North and South) and Asia. It´s almost like different planets. Cars for long movements still will make sense, like in the United States’ cities, so much designed for cars, and also they might remain for the interurban connections both in Asia and Europe.
Photo via Xoio
Primarily in Europe, the old hearts of the cities are starting to experiment a process of pedestrianisation that is pushing the cars off these centers, so rich on heritage and classical buildings. However, still the movement has to get stronger and clearer. Cities like Madrid, Paris and Copenhagen are betting for more human spaces. The revival of a deep concern for humans scale cities, led in a way by people like Jan Gehl and the revisited ideas of Jane Jacobs are helping all this process evolve. But in this case, nowadays, I’m thinking more in the efficiency and operational parameter of cities than in the human factor. The only way to unblock the development of cities like the above mentioned Manila, or Jakarta is by changing the way we move, by erasing cars as we currently know them off our city streets.
It might sound a bit radical, but until we think of the core of our cities without our usual cars, we will not see the light. It requires courage, but it will be worth the effort. It will not only change the way we see our urban arteries, it will also open up a cleaner mindset and for sure a better mood.