Saturday, October 29, 2011

Transforming Melbourne towards being car free

A strong argument against the car free concept is the presence of existing cities and peoples' dependence upon these cities for their livelihood. Moving towards car reduced societies takes a two pronged approach. Building car free cities is for the visionaries and for the people with financial access to such concepts. These new cities will likely be beacons for the concept. The other approach needed is to gradually transform existing cities to move towards a more car free lifestyle.

Many European cities have begun this process. They are gradually introducing car free districts. Car free districts become centres of lively culture and usually attract people to their charm. The city of Melbourne in Australia could take a number of steps in this direction.

Melbourne as a city was extensively designed as a city before the existence of the car. The inner suburbs of the city would function much better in a way that is closer to their original planning.


Melbourne prides itself in its extensive tram network that covers the inner suburbs. The fact is though that trams and cars find it very hard to co-exist in Melbourne. Trams and pedestrians have right of way at tram stops. Cars must wait for them to start moving again before being allowed to pass. This often means that a car trip in inner Melbourne is not a lot faster than a tram anyway. Many Melburnians would be loathed to get rid of the tram network as Adelaide and Sydney mostly did. Trams are a part of Melbourne culture and its residents wish it to stay that way. A process of removing cars from inner Melbourne would help trams to flourish in Melbourne again. They could run at much higher frequency and make mobility on public transport very effective.
Map of Melbourne tram network
The spaces vacated by cars could be given over to bikes. To make the city more aesthetically pleasing it would not simply be a matter of bicycles riding on the roads that cars once drove on. This of course would be the case in the early stages. In more advanced stages though roads could be replaced by landscaping that includes grass, trees, bike paths and foot paths.
Arguments against the model
An argument against this might be that some people live too far from a tram stop. This can easily be tackled by installing extra tram lines on some roads between the major arterials, so that no residents have too far to walk to a tram stop.
Another argument pertains to how delivery of freight, retail and grocery goods would be carried out. It is important to move away from a car dominated paradigm, and remember that there was a world before the car. There were also deliveries of freight and goods in those days too. The best way to tackle this issue is to have delivery hub depots. Depots would use some existing railway networks and tram networks. From the depots smaller electric carts with special permits would carry out delivery to the final address.


Melbourne has a very good rail network. Unfortunately it is about as good as it was in the 1890s when it was world class, second only to London, more advanced than New York and Paris. It was better in the 1920s than it is now, some lines actually having been removed.
Trains also do not get along with cars very well. There are currently 182 level railway crossings in Melbourne. The Victorian government have budgeted $379 million towards the removal of railway crossings. They have ten projects planned. At close to an average of $40 million per railway crossing, the over all project to remove all of the railway crossings in Melbourne could easily stretch to and beyond $8 billion.
Many people would say that trains are interrupting the smooth flow of cars. A cursory look at history will show that Melbourne had all of its train lines before the car came along, so it is not trains that are interrupting cars. In fact the historical population growth of Melbourne largely coincides with the development of its railway network. It is now, when the railway network is not keeping up with Melbourne's transport demands that people are beginning to say that the transport network is breaking down. The fact remains that Melbourne was planned around its train networks and will only function well when depending on its train networks.
A friend of mine came up with a brilliant plan to remove all of the railway crossings in Melbourne. Instead of removing them one by one and putting in bridges (this is a very slow process that takes years), each of the railway lines in Melbourne should be replaced by underground tunnels. This could only be done in stages, one railway line at a time. It would create some pain for the residents in that region while the project was being carried out, but after the fact things would flow so much better. A complete new underground train line could be constructed for much faster trains, which would cut down travel times immensely and make them far more attractive than the car.
When a train line is put under ground there is then a lot of real estate available above the train line. This could be used for various purposes. Bike highways could be installed which would enable cyclists to get to the city centre in record time. Much of the land could also be sold, which would easily finance the entire project. Every train station could have retail, commercial or residential property installed above it. This would not prevent bike highways passing through.

This proposed plan does not remove any cars from Melbourne as such. What it does do is make trains and bikes a lots more appealing and efficient, which would cut down the number of cars on the road. The current model of putting bridges in at level crossings is not creating any real estate or revenue to pay for the projects.
Map of Melbourne train network

New forms of transport
As roads are vacated in inner Melbourne suburbs a lot of land will become available for other purposes. Some roads could have either trams put in their place or new underground rail lines to link up with the rest of the network. This would enable badly needed circle lines to be implemented, making connections easier on a trip across the city.
Other roads could simply be removed and replaced with bike paths, foot paths and park land. (Light electric carts could use these paths to access houses for deliveries with a special permit.)

Car free district phased introduction
The obvious place to start with a car free district is the central business district. From the Docklands development in the west to Spring Street in the east would be completely car free. There is plenty of public transport already in place to meet the needs of the district. Commuters who drive to the centre for work would feel inconvenienced at first. But an increase in frequency of trams and trains would mean that they could drive to a train station if they had a long way to travel.
A later phase of introduction would wait some years until people had adjusted to the new paradigm for the city centre. Eventually Melbourne could become car free as far as the tram network already exists. Once new underground train lines had been developed, expansion of car free districts could continue for decades to come.
It has taken a century for humanity to become as dependent upon cars as we have. It may take a century to wean ourselves off them again. It would certainly take decades to transform Melbourne completely.

Increased cultural vitality
Cities of the world that have begun to introduce car free districts have found that street life and cultural activities naturally begin to increase in those districts. People naturally begin to flock to these districts from the outside to enjoy the new vibrancy that occurs on streets where people are happy to be outdoors. The lack of car noise makes the streets peaceful and safe for people to be on.
When the central business district has this appeal for a decade or so, it will become more appealing to expand car free zones.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Car free cities

[Blueprint for a nature immersed car free city.]

Imagine a city, town or region completely free of cars. Cities without cars are more peaceful, less pollutant by far, have closer social ties and are safer. Some are a reality, some are under construction, some are still a vision, some are quite science fiction. This list is a mixture of them all.

Perhaps the most famous car free place in the world, a city of canals and boats, home to 70,000 people.

Fes-al-Bali in Morocco is home to 150,000 people, but with a population density of 550 per sq. metre, it is very crowded.

Cheung Chau
An island near Hong Kong city, the majority of the city has streets that are simply too narrow for cars. The city have developed tiny emergency vehicles though. It is home to 23,000 people.

Old City Jerusalem

Old City Jerusalem is also a historical anomaly. Home to 35,000 people it does not have any streets big enough for cars to drive on.

Iquitos in Peru is not particularly safe for pedestrians, but it is novel and therefore fun to include in the list. It is a city with virtually no cars, but motorbikes instead. This is because it is an isolated city, not connected by road to the outside world.

Masdar is a new city under construction. It is located outside of Abu-Dhabi in the Arab Emirates. It will be home to 50,000 people and many clean energy companies. It will be the world's first completely energy clean city running on solar, wind and geothermal energy. At $22 billion, that is a fairly modest price tag for such a modern city. Hopefully it will create a blue print for new cities around the world.

Science fiction lily pad city- Ecopolis
Designed by Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut, the Ecopolis is envisaged for a world plagued by rising sea levels.

Lobe city design
Designed by J.H.Crawford of , the lobe city is based upon a concept of multiple districts each with their own metro underground train station. Each district then has a population of up to 12,000 people. All of their daily needs are met within their own district. A city made up of 100 or so districts would have a population of 1 million and take up to 45 minutes to travel across.

Why build a completely new city?
There are plenty of people who would love to live in a car free city. But there are also plenty of people opposed to such an idea. Instead of forcing people to transform old cities to car free ones, why not give people the choice of living in a new city better equipped for the purpose.

What is good or bad about the above cities?
Cities like Venice or Fes-al-Bali, Old City Jerusalem and Cheung Chau are steeped in history and culture and they would be intriguing places to live. Of course they probably have very few vacancies, and a move there requires learning a new language and culture.

A city like Iquitos would be unique and less congested than a car based city, but dangerous none the less with mopeds and motor bikes zipping everywhere.

Masdar is the most exciting prospect of the present day because it is a reality. I would be very intrigued to visit there once it is completed and see how it works. One thing Masdar is seriously lacking is nature. It is very concrete based in its environment. They however have worked very hard to make it aesthetically pleasing and the many fountains will surely make it a pleasant place.

The lily pad Ecopolis is novel and science-fictitious. I personally hope that such cities are never necessary, but having said that if people want to live on a lily-pad city it would certainly be very different. It would also be lacking in trees and birds.

The lobe design with multiple districts is a well thought out one. I might design a city differently none the less, but I think it is very likely to work. I would love to see somebody try it.

Another alternative?
There are as many alternatives as there are creative people in the world. My alternative though is a city based upon the idea of buildings and houses being merged with nature as much as possible. This would give the feel of living in a National Park, yet still have all the comforts of a modern city including the Arts and Sports.
My blue print for such a city is here.

A location for such a city?
There are many possible locations, but one such location is particularly appealing from an Australian context. French Island in Western Port Bay is already a car free zone. Seventy people live there and two thirds of the island is National Park. It has a rich Koala population that regularly exports Koalas to the mainland to keep the local population in check.

An ecologically friendly city could be built here that would not interrupt the flora or fauna at all. A high speed railway could be built from the island to the near by city of Melbourne, giving the residents of French Island access to the culture of a big city. The goal would still be to attract tertiary industry to the island so that residents could be employed there and have their community life there.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Imagine a city without cars (a city in a nature park)

A parkland area in central Helsinki where there are very few cars. Houses and apartment buildings are amongst the parks and gardens. Being there recently reminded me of my dream for a carless city.
The Dream
For some years I have dreamed of a city without cars. I think the first time I did this was back in 2003. I had been living in the country side in Canada for a couple of years. I had grown accustomed to a quieter more peaceful life. I then returned to work in Melbourne, Australia. I did not have a car at first, catching the bus to work every day. As I would stand at the bus stop I would watch the cars rush by, and I would listen to all the noise they made. My first reaction was not "if only I had a car too" but rather "those tyres make so much noise, imagine if there was no noise coming from cars."

Imagine if there was no noise coming from cars. I looked at the trees and the birds, and whilst I was happy that they still existed in suburban Melbourne, I dreamed of living in a place where they would be abundant. I sat down and began to flesh out my ideas on paper. I dreamed of houses and buildings almost hidden amongst the trees. Some buildings could even be built into the hillside, if hills existed. Or some buildings could be landscaped to be a part of nature, perhaps partly underground with some grass and shrubbery above the house. A life that is lived closer to nature is a more peaceful one, but this can still be done with modern comforts.

I mapped out what my city might look like. It would have an extensive system of underground railways. This would make travel to any part of the city possible within a short trip of perhaps no more than 10-15 minutes. Above ground there would not be roads as such. Instead there would be many paths for people to walk on and for bikes to ride on. There would be plenty of park land where there are no buildings at all, but the over all feel of the place would actually be that of park land, where animals would roam freely.

A paradise is often too good to be true, and many issues would arise with building such a city from scratch. The first one that comes to mind is- how would deliveries be carried out. There are multiple possible solutions to such a problem. Deliveries could be carried out by animal if people desire to keep one. Deliveries could also be carried out on electric carts that would only be available with a special license purely for the purpose of delivery. These carts would even be capable of carrying building materials should a new building be constructed. An underground conveyor belt system complete with delivery chutes would also be possible, but likely a lot more expensive.

Another issue that arises is enticing people to live in such a city in the first place. People like to live in cities because of all the cultural activities that they offer. Setting up in a new city always costs people money too and would be a disincentive.

It is worth pointing out that the benefits of such a city would be a far less stressful life, but also of much benefit to the environment. So much energy is spent on making cars in the first place, and then they require so much energy to run, and they present dangers to people. Cars also take up so much of people's lives as they sit in traffic, destroying the social fabric of communities. (The city I currently live in regularly has two hour traffic jams.)

Plan of implementation
- Tax incentives for corporations, companies and businesses to set up in the new city. All would be tax free for the first ten years of the city's life. Following the first ten years there would be a gradation process. Full taxes would not be paid until the city was already 50 years old.
- A modern city would likely only have tertiary industry. Heavy scaled manufacturing if needed in the the vicinity of the city would happen outside the city.
- As corporations choose to set up in the new tax haven, workers would also need to be enticed. All residents of the city would be on a similar tax incentive scheme to companies. Wages would still be kept in line with the rest of the country, ensuring a tax minimum life for the new residents.
- (These tax incentives are necessary to entice people to try something new. Once the first such city got off the ground there would be a deepening desire from other people to join the new car free life.)

- Assuming both industry and workers are present in the equation, there needs to be other factors necessary to entice residents. Cultural facilities such as concert halls, theatres, entertainment complexes, sporting facilities for public participation and professional sporting stadiums would be built. Securing a professional sporting team to make the city its home would be a big part of the equation.

- The city would be built completely away from the car grid altogether. In the 21st century very fast trains exist that can travel to 400 km/h. Such a train would connect the city with the rest of the country. An airport would not be necessary, and would not fit in with the philosophy of minimising oil use in the world. If the city is on the coast of a country, then it would also be serviced by shipping.

Why plan a city?
The idea of planning a city from scratch is not such a crazy one. Cities have been planned in the past, and they are usually peaceful places to live. In Australia the cities of Adelaide and Canberra have been extensively planned. Adelaide is a far older city than Canberra. Both cities of course depend on cars, but even their planning has resulted in free flowing traffic, even if there is the noise to live with. Planning a city goes a very long way to making life there comfortable. The inner suburbs of Melbourne were planned, but the growth past that point has made for a messy city.

How would such a city be financed? From a variety of angles. Corporations would take part in building their share. They could even have shares in the city. Investors and entrepreneurs could put up funds, to which they would undoubtedly see handsome returns. It would of course require assistance from government, and it would of course require visionaries to build and invest in the dream.

Parting thoughts
The dream is a worthy one to see come to fruition. The world badly needs to be set free from the burden of cars. The world badly needs more environmentally friendly solutions for the future. The carless city could indeed be the city of the future and not a pipe dream.

I may be no real expert in city planning. I have taken the path of linguistics in my life. That does not mean I can not have opinions on issues of the environment and sustainable, ecological and healthy living. It is my humble hope that such cities will come about in the world. If you happen to be an entrepreneur or politician feel free to run with these ideas. Heck, even feel free to take the credit for yourself. I would just be happy to see it happen.

Appendix issues:
Existent cities
But what of the cities that already exist? Surely they can not just be shut down and replaces by the city of the future? Well, no of course not. Existent cities would need to evolve towards being carless over time. Taking the example I know best, I will speak of Melbourne in Australia. I do not live in Melbourne anymore, but I do hear the complaints coming from there that the roads are buckling under the strain, as is the train system. Melbourne needs to bite the bullet at some point before things get better. All of the level railway crossings need to be removed from the city. (There are currently hundreds and they slow down traffic a lot.) Underground train lines should be put in where ever there are above group train lines. These lines could be newer and higher quality with much faster trains, cutting down travel time extensively. (The Moscow under ground Metro is a lot faster than the Melbourne above ground Metro.) The land above the railway lines could be partly sold to pay for the venture and partly established with "bike highways". Bike highways would enable cyclists to travel into the centre for work without having to fight traffic or stop for red lights. This is just one example of an evolutionary step that needs to be taken in Melbourne. In time, some roads could be replaced with more underground train lines beneath them and bike highways above them. Gradually the city could be weaned off its addiction to the car.

Location of new city
Where would such a city be built? Around the world different countries would afford different opportunities. Again, in Australia I can think of various locations for such a city. Australians are very coastal people. It would be a difficult draw card to build such a city without people having access to the beach. Suddenly that means that there are very few apparent vacancies around the country. But this is not actually true. 
A variety of options exist:
- An isolated part of the South Australian or Western Australian coastline. This would require a lot of work to revegetate and irrigate. It is perhaps a good location for a future city, but may have drawbacks in drawing people there initially.
- A tropical part of the coast of Gulf of Carpentaria currently uninhabited. This would not have problems with vegetation, but not all are drawn to a tropical climate.
- The most densely populated state in Australia is actually Victoria. In some ways it makes sense to find a coastal location in Victoria. A location half way between Portland and Port Fairy is currently being used as farm land and has a highway going through it. The highway could be moved to go north of the proposed city. Portland already is a large deep water shipping port which could easily service the city.

Carfree cities already around the world
There are actually some places in the world that already are car free. Most of these came about due to historical reasons. Venice in Italy with a population of 70,000 is one such example. It exists on a network of canals. Fes-el-Bali in Morocco is the old part of a newer city. It is only a small area covering 2.4 kms by 1.6 kms, but has a population of 150,000.
Other such parts of the world are more often islands that never allowed cars in the first place.

Each of these historical places that are car free are however not immersed in nature as my proposed city is, nor do they have mass transit systems.

Finally, there is one modern city that is being established as car free. Masdar is near Abu Dhabi in the Emirates. It also will not be a nature immersed city, but it will be energy clean.

For more information on car free locations around the world there is a website worth reading: car
There is also a list of car free locations around the world on wikipedia.

Monday, October 03, 2011

The genetic history and future of the human race: Africa the key to our salvation.

It sometimes takes me a long time to develop my seed thoughts.

Reading and writing (literacy) is approximately 5000-6000 years old. Civilisation is approximately 5000-6000 years old. There are many people (young earth subscribers) who are deeply influenced by their literal/ literate/ literacy based world view. They find it hard to believe in a world before reading and writing existed. They find it hard to believe in a world before civilisation existed. They find it hard to believe in a world before the Bible was written down on paper. They are therefore limited in their view of the world to come up with statements such as "the world is 6000 years old". I consider it no small coincidence that their calculation of the age of the world is the same period as that of civilisation and literacy. If we can expand our thinking beyond a world of civilisation and literacy then the possibilities of explaining history broaden greatly.

With that preface I would like the permission from you the reader to speak of dates much older than 6000 years ago. I hope this does not offend you. Just remember, I interpret every word of scripture as true, but I do this in an oral sense. That is I know that many of the stories were constructed orally. For example, when the Spirit of God hovered over the waters, I am happy and comfortable to know that the Spirit of God hovered over the hydrogen gases. Hydrogen, being the first and most basic element, is the element from which all other elements come. All stars are made of Hydrogen. "We are all made of stars" has some truth to it. So, since the word "waters" at the start of Genesis can be used to refer to Hydrogen (and still be true, correct) this then helps explain how oral stories must be understood. When the oral story of creation was first told, there was no such word for Hydrogen, so water was the best word to describe Hydrogen, even though the story tellers had no idea what Hydrogen actually was. And in fact the word Hydrogen comes from the Greek Hydro for water. The two words are closely related. Water is made up of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. In such a context it is easy to see how a day need not be 24 hours. I don't want to enter deeply into that debate, except to say that a literal  interpretation is not called for but an oral one is, especially since the story is many thousands of years older than writing itself.

I will now enter into the topic of the genetic origins of humanity. A while back we watched a documentary series from the BBC that spoke of the origins of humanity. There are still many questions in this field from a scientific perspective. It is true that the documentary series treated the ideas as fact instead of hypothesis, but there are still some interesting points to ponder.

My approximate take on the facts are as follows. Humanity itself is about 50 000 years old. Why? Scientifically it is postulated that speech is about 50 000 years old. Many linguists, psychologists and also philosophers argue that language creates identity and without language there is no identity. That makes a person who has no concept of language at all.... well... I don't believe such a person exists in the world, even Helen Keller had language.

At some point in our genetic past there is an important genetic dichotomy at play. Before getting to that I want to comment on the existence of "Mitochondrial Eve" a single human being from whom all modern humans are descended. Where ever in history this person is placed (up to 150 000 years ago) this is a very interesting fact. The existence of "Y Chromosome Adam" is also a very interesting fact. The fact that these two people are separated by millennia is unimportant when we consider the hypothesis that Noah could actually be the "Y Chromosome Adam". The stories of the Garden of Eden and Noah are likely separated by many thousands of years in true history.

Another interesting oral story has a genetic picture to highlight. The Y chromosome has a stick missing. From this stick comes another X chromosome. When God put Adam into a deep sleep he broke off a stick from Adam's one X chromosome and left behind a Y chromosome. From this chromosome stick he created Eve. That is, the "rib" in the Genesis story (the story of Gene-(tics)-is) actually a chromosome, not  a literal rib. This is because oral people from many thousands of years ago did not have a word for "chromosome" but only understood such words as bones and ribs, as they understood the story that God gave them. The word "rib" in the Genesis story is an oral representation of the scientific "chromosome". This means the word "rib" is no less true, but a literal rendering of the word "rib" is actually incorrect. An oral rendering is required.

The genetic dichotomy I was referring to earlier? Some where in the genetic history of humanity there is a dichotomy between the people living in Africa and the people living elsewhere in the world. I personally think the location of Eden was either in Eastern Africa (possibly Ethiopia) or even off the coast into the now Indian Ocean. So this makes it easy to consider the "out of Africa" hypothesis. Everyone in the human race who is not African is descended from a small genetic pool. All of the people who are African are from a much more diverse set of genetic pools. I am satisfied that this is a genetic fact. DNA research has shown this theory to be sound. It in no way threatens the integrity of scripture what so ever. But it of course does threaten the (young earth) narrow approach.

This brings me to a very interesting set of new hypotheses. Since we (non-Africans) are genetically less diverse than Africans, it follows that marriage between an African and non-African will always produce a stronger genetic outcome than marriage between two non-Africans. That is, if every non-African married an African from now on, then their offspring would have much stronger immune systems. My hypothesis is that this increased immunity would go a long way to combatting disease in the world. Therefore, Africa is a key to medical security and the future integrity of the human race. We need Africa. Africa needs us.

A spiritual hypothesis can also be drawn from this. If Africa is the hope for the world on a genetic level, then wiping out Africa would be very dangerous for the world. Yet it seems that Africa is always under the most attack in the world. I personally think that the devil would like nothing more than to wipe out Africa, because by doing so there is a much better chance of wiping out the entire human race. So the intensity of the spiritual battle is centred on Africa. There are always more wars, famines and troubles in Africa than anywhere else in the world. The spiritual battles between the growth of the Body of Christ in Africa and the intensity of Black Magic is always at its strongest in Africa. The metaphorical (sometimes spilling over into literal battles) battle between the advance of Islam and the advance of Christianity in Africa is also more intense there than anywhere else in the world.

Africa is where it is at. Africa is key to the world's future. The twenty first century belongs to China and to a lesser extent India, on an economic level. But I think there will come a day when Africa will develop too. This may be a century away still. Perhaps the twenty second century will be the century of Africa in the world.

Hypotheses are fun. An oral understanding of the world opens up our thinking to many new hypotheses.

And so my seed thoughts continue to develop.