Could it be easier to live without a car than with?

If you’re living car-free, you probably already know the answer to that question. If you live in one of the select cities where development is dense, urban spaces are interesting and inviting, and streets are places rather than empty spaces, then your answer is almost certainly a resounding ‘yes.’

Quebec City

A friend passed along this series of posts about “traditional cities” versus “hypertrophic cities,” and the implications each have for a car-free (and, he argues, a generally pleasant) lifestyle. He further classifies hypertrophic cities into 19th and 20th Century versions – 19th Century hypertrophic cities grew as a result of the Industrial Revolution, when technology advanced quickly but travel speeds were not at all near what we have today. Twentieth Century hypertrophic cities grew at an alarmingly fast rate, with the provision of interstate highways, fast and comfortable cars, cheap fuel, and a vision of The Future City that prioritized the machine elements of a city rather than human ones. Traditional cities (like Venice, Tallin, older parts of Kyoto) have a couple key characteristics; the most revealing according to Nathan Lewis are narrow streets. These have two effects: they make driving difficult and they make walking appealing. Today, in our 20th Century hypertrophic cities, we are trying to grapple with the discrepancy between these inviting places and the hostile environments created through prioritizing non-human elements.

Perhaps the metric of success we should use is whether or not it becomes easier, after retrofitting and changing future growth scenarios, to live in our cities without a car than with. Do citizens have more access to jobs, to amenities, to health care, to activities by walking, biking, or taking mass transit than by driving? Several strategies are being used to achieve this (e.g. limiting parking, pricing driving in downtowns). Do you think our cities are retrofit-able? In what other ways can we conceive of these “narrow streets?”

-          Terra Curtis