Car-free Cities
May 29, 2000 10:01 PM   Subscribe

Car-free Cities
Would you like to live in a city where everything you need is within a five-minute walk? Where you can get from one side of a city of a million people to the other in less than thirty minutes? Where the air is clean, people are healthy, children and the elderly aren't dependent on others to get where they want to go, and life is beautiful? You can have it all--just ban cars.
posted by daveadams (50 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't usually push my political point of view here on Metafilter, but if Baylink can do it...

Let's face it, as much freedom as they provide, cars are also a huge, expensive burden to society. The infrastructure we build to support automobiles is horrendously expensive, and what has it gotten us besides destroyed cities, ruined rural ecosystems, polluted air, an insulated population, and isolated children?

When we come together to build a community, rules are established based on common interest. The common interest is to get rid of cars--the dirty, expensive, ruinous vehicles of destruction that they are--altogether.

Do you think I'm a nutjob yet? :)
posted by daveadams at 10:05 PM on May 29, 2000

I'm starting to.
posted by daveadams at 10:06 PM on May 29, 2000

There goes my argument comparing gun registration to car registration: "They've been regtering cars for ninety years and nobody's ever suggested BANNING them..."
posted by wendell at 10:11 PM on May 29, 2000

I've known you're a nutjob for months... the little stuffed dog on your weblog told me so.
posted by wendell at 10:14 PM on May 29, 2000

I'm moving from Palo Alto to Chicago next week. One big bonus of the move is that I'll be able to leave my car here.

Between insurance, maintenance, parking fees and gas, I'll come out far ahead financially.

Of course, I'll no longer have to worry about driving after trips to the bar, so beer expenditures may double, even triple, wiping out any potential gains. Sigh.
posted by luke at 10:20 PM on May 29, 2000

You'd have an easier time getting rid of the guns. I drive as little as possible, I never turn the car on without thinking of the cost to all of us. I keep hoping a workable electric car will come along, I am sure my next car will be one. I have no desire to live in the city of 1 million people tho, even tho I currently do. I'm gonna drive my electric car to a retired farm, let it go fallow, and ponder the mysteries of my solar toliet. Maybe design a better electricity generating windmill. THAT is where life is beautiful.
posted by thirteen at 10:30 PM on May 29, 2000

Electric cars don't solve the problem though. The batteries are still recharged by fossil fuels.
posted by PaperCut at 10:42 PM on May 29, 2000

Also, Have you seen a solar or wind farm? They eat up so much land, they probably create more environmental damage then a nuclear power plant.
posted by PaperCut at 10:44 PM on May 29, 2000

posted by thirteen at 10:46 PM on May 29, 2000

Well, if one defines the problem as "pollution in the driver's neighborhood," electric cars solve the problem quite nicely.
posted by luke at 10:49 PM on May 29, 2000

Not only do I not think you're a nutcase, but...

Put it this way: I live in LA -- LA -- and I didn't get a driver's license until I was 23.

I figure I added years to my life expectency. :)

But, yeah, cars need to be dumped. Nothing else is as responsible for chewing up the huge amounts of land current US development does (well, other than developers pushing a particular model of living, regardless of what it does to their profits). Nothing else contributes as much to suburban angst among teenagers -- because car-centered towns are just plain boring.

In only one other space is the consumer treated with such outright contempt (which would be real estate). In every transaction associated with possessing a car -- purchasing, financing, repair, insurance, registration, licensing, parking, fueling, legal constraints, law enforcement, dispute resolution, construction and acquisition of infrastructure, all of it -- people are treated like pure shit. It's a field where the customer is always wrong.

This is much of the reason for the incessant chant from Madison Avenue about Americans' "love affair with their automobile"... hey, it's an abusive, co-dependent love affair, but how else could they con you into buying the damn things, eh?

PS: I'm also hoping to move to Seattle in the near future... Not that Seattle compares to, say, London or Stockholm in this area, but they're decades ahead of LA... And I haven't even started my rant about how carfree cities almost certainly have an economic leg up on car dependent ones... :)

PPS: Re electrics -- yes, they still currently use fossil fuels, but nowhere near as much as petroleum-based cars over the life of the vehicle... let alone they're vastly cheaper in the long run to operate and maintain. Further, if we'd only gone ahead and developed a real space program so we could have sunsats by now, fossil fuels would be out of the picture entirely... Electrics have all the usage downsides of petroleum-based, but it would be start in the right direction...
posted by aurelian at 12:13 AM on May 30, 2000

There's quite a consensus among my twentytothirty-something neighbors here in downtown Seattle to ban cars in at least the major shopping/entertainment areas (Pike Place Market Area, Pioneer Square, 4th & Pike, Broadway Ave through Capitol Hill, etc) but alas, they who have the gold make the rules... and all the wealthy people from the East Side threaten to stay home and spend their IPO dollars over there if cars are banned here. So, the one stretch of downtown that used to be car free, and was a nice, big plaza you could walk around in, or skate, or whatever, is now jammed solid with cars from 6am to 2:30am.
My whole life occurs within a five minute walk or a single bus ride. I'm none the worse off for it; I actually have a sense of neighborhood.
They're trying to build a light rail system to take some of the traffic off of I-5 up and down the sound, but everywhere they want to put a station, the Old Guard neighborhood alliance throws a fit about the noise and mess. I went to a planning meeting, and I was the only person from my neighborhood who was in favor of the noise. Like I told them, "I'm willing to become accustomed to the noise and inconvienience(sp?) of construction for a few months if that means my children will know what a salmon run looks like."
I guess people are more concerned with dust on their windows than trying to preserve the remnants of an ecosystem, they're holding up all the plans until "more studies are made".
posted by katchomko at 12:13 AM on May 30, 2000

Workable fuel cells, that's what we need. Just have two conduits going to every house, hydrogen and data. Of course, then we need a cheap, non-destructive way of getting hydrogen.. damn. I'll get back to you.
posted by Freakho at 12:14 AM on May 30, 2000

sed s/in favor of the noise/in favor of the rail station/
posted by katchomko at 12:16 AM on May 30, 2000

...all the wealthy people from the East Side threaten to stay home and spend their IPO dollars over there if cars are banned here...

I dunno, Kat... I'm pretty sure they stay over in the East Side now, when it comes to shopping.

Last time I was in Seattle (March), I kept leaving my friendly hosts in Sammamish dumbfounded with the fact that I routinely went into downtown for fun... After all, it was thirty whole minutes! (At least, non-rush-hour -- which is when most shopping takes place, eh?) Seriously, I don't think they cross the lake any more often than they feel they have to.

But I'm with you on the stations. What, light rail somehow generates more noise and dirt than cars? phht! As if... :) It would be a net reduction.

posted by aurelian at 12:30 AM on May 30, 2000

PaperCut: Windfarms take very little space and can share with agricultural land. I'm very much pro the carless city. Centralising the population in cities would be efficient and less destructive - but the problem is cities really do need to be redesigned. Fixing the transport networks isn't enough. But how to do it? There isn't enough room to build new cities. I fear the problems will get massively worse before people will accept the changes that have to be made.
posted by mattw at 1:19 AM on May 30, 2000

There's not enough BigMoney on the westside to support the new Nordstrom's and Pacific Place shopping mall. Seattle's city council envisions downtown Seattle as one big amusement park for Bellevue/Kirkland/Redmond :(
posted by katchomko at 2:21 AM on May 30, 2000

As someone who has spent most of his life in small to medium-sized towns, I know that there are lots of places where carfree wouldn't work. I still think it would be a good idea to implement some of these ideas in large cities where they can work.

As far as recharging batteries from fossil fuels goes, you get some major economies of scale from centralized power production. Not only can you produce more energy more efficiently for a given amount of fuel, you can implement more effective pollution controls at a single power plant than a bunch of individual car engines. I'm still looking forward to the wider adoption of individual hybrid car engines, which use an IC engine to charge a battery. Not only do hybrids store energy that normal engines waste by idling, etc., they can be tuned to operate more efficiently by having the engine always run at the same speed.
posted by harmful at 6:21 AM on May 30, 2000

How about hydrogen fuel cells... the only exhaust from which is *water*.

Thanks, Dave; I really appreciate it. :-)

You did a better job than me, too; at least you took the time to go find a link to (as we say in the 'write letters to the editor' biz) "hang your posting on"... a practice I plan to be more assiduous about in the future...

I concur, btw; I'd *love* a direct-electric car. They tell me the GM Impact is a *hoot* to drive; more off the line torque than a Corvette.

We'll all have California to thank when it happens; their 2% Zero Emissions mandate is what's driving Detroit: if you can't sell cars in Cali, you're out of business.
posted by baylink at 7:04 AM on May 30, 2000

I like my car. I couldn't do without it. Without a way to get out of the city from time to time, I think I'd go mad.

That said, I think what people should do is think a little bit before using the cars they have.

First, get rid of those damn SUV's. They're just too big and waste too much energy. I'm sorry, but having an SUV in the city serves no purpose. They're "supposed" to be for weekend offroad adventures. I bet 1% of owners use them for that. The rest commute with them and waste about 5 gallons of gas per day in the process.

Secondly, Carpool!! We have a carpool lane here in Minneapolis. I car pool every day. It takes me 15 mins to get to work. By myself it would take 45. Why? Because NOBODY carpools! The entire freeway is backed up except for one lane, which has no cars on it, save me. Yes it's nice, and yes I love being able to zip in and out of downtown fast and not have to deal with traffic, but it depresses me that so many people decide to go it themselves and waste so much time and fuel.

posted by vitaflo at 7:52 AM on May 30, 2000

Wow, I'm surprised how positive the reaction has been, but I suppose the enlightened crowd that reads Metafilter can see beyond the hype to how destructive our dependence on automobiles really is.

"Nothing else contributes as much to suburban angst among teenagers -- because car-centered towns are just plain boring."

Not only are they boring, but the teenagers in these towns are totally dependent on their parents, older siblings, or older friends for transportation if they're under 16 or if their parents can't afford another car.

"there are lots of places where carfree wouldn't work."

Absolutely true, and the benefits of the automobile and good roads to the rural portion of America's population are innumerable. But a huge portion of the population lives in major metro areas where car-free is an option.

Another point, lots of European cities (whose city centers were built long before cars took over) have occasional car-free days (usually on Sundays). Response has been generally positive as people have seen the benefits of a car-free environment.

It won't work to just ban cars, cities and towns have to be built in ways that support this lifestyle, and that's going to take a lot of changes.
posted by daveadams at 7:56 AM on May 30, 2000

"Without a way to get out of the city from time to time"

It's important to note that isn't trying to get rid of all cars. I'm not advocating that either. But in an urban environment, cars are just a nuisance. The space and resources they take up perpetuate their necessity. The plan even allows for cars, parked at the edges of cities, which residents can use to escape town.
posted by daveadams at 7:59 AM on May 30, 2000

Cars are a necessary evil.
Take Manhattan for instance, almost everyone coming to Manhattan from the other buroughs and from Manhattan itself rely on the subways for basic transport. Yet there are still 'n' number of cars that come into the island everyday. Why?Because people like the freedom of movement cars provide, and that is the real reason why cars will not be banned, nor will they be phased out anytime soon.A city like Mumbai [formerly Bombay] boasts an efficient mass transist system [approx. 3/4 of the 10 million Bombayites travel via mass transit everyday.], yet anyone and everyone who can afford to buy a car, has gone and out and bought a car and drives to work. The city has the highest number of cars per square kilometer, in 92 I think it was 450 cars/sq. km.I once did a project that focused on electric cars, and the best so far are the ones produced by Mercedes Benz, and even those cars are far from being introduced into the market as competitors for the gas guzzling monsters that we currently drive.
posted by riffola at 8:04 AM on May 30, 2000

There's nothing wrong with cars per se. European cities large and small allow cars and (*most* of them) manage to avoid the American trappings of automobile life.

The problem is what America does with cars; mobility (physical mobility that is) is used here as a way to "preserve" communities and real-estate values. You don't need to get rid of cars; get rid of zoning instead. Enfore 'mixed-use' developments. Make community decisions on individuals' use of their own land illegal (with about the only exception being heavy industrial uses). Whatch shops sprout in residential areas. Bars near workplaces. See ghettos change and improve as the market realizes the land is too cheap to pass by.

Zoning is your enemy; the sprawl that is caused by zoning is your enemy. The car is just another symptom...

posted by costas at 8:19 AM on May 30, 2000

Anybody ever read Niven and Pournelle's science fiction novel Oath of Fealty? It was based on Paolo Soleri's idea of an arcology, which was basically a city in a building. Anyway, the authors of the novel had some interesting ideas about both the technologies of such a place and the type of society that might develop there. Too bad it was written before people started looking into the environmental problems of large buildings, such as sick building syndrome. Still, one neat idea was that of a common pool of vehicles available for those who did need or want to use them from time to time. Naturally, this could only work given a society willing to agree to reasonable use of those vehicles.
posted by harmful at 8:24 AM on May 30, 2000

You don't need to get rid of cars; get rid of zoning instead. Enforce 'mixed-use' developments.


Zoning is your enemy; the sprawl that is caused by zoning is your enemy. The car is just another symptom...

You don't mean "get rid of zoning"; enforcing mixed-use is zoning.

Make community decisions on individuals' use of their own land illegal (with about the only exception being heavy industrial uses)

The idea that an individual's use of land should somehow take precedence over the community is absurd, besides being exclusively a modern notion. Wise zoning is the key, just ask the people in Lincoln County, Missouri, just outside St. Louis. Without zoning, grotty trailer parks have sprouted up and a gravel quarry sets off dynamite charges within earshot of hundreds of homes. This is what *always* happens without zoning, although it does sometimes happen with as well.

For the single best introductory book on the entire city-planning and zoning issues, read Jane Jacob's "The Death and Life of Great American Cities." It's an easy, intelligent read that despite being 30 years old, is still completely applicable.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:03 AM on May 30, 2000

I lived in Chicago without a car for almost five years. It involved some stubbornness based on having previously lived in NYC for almost two years and finding that city ideal for the car-free person. Chicago is ... less than ideal. Sure, it's possible, I did it for a long time, but it was a constant pain in the neck. Chicago does have substantial public transportation and concentration of certain activities in the downtown, but after a while everyone I knew was spread out over a hundred square miles and most of them not convenient to trains. So, luke, you may want to reconsider ...
posted by dhartung at 9:31 AM on May 30, 2000

Since moving to San Francisco, I've become a radical pedestrian. I'd love to ban cars, not from all of the city, but from downtown, starting with Market Street.

And this was *before* some psycho assaulted me with his van when I tried to cross the street--legally--in front of him.
posted by feckless at 9:41 AM on May 30, 2000

Before you think about getting rid of zoning, you might consider the effects of a chemical plant next to a school or other such mismatches that would become legal.

Here's an interesting page about an EV Conversion. It's thoughtful and, I daresay, somewhat inspirational.
posted by plinth at 10:02 AM on May 30, 2000

Rather than wondering whter we should ban cars, probably a better question to ask is why, in this day and age, people insist on living in huge insect-like clusters which encourage pollution, crime, and other ills. Cars per se are not a problem - on the whole, they allow greater freedom and mobility to those who use them, especially the elderly and the disabled (for whom a "five minute walk" might take a day or might never happen at all). The ills associated here with cars - pollution, traffics jams, rude drivers... these are all intrextricably linked with the ridiculous density of our cities. Instead of clustering closer together, we should be spreading out. Opponents of low-density development claim that it "consumes" land, which is rarely the case. Conversion of land from agricutltural to residential use is probably a toss up in terms of ecological impact EXCEPT where the new try to commute daily into one of our cities. That's when congestion resulting from high density tips the balance.

Zoning is also a regime that has many unintended and undesirable consequences. One of the most common complaints of neighborhood activists is that zoning boards are in the pockets of the developers. Zoning is also used in an attmept the "close the door behind" the folks who have just moved into a growing area. The byzantine regulations and government agencies spawned by zoning schemes can be used just as often against the public good as before it.

How, then, can we prevent the much-feared chemical plant from moving in next to the residential properties? First, economics often takes care of this - residential property is rarely a cost-effective location to put in industrial facilities. Second, the law has for centuries recognized nuisance doctrine, meaning that the neighbor who spoils your property through chemical, sounds, or light emisissions, or other forms of trespass, is civlilly liable to you for that damage. A perfectly workable alternative to zoning - one that avoids the corruption and tyranny of the zoning regime - is to allow property owners to police their own rights through vigourous use of this doctrine. Time and time again, history has shown that empowered individuals acting to protect their own interests get better results than centralized bureaucratic planning, becase the former is far more dynamic and responsive to unexpected developments.
posted by mikewas at 10:46 AM on May 30, 2000

"we should be spreading out"

Unless you can do all your work from home, and get all your goods delivered (or produced on your land), spreading out only leads to more driving, requiring more roads, taking more time, producing more pollution. This situation is fine for a small segment of the population that chooses to live in a rural environment, but we couldn't possibly support everyone with exurban-style development. Density is only a problem because of our reliance on the automobile. If you take cars out of the scenario, density isn't such a big problem.

And how do you expect children and adults unable to drive or those unable to afford an automobile to participate in a spread-out society? What cultural or social activities would be available to them?

"Opponents of low-density development claim that it 'consumes' land, which is rarely the case.

I'm not sure what this means... Low-density development by definition consumes more land than high-density development. Maybe you are saying the low-density development doesn't really consume land in the now-it's-destroyed-bwa-ha-ha sense. But in the sense of now-it's-unusable-for-any-other-purpose, it definitely consumes more.
posted by daveadams at 11:26 AM on May 30, 2000

Dave, with more and more workplaces locating outside of the city limits (as is happening here in the DC area and many other places) it is much more possible to move further out and still be close to one's workplace. In the modern age, there's little compelling reason to cluster all workplaces in the same area. Cars are only a problem when everyone is going to the same place at the same time - that's when congestion and pollution are at their highest. The EPA targets high-density areas, now low-density areas, for auto emissions inspections programs. But you can bet that folks in low-denisty areas drive too. Even without cars, density is linked to numerous social ills, including pollution, and crime. Higher densities also make housing less affodable for those with lower incomes, except in highly undesirable neighborhoods. Compare housing costs of, say, New York City with those of, say, Davenport, Iowa. Why is there such a great disparity between the two?

Low density allows opportunities for greater sociatal participation. There's more room to build recreational and cultural facilities, for example, at less expense, and they're not overcrowded or overutilized. Because land is less expensive in lower density areas, these facilities can be closer to home - within walking or biking distance - or even your backyard. How many will you find in Manhattan?

I think you and I agree on that consumption can be defined in different ways. But your conclusion- that low denisty devlopment forever forecloses land from any alternative use - is simply false. Use reclassification happens alll the time - downtown areas are reborn as urban shopping districts, obsolete farms become suburbs, and old residential neighborhoods get plowed under for high-density development. (This is currently happening in my neighborhood) It's much harder to turn the clock BACK and lower the density of a parcel of land than it is to increase the density. So if higher density is your goal as an urban planner, just let time do its work. But once you zone a plot for a high rise, you'll never a house with a yard that kids can play in. It's just too hard to displace a high rise as opposed to a single family. So the whole premise that low-density development 'consumes' land and blocks it off from further develpment is simply wrong.
posted by mikewas at 12:11 PM on May 30, 2000

"density is linked to numerous social ills, including pollution, and crime"

Correlation does not equal causation. Density doesn't cause pollution and crime, however, middle-class flight from dense neighborhoods causes crime, and dense automobile usage required by current urban design and density of polluting factories causes pollution, not density in itself.

"Higher densities also make housing less affordable.... Compare housing costs of, say, New York City with those of, say, Davenport, Iowa. Why is there such a great disparity between the two?"

Perhaps because New York is a place more people would like to live in? Because there are more and higher-paying jobs available in New York. Supply and demand play a big role in housing prices. Manhattan-level densities may be inherently more costly to support, I don't know, but I'm not necessarily supporting Manhattan-level densities.

I'm not trying to advocate Manhattan as a perfect example. I never even mentioned New York City. The fact that New York is, for many reasons, a highly desirable place to live plays a big role in the cost of living and the level of density. But New York certainly isn't car-free, although it may be the best example we can find in the United States. A lot of Manhattan's costs and problems can be attributed to cars, as well.

I don't think extremely high density is the answer any more than I think extremely low density is. I think there's a balance we should strive for at which cars aren't a necessity to participate while still maintaining plenty of open space, recreational opportunity, cultural events, and affordable costs of living.

My point is that cars cause more problems than they solve. There are other ways to solve the problems that cars solve, and we should investigate the alternatives.

Wow, these posts just get longer and longer, eh?
posted by daveadams at 12:57 PM on May 30, 2000

Obviously you're different, but I find vast sprawling tracts of low-density housing to be one of the more depressing blights humans have inflicted on this earth. I'd take a densely packed city over the suburbs anytime.

I find the dense city cores refreshingly honest: they're artificial, they know it, and they glory in it. We are human, this is what humans build, this is what a human city looks like. The faux-natural suburbs with their gently curving cul-de-sac street mazes, carefully trimmed pseudo-savanna grass yards, and gently unoffensive trees and shrubs are trying to have it both ways - resolutely human-built as they are, they're still trying to conjure up the ghosts of the flattened ecosystems whose graves the pavement was laid over.

I don't have any hard data on the assertion that low-density suburbs are superior venues for "societal participation" and recreation, but it sure as hell doesn't jive with my experiences as a teenager in California, where the first thing we did when looking for fun was head downtown where there were things to do other than go to stores and buy things.

posted by Mars Saxman at 1:04 PM on May 30, 2000

Density is the fundamental cure for sprawl, for driving, for a nation paved shore to shore with concrete and asphault. Manhattan and all of New York City prove it.

I won't take the time to detail all of your logic faults, but this is my general response:

People live in "insect-like" clusters because it's good for them. They like it. It works, and works well, on behalf of a community--on behalf of the larger group--rather than the individual. Cities are less selfish ways of living, more ecologically sound, greener.

Density is a good thing. Density promotes community, it promotes contact, it allows accumulation of resources and the creation of surplus, the elimination of redundancy, all of these things part of the efficiencies required for a successful society.

You are at least thinking about the problem, though I don't agree with your conclusions. You might consider the following readings.

Stephen Fosket, Urban Forms in Suburbia: The Rise of the Edge City

Carol Willis, "Form Follows Function"

Alexander Garvin, "The American City: What Works, What Doesn’t"

Huber, Peter and Mark P. Mills, How cities green the planet

posted by Mo Nickels at 1:09 PM on May 30, 2000

More thoughts:

"In the modern age, there's little compelling reason to cluster all workplaces in the same area."

Hey, Mike, you're right about this one. I don't believe it is beneficial to cluster all the workplaces or all the shopping or all the housing or all the industry in one sector. Higher density does not imply workplace clustering. In fact, that's part of what makes sprawl-style development--and the type of spread-thin building you seem to be suggesting--so inefficient. We should strive for a kind of fractal--if you'll let me bastardize a term--development so that for almost any size sample of urban space, there is a constant ratio of office/retail/housing. Obviously you can't maintain this ratio down to a very small grain, say the size of an apartment, but the smaller the better. The CarFree city emphasizes this cellular approach to development. Mixed use development is always healthier and better than pod-style development of office parks, subdivisions, and shopping malls. Higher density allows this kind of development without requiring that everyone owns--and is able to operate--an automobile to utilize it. Assuming that's the goal, removing the automobile from the equation ensures that this type of development is what gets built. That's what car-free is about.
posted by daveadams at 2:51 PM on May 30, 2000

Cars cause two big structural problems to urban life.

(The proviso is that they're more or less essential to non-urban survival these days.)

1. They fuck up cities that weren't designed for cars.

London, New York, Boston. Cities built with horses and carts in mind. Most of Europe's cities. Oxford, where I live.

2. They lead to the building of fucked-up cities.

I've spent enough time in Atlanta to hate its suburban sprawl. Anywhere residential that makes you walk for two miles to get a newspaper isn't a city, in my definition.

Thankfully, the new Mayor of London is on the case wrt no. 1.

posted by holgate at 3:46 PM on May 30, 2000

katchomko is right: NIMBY rules supreme where any discussion of mass public transit's concerned. sad but true. There's even a major suburban-Atlanta county who won't let the metro Atlanta bus/rail system come there, they say it would "bring in undesirables". What crap; all it'd bring in is people like I was then: "wouldn't live here if you paid me but I'm not above coming to work in your endless miles of gleaming office parks." What you have to do instead is take Atlanta public transit to the Cobb Country transit connection point in Midtown, hang out on a bus for 15 miles of freeway, then cruise all over Cobb on self-same bus before actually getting to the office. It takes *hours*. I bought a car.

... and it seems to me like "spreading out more" as is done in the suburbs is mostly a direct result of cars. The suburbs don't have verdant hills and parks between houses and stores, they've got acres of parking lots. Eeeyuk. But I still wouldn't live in a place like Cobb County if they planted daisies instead of asphalt in front of the local Wal-Marts and car dealerships; downtown's where it's at. Wanting to leave all that culture and life and humanity just because traffic is bad is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Density's not the problem. Cars are the problem.

That said, I'm very attached to mine. I'll drive him til he dies. But my preference would be to not *have* to sit in *any* car for hours and hours every week---how will you people with visions of farmland utopia get to the office? Public transit doesn't make it out to where the buffalo roam. Or does farmland utopia also come with a "Get Out Of Employment Free" card?
posted by Sapphireblue at 4:08 PM on May 30, 2000

heh. hey, holgate: you were in the wrong part of Atlanta. Sounds like you weren't in "the city", but in one of the sprawling parasitic hangers-on of the downtown heart (where there are newspapers aplenty)---you're too right, that's *not* a city. that's the burbs.
posted by Sapphireblue at 4:15 PM on May 30, 2000

"In the modern age, there's little compelling reason to cluster all workplaces in the same area."

I respectfully disagree.

Chicago works because it has concentric rings of density. Gazillions of people work in the core but live in the outer suburbs (or in the nicely mixed-use inner rings), which makes mass transportation -- the El and commuter trains -- very practical and affordable.

Contrast this to the Bay Area, which, like L.A. and other Western monstrosities, is a distributed network of low-density sprawl with several hubs: S.F., San Jose, Oakland. This has several negative results.

1) Low density makes public transport inefficient. Caltrain ridership is low, because there is little development near train stations, meaning people who do ride have to drive to the station, which defeats the purpose. Moreover, the low ridership means tickets are expensive -- $8 round trip from Palo Alto to S.F. -- which in turn is a dis-incentive to ride, because it's only a little more expensive to drive.

2) Because of the networked architecture, you have many two-job families who work in different places. So, a family may live in Mountain View but Dad will work in S.F. and Mom will work in San Jose, meaning twice as many cars on the road than if they could drive (or take the train) into the same core.

3) The typical workplace in Silicon Valley (and Denver and Atlanta and ...) is a giant glass artifice surrounded by a fountain and acres of parking lot. In Chicago and New York, the workplace clusters (skyrises) facillitate interaction between workplaces. Let's say I'm working in the Tribune Tower and you're working in the John Hancock Building, and we want to have lunch (or hold a meeting or deliver a document). Great! Meet you on the corner in five minutes! But let's say I work at Yahoo and you work in the Microsoft campus about a mile away. Well, we hop in our cars and, a 20-minute drive through gruelling traffic later, we meet somewhere in between, wolf down a lunch and then race back to work before our break is over. Nuts to that!

QED, clusters cut traffic by as much as half (in theory), makes mass transit realistic and foster social and economic exchange.

While I'm ranting, I'd like to lash out at all the Bay Area "open space" advocates who claim to be environmentalists. Overzealous defense of open space is in fact bad for the environment. For instance: 1) The land south of S.F. along 280 is almost entirely preserved. It's beautiful and full of great trails. But the cost of not using this space is hundreds of thousands of daily car trips, polluting the air and wasting time and natural resources. 2) In San Jose, there is a height ceiling, preserving everybody's view of the gorgeous mountains. Great. But this means fewer people can live in San Jose, which means hundreds of thousands of people must commute from dozens, even hundreds (!) of miles away, every day. The hills are pristine, but the highways are clogged with cars -- this is good for the environment?

On the contrary, most open-space advocates should be recognized as greedy, home-owning NIMBYs who oppose development because, hey, more housing will only drive down property values. You won't find many renters clamoring for less development.

Good riddance, Bay Area. To the curb with you!
posted by luke at 4:36 PM on May 30, 2000

Has anyone tried to model these cities in SimCity? I'm never actually able to get carless cities to work correctly in my games.
posted by captaincursor at 5:18 PM on May 30, 2000

I remember that in the original SimCity, my roommate at the time once built a pretty decent city without roads. (Well, except for the huge "asphalt plain" he built in a corner away from everything else, in order to satisfy some road tiles per capita requirement.) I don't think that would be possible in the newer versions of the game, where all mass transit is station-based, and some services (garbage collection in particular) seem to demand road access.
posted by harmful at 5:55 PM on May 30, 2000

On the farmland utopia front, I am hoping to start working from home. I have been planning for this for awhile. Saving and preparing for a job that will allow it. I know not everyone can do that, but anti-social fella that I am, once there I can't imagine every returning to the city. Of course I will want to connect my solar array into the power grid. T-3 line and UPS deliveries will make living in my decomissioned nuclear missile silo a pleasure.I currently average 30 miles a week in the car. I do not think that is alot, but I wish it was less.
posted by thirteen at 6:02 PM on May 30, 2000

Come to think of it, the biggest obstacle to car-free cities in the U.S. is probably the "importance" of the car as a status symbol. Of course, it could be worse; I was listening to Marketplace on NPR this afternoon, and one story was on how much of a status symbol cars have become in Japan, even among people who rarely drive them. I think they said 80% of households own cars, while only 15% of the population likes driving.
posted by harmful at 6:44 PM on May 30, 2000

SapphireBlue: which part of Atlanta would you call "the city"?

(Yeah, I was talking about Buckhead before...)

Because I've walked around downtown (no, not Underground Atlanta, thankfully) at 5pm, within sight of the CNN Center, and not seen another person on the street. Which freaked me out, being used to the rush-hour bustle of London. Running an eight-lane freeway through a city centre is definitely the best way to kill its cultural life. It's pretty similar to the Bull Ring Birmingham (in England), and they've just finished knocking that down to bring people back into the city on public transport.

And yeah, there's south Atlanta, which isn't suburban, but that's a different topic entirely, on why I hate the place.
posted by holgate at 6:46 PM on May 30, 2000

Harmful: there's also the fact that petrol's relatively cheap in the US, so you get bigger cars and nasty SUVs. In Europe, the award-winning cars are the little ones, the Ford Kas and Fiat Cinquicentos. Even the status-symbol cars in Japan are more likely to be imported Minis than Japanese models.
posted by holgate at 7:03 PM on May 30, 2000

While Chicago does have a pretty good public transportation system, I have problems with the lack of coverage in some suburban areas.

I would gladly take the train downtown, but in the end, cost and lack of convenience do it for me. First of all, price. I figured out that it would save me maybe a few pennies to take the train downtown rather than drive, park, and use gas. Then there's the option of a 2.5 mile walk from the train station to class, or taking 3-4 different buses.

If I could live within walking distance of shopping, entertainment, and (the stretch) my job, I would. It'd be wonderful. But urban sprawl negates this. Heck, there has been mention that DeKalb - which is about, ah, 80? or so miles from Chicago - will be considered a suburb within 10-15 years. Imagine that commute time.

I duplicated my suburb in SimCity once, and it failed miserably. I duplicated what seemed like a myriad roads, and weird zoning. It was abandoned rather quickly by its residents, which is somewhat reflective of what's really happening here! ;)
posted by hijinx at 7:50 PM on May 30, 2000

Holgate, you live in Oxford, they banned cars from the city centre there a while back didn't they?
From what I remember of the last time I was there, it just meant the city centre was full of empty buses.
I suspect this is more due to bad planning than a poor concept, but hasn't the whole park & ride thing meant that businesses in Oxford have suffered because most people prefer to drive elsewhere in their cars than have to get a bus from a car park.
posted by Markb at 7:29 AM on May 31, 2000

What really scares me is how nonchalantly many of you discuss 'banning' something! Go move to a cow pasture, build a car-free-friendly city and walk all over it if YOU want to, but leave me the hell out of it! Quit trying to tell everyone else how to live!

posted by webwide at 5:33 AM on June 1, 2000

I wasn't proposing banning the existence of cars. But in urban areas, such a measure would be healthy for the city and the people living in it and using it. A brand new carfree city would probably be impossible to build. Even if someone had the money to invest, you'd have a hard time getting businesses and people to move to a brand new city. Besides, all the good locations for cities have been taken! :)

As for telling other people how to live, that's not really what it's about. As it stands, government policy and funding pretty much guarantees that every new development will be totally car-centric and unusable in practice to those who would like to choose to walk or bike. What about my choice? When the government builds a freeway through a neighborhood, separating friends and family from each other and from vital services, forcing them to drive everywhere they go, what happened to their choice? Aren't those people supporting the freeway telling those people how to live?

posted by daveadams at 7:36 AM on June 1, 2000

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