Enrique DansSep 4
Professor of Innovation at IE Business School and blogger at enriquedans.com
An interesting article in Medium, “The war against cars will ultimately be won — and that’s good for everyone”, outlines the initiatives taken by cities around the world to restrict automobiles to create car-free places and, above all, resistance to such policies, mostly based on arguments that doing so hits neighborhood economies, but that over time, have been disproved.
Understanding the reasons people oppose such measures to improve life in our cities is essential. Cities are where the most important battle that humanity is playing at this moment is going to won or be lost: climate change. The most recent data is very worrying: governments around the world are not meeting their emission reductions targets. Take a look at the temperature data for cities around the world when you were born and compare them to now: they make sobering reading, but despite the evidence, irresponsible politicians, skepticsand climate change deniers insist we can carry on as we always have.
Redesigning our cities and overhauling transportation policies via radical intervention is fundamental: pollution is the great invisible enemy threatening the future of the planet. Delaying change for a couple of decades might make sense to politicians and industry while we get used to change, but there is simply no time: the situation is much worse than we want to believe: we no longer talk about the planet we will leave to our children and grandchildren, but instead how we’re going to cope.
The car as we know it must die. Pumping a pedal that emits polluting gases through its exhaust is like handing out machine guns to monkeys: they circulate through the streets, firing nonstop, somehow believing themselves immune to injury. To create reasonably healthy cities means implementing measures that will be opposed, but which are more necessary than ever: we must restrict cars from more and more areas while creating alternative transportation methods. We can learn from the successes of some cities, notably the use of bikes in the Netherlands (despite the weather), while understanding the dynamics of resistance in others: in Paris, Mayor Anne Hidalgohas achieved significant success by doubling the number of bike lanes and proposing a total ban on diesel and gasoline vehicles by 2030, while redesigning many large intersections in favor of pedestrians, but her attempts to ban vehicles from some areas of the French capital have been slowed down by the courts, even though the early results were successful. To continue working in each city, proposing disconnected initiatives, without creating a repository of experiences and good practices is a recipe for failure. What works in a Dutch or Norwegian city may not necessarily apply to a Spanish or Italian city, but it must undoubtedly be taken into account and used as a learning approach.
Whether we like it or not, it will be how or uncomfortable and, above all, it will bring us changes in our way of life … but it is an increasingly inevitable change. The internal combustion engine is the great enemy, the living dead that must be eliminated as soon as possible. We must increasingly restrict the use of the inefficient private car, eliminate road parking and reuse that space for other purposes, as well as developing the potential of the shared autonomous vehicle while expanding non-polluting public transport and the use of other types of vehicles such as bicycles, electric scooters and electric motorcycles for last mile mobility.
City councils must see this as a fundamental legacy, which will undoubtedly have a cost in political terms, but that should be framed in a global context, as part of a plan of action in which cities learn from each other. Only with an ambitious, determined and fearless vision can reasonable results be considered that take into account all the variables involved and generate a social fabric that provides the level of social support appropriate to these measures. We must change as a society, with all that entails, or face a future of living in unsustainable cities on a planet that is getting hotter every day. Few battles are more important than this, and technology has much to contribute.