IMAGE: RonfromYork — 123RF

Why we need to rethink our cities, now

An increasing number of cities around the world are beginning to understand that designing them around the needs of the car was a mistake that has created unsustainable situations, and what is worse, has not only prevented the implementation of transport solutions for the greater good, but put people’s lives at risk. The recent death of a cyclist in Madrid after being hit by a van (link in Spanish) is just one case, but shows that using bicycles as a means of urban transport presents real dangers. Practices that for generations we have accepted in our cities, such as parking on streets or stopping in front of shops to deliver goods, need to be ended as we adapt cities to meet the needs of pedestrians. So far this has largely taken the shape of so-called tactical urbanism.

Sadly, we have become used to streets choked by parked vehicles, converted into open-air garages. Putting cities at the service of pedestrians requires making difficult decisions that will anger motorists. Restricting entire areas to road traffic, for example, prohibiting parking on the street or limiting deliveries to evenings and early mornings will be unpopular with some, but what about the rest of us who also have a right to use public spaces?

The simple fact is that cars no longer make sense in cities, and now mean traffic jams, air and noise pollution, as well as accidents, meaning that we need to rethink urban planning. This will mean taking bold, decisive and unequivocal decisions, discouraging the use of the private vehicles, recovering space on streets currently used for parking and putting it to other uses, and giving priority to alternative means of transport that mean private vehicle ownership makes less and less sense. Can our cities function without cars? Obviously, this is not going to happen overnight, but we can begin to see a future in which not having a car in a city makes sense from every angle and that moving around can be cheaper, more flexible and more efficient, and where urban spaces function more logically and are oriented toward the needs of pedestrians.

Moving from small-scale initiatives toward a more determined approach requires a change of mindset, and may well take a whole generation to put into effect. Which is why it is essential to begin as soon as possible with what will undoubtedly be unpopular moves, at the same time as explaining these measures properly. The cities of the future will be very different from today’s. And they will undoubtedly make much more sense.

(En español, aquí)