Towards Car-Free Cities III - Presentation Transcripts

Prague 2003 - Programme - Programme Details - Proceedings - Transcripts 

The following page contains transcripts of the main presentations at the Towards Car-Free Cities III conference.

"Carfree Cities: Do We Need Them and Can They Work?"

by J.H. Crawford

Cars and trucks have become a major cause of social, health, economic, environmental, and aesthetic problems in cities. By making life on the street unpleasant, they inhibit the informal social contacts that bind societies together. They deny younger children free mobility and, as a result, stunt their development. Cars have become one of the leading causes of death in almost every nation, and the leading cause of death among males 15-44 worldwide. Pollution from car exhausts is now known to kill even more people that vehicular crashes. Streets and car parking absorb vast amounts of scarce urban land, and their maintenance is a large burden on the economy. The automobile is the most resource-intensive means of transportation ever devised, and serious energy shortages loom within a decade. Finally, cars mar the city's beauty in many ways, some subtle, some obvious. Notice in old photographs how much more attractive our cities were a century ago.
It is time to build more cities without cars and trucks. Venice, one of the two largest existing car-free cities, is an oasis of peace despite being one of the densest urban areas in the world. Fes-al-Bali, home to the largest carfree population on Earth, is a pleasant and convivial city even though it is comparatively poor.
What would happen if we designed cities without any cars? Would anyone want to live in such a city? Does it make social, economic, ecological, and aesthetic sense? Is there an effective and economical way to provide transport without using cars and trucks?

City Design Requirements
I believe that a healthy city must meet three basic needs of both residents and businesses:

  • Good access to employment, schools, stores, and services

  • Good habitability

  • Efficient use of resources

These basic needs give rise to several fundamental design requirements which form the basis for the design of carfree cities:
  • Fast passenger and freight transport

  • Transport within a five-minute walk

  • Nearby green space

  • Building heights limited to four stories

  • Dense construction in built-up areas

Carfree Cities
The "Reference Design" I propose is for a city of about 1,000,000 people but can readily be scaled for much larger or smaller cities.
The city would be constructed on a site covering about 250 square kilometers, but only 20% of the site would be developed. The remaining unbuilt land would be used for parks, lakes, forests, and farms. The average population density of the site is quite high despite the large amount of green space. If a very dense layout is required, green space could be greatly reduced.
About 80 inhabited districts would be built, averaging 12,000 residents each. The districts would be arranged in a six-lobe pattern. About 20 "utility areas" would be constructed at the end of each lobe. These areas include parking garages, building supply yards, heavy industry, intermodal transport facilities, and other uses which should not be mixed with residences. The utility areas would be readily accessible from the rest of the city by public transport or bicycle. Automobiles, motorbikes, and trucks would not be allowed into the city; visitors and residents alike would park in garages at the edge of the city.
Work would be integrated into the community. Each district would have shops, offices, and light manufacturing mixed in with residences. Many people would not even have to leave the district in which they live to reach their work.
A public transport system would provide fast, frequent passenger transport to all parts of the city 24 hours a day. A dedicated freight delivery system would deliver containers to central locations in every district, allowing stores and small factories to receive full containers in the basement. This system would not use the streets at all, except for final, local delivery, which would be made by bicycle or small, slow, battery-powered vehicle.

A radial district design minimizes walking times to the central transport halt and brings open space close to everyone. The transport halt becomes a natural central focus for the district and the logical location for shopping. The radius of the district would be 380 meters, or a five-minute walk.
Building heights would generally be limited to four stories with a few exceptions for special-purpose buildings. Within each district about 38% of the land would be built upon.
Each resident is allocated 36 square meters of living space, 18 square meters of work area, and 9 square meters for shopping, recreation, and health care. A further 20 square meters is allocated in the utility areas for infrastructure and shared car park-ing. If smaller space allocations are thought to be reasonable, the population of the city can be increased proportionately, without increasing transport times. Buildings would average 9 meters deep, which is shallow enough to admit reasonable amounts of daylight. Building widths would be whatever width best suits their purpose and function.
Interior courtyards about 40 by 60 meters wide would provide places for children to play and adults to relax and grow fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Streets would be narrow, averaging about 8 meters. The need for access by emergency vehicles requires streets at least 5 meters wide with and beveled corners. Small squares would be built at street intersections. These squares should be designed to encourage informal social contact.

Metro trains would run at four-minute inter-vals except late at night. Door-to-door transit time between the most distant points in the city is only 35 minutes including walking to and from the sta-tion and waiting for trains. A standard heavy-rail metro is well suited to the requirements of the city.
While the proposed design does not require the use of bicycles to achieve fast and efficient transport, the needs of the bicyclist should receive high priority. Other human-powered vehicles would be used as advantageous, including pushcarts and large-wheeled tricycles for the elderly. Small, bat-tery-powered vehicles would be permitted where their use was shown to be essential; there would come to be quite a few of these, but they would not dominate the streetscape because they would be small, slow, and quiet.
A dedicated freight network would be used to move heavy freight. I call this system "metro-freight," and it is based on the use of standardized shipping containers now seen by the thousand around the world. Intermodal freight facilities would be established in the utility areas for trans-shipment between the metro-freight system and the road and rail freight network. Metro-freight trains would operate from the intermodal terminals every district in the city.
Each district would be provided with a freight depot where smaller shipments would be broken down for local delivery. Waste would be removed using the same system. Markets, stores, and light industry would be located along the metro-freight line and receive and ship freight directly onto the metro-freight system. Specially adapted surface trams are an alternative approach. Within the district, small freight such as packages and groceries would be hauled by pushcart. Larger items of freight would be moved by small, slow, battery-powered freight movers; distances are short and speed is not important. Factories with heavy freight requirements would be located in one of the utility areas where direct rail and road access can readily be provided.

The carfree city is energy-efficient, is free from transport-related pollution, has plenty of space available for productive use, and provides a high quality of life for its residents.
Venice accommodated the automobile by building a large parking garage at the city's edge. Boats deliver freight to the nearest landing stage from which it is hauled to its final destination on small hand carts. The streets remain safe, quiet, and beautiful. Venice has demonstrated that carfree cities can work in the modern era, and the city remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The livability and attractiveness of carfree cities has already been demonstrated.
The energy and resource drain of the automo-bile is compounded by severe air pollution in large cities, and the car simply cannot become the standard mode of urban transportation for a world population that is already 50% urbanized. Since some other solution is clearly necessary, it is time to consider alternatives and to begin the necessary development work. This difficult challenge is also a wonderful opportunity to improve the quality of life in cities everywhere. I believe that carfree cities will become commonplace in this century.

Further Information
Internet: http://www.carfree.com/
Book: Carfree Cities, Utrecht: International Books, 2000 (hardcover), 2002 (softcover).

"Bogota, Colombia: From Congested Chaos to World Model for Livable, Egalitarian Cities"

by Oscar Edmundo Diaz

"Medieval Urbanism in Morocco: Lessons for the Modern World"

by Randy Ghent

Nearly every tourist in in Morocco ends up spending hours or days exploring the medinas - the medieval pedestrian cities that form the heart of most Moroccan cities today. They wander through marketplaces, souks and fondouks, peer into mosques and medersas, get coaxed into carpet and silver shops, sip sweet mint tea over cousous or tajine, and marvel at the workings of medieval tanneries. They absorb themselves in the spectacle of vibrant, human-scaled public life and leave with an intimate and unforgettable experience like going back in time.
For all the fascination to the outside visitor, the jarring contrast to life in Europe or America can be a powerful impediment to drawing lessons for our own societies. Yet getting lost in the maze of Morocco's medinas offers us a rare opportunity to immerse ourselves in the history of urban form, experiencing the past first-hand in the present.
Through this visual exercise, we temporarily distance ourselves from contemporary urban design - giving us the perspective to recognise its many failings and highlighting a compelling alternative to hypermobility, sprawl, oil dependence, obesity, isolation, alienation, and death.
Let us now leave that world behind us and enter the medina...

Autonomous Movement
Humans have an innate ability to move about on foot as autonomous beings, without motorised or mechanical assistance. Nearly every city, town and village in the world up to the mid-1800s embraced this natural human capacity for movement. "The shortest distance between two points is moving those points closer together," as Richard Register points out in his book "Ecocities." "Every trip from then on is shorter. That's an efficiency multiplied thousands of times."
The Moroccan medinas allow us to experience how this principle works in action. Their urban form is based on access by proximity, on autonomous movement, eliminating the need for speed. Building heights range from one to four stories. Streets are relatively narrow - one to eight metres wide. As a result the city is compact, dense, rich in destinations and events, lively, multifarious, closely knit, intimate, human-scaled.
People's daily destinations - shops, marketplace, workplace, school, place of worship - are concentrated close to home, within a few minutes' walk. People are independent on their own two feet, and thus it hasn't been possible for a transport industry, whether based on public transport or the private automobile, to develop. Virtually the only fuel consumed by the movement of people or goods is in the form of food.
Rarely were these medieval pedestrian cities more than five km across - in Morocco or anywhere else in the world at that time - since all destinations had to be within walking distance. The distance from the outer edge to the centre of the city could be reached on foot in 30 minutes or less. That's also the length of the average car trip in a modern city. So you can see how the time supposedly 'saved' by the car has simply been consumed travelling between destinations placed increasingly farther apart.

Urban Geography and Social Life
The Fes Medina - the focus of Car Busters' medieval urbanism study tour in December 2001 - is the world's largest remaining medieval pedestrian city. In terms of population, it's the world's largest urban car-free area. It still functions as a medieval city today, 1,200 years after its founding, with a population of 156,000 and a surface area of 350 hectares (870 acres).
The city is composed of an incredibly intricate - some would say impenetrable - web of lanes, blind alleys and souks whose level of detail and irregularity defy cartography. This is a large part of the place's charm, of course. A static urban growth boundary, in the form of a defensive wall, surrounds the city. Outside the wall the countryside begins, with no transition zone. This served to minimise the travel distance of agricultural products to market.
Like in other Moroccan medinas, streets in Fes have a dual purpose: human interaction foremost and movement secondary. Activity spills out from shops and workplaces into the streets. Without the danger of cars, children are free to play in the streets without formal supervision. Friends, neighbours and acquaintances meet spontaneously in the street and stop to chat.
Cities, we all too often forget, were built to maximise the opportunities for exchange, for interaction - to bring people and destinations together - and to minimise transport. Space devoted exclusively to movement was therefore considered wasted space, dead space - just like we minimise corridor space in modern homes in order to maximise the amount of usable living space. The urban form of the Fes Medina reflects these priorities.
Streets here can be divided into three categories: primaires (arteries) at 3 to 5 metres wide; secondaires (collectors), at 1 to 2 metres wide, which connect the arteries together; and impasses (local streets; cul de sacs; dead ends), at 0.5 to 1.5 metres wide, used to access houses. Talaa Seghira, one of the main arteries in the Fes Medina, is never much wider than five metres. That's wide enough for walking, for pushing a handcart or driving a donkey, for buying and selling goods, for conversing with an acquaintance, for playing ball with friends - but there's absolutely no space left for cars.
But let us presume for sake of argument that a car could physically fit, and could push through the crowd - going perhaps little over walking pace. Everything and everyone would have to move aside to allow the passage of a single vehicle, carrying perhaps a single passenger - an inconvenience to dozens if not hundreds of people. How undemocratic! Even one car every 15 minutes would result in a loss of space for public interaction; the centre of the street, for example, could no longer be used as a marketplace or workspace. Nevermind that in such a place driving would offer no time advantage over walking.
Inviting a car to such a place would be like inviting an elephant into your bedroom. The first casualties would be the peaceful atmosphere, the vibrant street life and the children playing outdoors - perhaps the loss of their independence. The strongest case against the car may be its incompatibility with the rich, dense, labyrinthine environment where the pedestrian thrives, where the social human being thrives. The pedestrian and the car can never coexist to their full potentials. The resulting environment is a poor compromise, ideal for neither.
Each of the approximately 140 traditional neighbourhoods in Fes (averaging a very compact 2.5 hectares in size) once maintained a high level of independence. Each had nine public facilities, many of which are still in use today: a water fountain, a bakery/oven, a water mill, a mosque, a school, a bath house (hammam), toilets and stables.
Focus group discussions and interviews conducted in 1999 by the University of Southern California School of Planning, Policy and Development indicated that Fes Medina residents shared a strong, geographically rooted sense of community and sense of place that stems from the high level of integration between the social, cultural, economic and physical aspects of medina life. The majority of residents' daily activities and social networks lie within the confines of the medina. Tight relations between neighbours have developed over years, forming part of a cohesive, comprehensive social and economic network. Much of social life revolves around public spaces, especially the mosque, the hammam and the marketplace.
Life is unified into a whole, rather than compartmentalised and separated according to modern Functionalist logic: you work here, you "live" there, you entertain yourself somewhere else, and you spend all your 'free' time getting from one place to the next. This recalls the idea of unitary urbanism that the Parisian Situatonists proposed in the 1960s - a quality that was once present in Paris but lost through Baron Hausmann's destruction of the pedestrian urban fabric there in the mid-1800s.

Freight Transport
While virtually all movement of people within the Fes Medina takes place on foot, donkeys and mules are used for much of the goods transport. The municipality claims there are 280 of them - 210 for goods transport and 70 for rubbish collection. In the narrow streets the mule drivers shout their warning "balak balak" and people move aside to allow their passage. It can be chaotic at times but generally seems to work smoothly, without too much inconvenience to others. The municipality has even designated some streets for one-way mule/donkey traffic, though the rule doesn't apply to pedestrians.
Still, anything that can be carried by donkey can be carried by handcart or on foot. Even the heavy gas cannisters used for domestic cooking are carried in all three methods. Handcarts serve for goods transport as well as mobile shops/stands selling everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to hot soup, snails and sandwiches. The means of freight transport in the Fes Medina are fully compatible with its low-speed, space-efficient environment. They don't undermine the efficiency of pedestrian transit, the quality of the street life or the urban environment in general.
It's not just a question of how goods are transported, but how far - in fact, whether they are transported at all. In Fes, much of the food is grown in the immediate region, while clothing, carpets and crafts are often produced in the same building where they are sold. Here you see cloth being woven in and outside a workshop where the cloth is then sold. Not only does this elminate goods transport, but it blurs the distinction between indoors and outdoors, and between private and public space - distinctions which can at times feel meaningless here.
With small shops and narrow street frontages, many shops and types of shops/services can be fit within walking distance of any given location. The principle of access by proximity is at work even inside a single 2x3-metre shop. Here a single employee can stock an enormous range and quantity of products, if the space devoted to movement within the shop is minimised or eliminated. The customer stands outside to order over a counter, and the employee has all products within easy reach, sometimes via a long-handled hook or scoop.
From the perspective of an engineer, traffic planner or mobility profiteer, all this sounds absurd. Understandably so, since the Fes Medina is the very sort of place that has no need or respect for their work. The engineer accepts as normal a system in which huge investments of money, representing wasted energy, are required just to move people and goods around. Countless hoardes of well-trained people are required to fill technocratic agencies set up to operate, regulate and police the inefficient system-never mind study and attempt to solve its problems, many of which are inherent.
Yet at walking pace, traffic is self-regulating, self-managing, self-policing. No need for speed limits, driving violations, overpasses or underpasses, asphalt mixers, tubs of white paint, right of way regulations, emergency telephones, toll plazas, garish signage or stop lights. The term "autonomous movement" comes to mean not just human-powered movement, but freedom from technocratic control.

Pedestrian Cities for the Future
The transport choices we make in daily life are largely pre-determined by our environment - the urban form of the place we live in, and how it affects the relative convenience among these choices. In a sprawled-out, low-density environment, the car is convenient and almost necessary to reach destinations which have been scattered to the wind, placed tauntingly out of reach of our feet. Little if anything is within walking distance, aside from the stores of a shopping mall, once you've arrived there by car. Fortunately in the world's remaining medieval pedestrian cities, we can see that the car's alleged convenience is environment-specific - an illusion. By simultaneously creating the so-called mobility problem and attempting to solve it, the car becomes practical and convenient only when our environment is built for and around the car.
We have yet to fully recognise this, and to consider urban form as paramount to any discussion of transport. All manner of technical solutions are proposed to help people reach their far-flung destinations faster, more efficiently, or with less pollution. Little if anything is done to bring our destinations back within reach of our feet, to replace hypermobility with access by proximity, to stitch together an urban fabric that has been ripped apart by speed. At best we hear talk of transport "alternatives" or "options," as if it is a matter of responsible choice among modes that can somehow coexist in the same place without reducing the viability of each other. Warped by an environment built for and around the car, we often perceive that the problem of excessive mobility is simply a problem of inefficient traffic. Rarely does the fish question the water itself.
The United States, the world model for car dependence, is covered by 38.4 million acres of roads and parking lots. Thirty to fifty percent of urban American land is paved over. Sixty percent of Los Angeles is paved. In Houston, Texas, the figure for the amount of asphalt is 30 car spaces per resident. In suburban America it is typically impossible to reach anything other than the houses of strangers and perhaps a park or school in a five-minute walk. It typically takes five minutes of driving to reach the nearest shopping plaza (containing a supermarket and perhaps 20 shops), and at least 20 minutes of driving to reach the nearest shopping mall (100 or more stores).
In this low-density, sprawled-out environment designed for speed, with wide streets devoted to car traffic and vast seas of tarmac devoted to parking, a hierarchy of destinations develops, those deemed inferior sacrificed to access those deemed superior. Destinations are bulldozed in the act of trying to access others. Place is destroyed, replaced with space. Increasingly more space is devoted purely to movement between destinations, which spread ever-outward in turn. Space for social interaction is dilluted and dispersed. Life is pushed indoors, separated and compartmentalised. Interaction is replaced with isolation and alienation. Sense of community is replaced with boredom and depression. The exercise of a healthy walk is replaced with a sedentary lifestyle, or with drives to the health club. People can live in Los Angeles for years without feeling like they live there, without truly being able to call it home.
The advantages of the compact Pedestrian City are many: a friendly, vibrant, bustling, interactive, peaceful, virtually pollution-free environment built on a human scale... a sense of place, of community, of security, of charm, of tradition… ample daily exercise without it becoming an activity in itself... a lack of depression-breeding isolation and alienation… the feeling of independence that comes with reaching one's destinations under one's own power, regardless of age or physical ability...
We can continue to build Car Cities if we choose, with public transport, bike and pedestrian infrastructure tacked on as an afterthought, if at all. We can try to transform our cities into Public Transport Cities. Or, over time, we can work to transform them into Pedestrian Cities.
I will close with one of many such examples: Miguel Oliver's high-density, mixed-use beach-side housing development is now under construction in Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain. It combines medieval Spanish and Moroccan architecture with modern materials, giving attention to both the indoor and outdoor environment, as well as the relationship between the two. Rarely will you find such architectural detail in modern buildings. Oliver even names one courtyard "Plazoleta de Medina," so the influence is unmistakable.
Of course nothing yet has been built or rebuilt on a large enough scale to turn motorists into pedestrians en masse, and that exactly is the challenge ahead, a challenge which will require incredible dedication and staying power. It is nonetheless important to start the work, to provide at least a few excellent examples - hopefully contagious examples that become models emulated worldwide.
There will always be people fond of saying "we can't go back in time," claiming all things new represent "progress" and must be accepted and embraced as such. There will always be other people who will learn from the past, recognise mistakes in the present, and work toward their individual and collective visions of the future - containing elements of past and present, of creativity and sensibility.
I am personally hopeful that Towards Car-Free Cities III will move this global movement a considerable distance along the latter path. Thank you.

"Roll Back Sprawl, Rebuild Civilisation!"

by Kirstin Miller

I am here to talk to you about how we can roll back sprawl and rebuild civilization; how we can transform our cities and towns to exist in balance with nature instead of in competition with it. The process calls for peeling back millions of acres of suffocating asphalt and opening up landscapes once again for wildlife and agriculture, while at the same time, creating vibrant and healthy places for people to live and work. The foundation for this campaign is based on thirty years of work and research on ecological city planning and design done by the founder of the ecocity movement, Richard Register, and the Berkeley based environmental non-profit he started, Ecocity Builders.

The time to begin this work is now. The National Wildlife Federation reports that every year, 2.5 million acres of farm, range, desert, and forest are covered in sprawl development in the United States - and if developing nations follow this trend, their rates of increased sprawl development will soon exceed the United States. Just when we are realizing the catastrophic potential of CO2 build-up in the atmosphere, sprawl development, probably its largest single cause is preparing to add two billion drivers to the problem in the next ten to twenty years. The solution: stop building for the automobile, roll back sprawl and rebuild civilization in balance with living systems.

New tools to achieve the goal of creating a healthier future for people and nature alike are being invented and identified by Ecocity Builders and an international coalition of ecocity pioneers, many who have been participants in the International Ecocity Conference Series held so far on five continents, and most recently in Shenzhen, China. These tools begin to explore far more pedestrian and bicycle friendly ecologically balanced communities that answer human aspirations while addressing issues of nature in full vitality. They include transfer of development rights, restoration tax credits, ecological demonstration projects, car-free by contract housing, and ecocity zoning maps. We also believe that transforming ways of building can be a free market movement facilitated by positive government incentives and funded mainly by normal profitable investments.

But first a little more about the big problem. As you know, humanity is presently building cities that are the chief contributor to climate change and the collapse of the biosphere - the city of sprawl, cheap energy and cars. This way of building is literally suffocating the soil beneath us and rendering vast stretches our planet lifeless. In California, The National Wildlife Federation published a study in April 2001 entitled "Paving Paradise" in which it was pointed out that 61% of species that are endangered or threatened in the State of California are in this category because of habitat displacement from sprawl development. That's not including the effects of contaminated water run-off, air pollution and the fact that cars and their support systems contribute to more carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere than any other cause. It is the same almost everywhere else. If climate change becomes acute, we can expect a collapse of species diversity on this planet as severe or more so than at any other time in evolutionary history - and sprawling car dependent cities will be the largest cause of this catastrophe. Of the many additional problems of the automobile/sprawl city, such as the fragmentation of economic and social functions, the sheer expense that makes the car dominated city unfair to lower income people, the waste of time in traffic and so on, one needs special emphasis: the half million people who die in automobile accidents every year.

Of course, rebuilding our human habitat will also entail the rebuilding of our individual and collective mindsets, and our perceptions of ourselves in relation to the environment. No easy task, but I believe one that is beginning and must accelerate. You, the people gathered at this conference, are some of the most important leaders in this movement towards a much better future. I am honored to be here today presenting information on ecological cities on behalf of my organization, Ecocity Builders.

I am also going to speak candidly to you today about the magnitude of the situation we are in. Although it is desirable and a step in the right direction, it will not suffice to only improve small sections of cities, or to build a few new cities that work more effectively if we ignore the vast overall crisis of the existing city. It also won't be enough for the concerned people among us to simply stop driving. The city built for cars and the scattering of human culture over vast mechanized landscapes cannot be made sustainable by improving the technologies that are attached to that structure, including making "better cars." Instead, we need to fundamentally change the structure itself. We need to return to basic principles and realize all over again that the city must be designed for people, not machines. We can support ourselves with some machines; the machines to build the city, with elevators, bicycles, streetcars and trains. But to build according to the dictates of the automobile, freeway, low-density sprawl and cheap energy can never be healthy for society or nature. We also have to remember that we can't go back to the past. There are over six billion people on the planet. We can't recreate four story cities for ourselves like our ancestors did in the Middle Ages. There are about fifty times as many of us now, and since 1999 human demand for natural resources has surpassed the earth's carrying capacity by at least twenty-five percent. The classic Christopher Alexander book, "A Pattern Language," has many fine images and prescriptions, but its vocabulary is limited at this time in history. The ecocity of the future will be taller: much taller in some places. Designed with ecological features and mindful of ecological principles, these places can be exciting, beautiful and harmonious environments.

One principle in its most basic and simple composition is universally true: living organisms of any complexity organize themselves three-dimensionally, not in two-dimensional flat sheets like a piece of paper. The essentially flat structure requires proportionally much longer lines of connection. For a living organism to spread across a surface in this manner would required that the veins and arteries constitute an enormous proportion of its anatomy in order to simply send nutrients and messages about its body. Such grotesque "sprawled out" organisms would be completely inefficient and wasteful if they existed: so they simply don't exist!

If we learn to think in the third dimension and use terracing and step back as we build up; if we plant rooftop gardens and invite in native birds and provide high places for the citizens to visit, work or live, why can't we imagine really beautiful taller cities full of life and inspiration? Such buildings, and cities made up largely of such buildings, would be part of an ecologically and socially healthy whole living organism.

A good example of a city that has embraced many ecological principles and is able to think in the third dimension is Curitiba, Brazil. Starting around 1972, then Mayor, now Governor Jaime Lerner coordinated the development of Curitiba's bus system on "dedicated streets"-that is, streets dedicated for buses only-with higher density housing and centers of community services and activities built along those streets. There are also 27 blocks of pedestrian streets, dozens of beautiful squares and plazas, enormous parkland and semi-natural open spaces graced by rivers and streams.

While attending the Fourth International Ecocity Conference in 2001 in Curitiba, I had the privilege of interviewing Jaime Lerner. Here are a few of his words about planning that I'd like to share with you. He says, "Always, always, in every proposal, you have to have behind it a general view about people. You must be an optimist when dealing with people. That's not being naive. It's the view that changing is possible. As soon as you realize the importance of the change, it has been always, in this city, an educational process. You cannot respect the city, the environment, if you don't understand it. We started making the process understandable." He also said, "Planning is not a process of projecting tendencies; it's a process of change. If you project bad tendencies, if you project the tragedy, you'll have the tragedy."

In the United States, people don't readily embracing change - unless it's the latest model of SUV - and would rather project bad tendencies. But, as Lerner says, we have to believe that change is possible, and that with the right circumstances and with lots of education, we can begin to reverse the tragedy of the automobile and start planning a better future that respects our humanity and the environment.

Positive changes are happening. We are here today gathered together from many different places to share information and ideas. In Europe, cities have been expanding their car-free areas. Plazas that were turned into parking lots in the 1940s through 1970s are now being restored to their pedestrian-friendly designs and functions. Bicycle paths are being created in many cities, collectively totaling thousands of miles, and streetcar lines are being established or re-established in many cities.

The city makes many connections possible, because it brings so many different things together: people, ideas, machines, tools, disciplines, memories, literature, art, everything! In its very physical structure, the city either makes things possible, or prevents them from happening. The city can be a mechanism for liberating people in an enormous way, or it can get in the way in a very major way, like the present American city and many others, which you can't utilize without driving vast distances, spending tons of money, creating pollution, and using up fossil fuels.

I think most of us would agree with Richard Register when he says, "The time has come for us to face the necessity for a more fundamental redesign, the redesign of cities, and nothing, with the possible exception of putting an end to war, is more important."

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 This page was last updated 16 February 2005