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.

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