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Why the future of the city is congestion-free

Fifty years ago, the Greater London Council was working on an ambitious new plan for London. It included Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus, much of the West End, flattening of Islington and Kensington, and highway driving through these areas.

It now seems incredible. Where would everyone drive anyway if the city’s most architecturally interesting districts were destroyed?

Of course, the point was the car, not the destination. After the war, cities around the world were redesigned for cars, not for people. Even if most of the plans didn’t finally come true, it’s a strange interlude, and surprisingly, we haven’t fully recovered.

The big brains of modernism, such as Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, insist on building a house surrounded by greenery and fresh air, and despise the limits of a historic city full of dark alleys and small squares. Did. Le Corbusier’s 1920s Villeradius (the “shining city”) envisioned a reconstructed Paris of slab blocks connected by a multi-lane highway.

In 1932, Wright responded with a concept called Broad Acres City. This is an endless low-rise suburban home surrounded by natural prairie where the entire city is dedicated to cars. Planners Patrick Abercrombie and Robert Moses envisioned post-war London and New York as road networks, respectively, with the slums demolished in between.

From Notting Hill to Soho, these slums are now one of the most desirable urban suburbs in the world.

At the core of such a modernist program was a system that separates traffic from pedestrians through multi-story elevated roads and pedestrian bridges. This fragment of vision has survived in many places, but just as urban zoning (separation of life, work, leisure and commerce) has proved deadly to everyday life, transportation and people. Apartheid did not actually take off. And no matter how many elevated roads the city built, traffic continued to grow.

Recently, much attention has been paid to changes in mobility. We read about the breakthrough impact of innovations in “micromobility” such as AV, self-driving cars, “15 minutes town”, electric cars, rental motorcycles and scooters. We are aware of the devastating effects of climate change.

However, it doesn’t seem to have changed much.The six best-selling cars in the United States are all big beasts like this: SUV And pickup. In the United States and the United Kingdom, most homes continue to be built on development with few facilities and poor connectivity. For many, driving remains the only option.

What can and should change and how can it affect our city and its architecture?

The first thing to understand is that cars take up a lot of space. In some cities, more than half of all public space, whether on the move or stationary, is dedicated to private cars, despite the surprisingly inefficient movement of people compared to public transport. is. There are an estimated 1 billion parking lots in the United States — four per car.Some studies have shown that number Twice that.

© Davi Augusto

The advent of AV is advertised as one answer. Carpools and hail cars are said to allow passengers to embark on their next journey without having to unload and park. But is that true? Wouldn’t they lead to more traffic on the road? If you can attend a private zoom meeting or watch a movie while riding, why wait for the bus? And what impact does it have on people who can’t afford such comfort and are stuck on low-funded public transport?

Another option is probably to improve the mobility network and increase the efficiency of connections between public transport, bike and scooter rentals, ride sharing and other potential arrivals. In many historic Italian cities, cars are confined to the edges and largely excluded from the walled center. For example, if you drive to Florence, you can drop your car into the garage, have a clerk park outside the city, and return when you need it.

The pandemic exacerbated our reliance on courier — of course it increased traffic.Might be so robot Do you want to take this? Or a drone? How would your home change if you needed a docking station or balcony for aerial delivery? Do rolling robots pose a pavement threat? From food delivery to flowers, urban traffic is on the rise. Cargo bike.. Great, but this requires a bigger and better bike lane. Does the democratically elected council dare to take more space from the driver?

For some time, Covid-19 gave us a glimpse of a city that was virtually car-free. It was hard to get a radical new perspective and walk in the middle of a road that is usually clogged with traffic. The expansion of outdoor dining into former parking spaces has revealed a very different, more laid-back type of city.New York Open restaurant The program gave the restaurant prompt permission to set up tables and booths on the street. Soho in London has been turned over on a new terrace. Both have been reviewed, but the taste of street dining remains. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, planners pioneered a “parklet” instead of a parking lot. This is a green pocket that can be used as a mini playground, park, pop-up cafe.

If Self-driving car Never arrive, they can free up a huge space. The average car is only driven 5% of the time. In London, the area allocated for parking is estimated to correspond to the size of 10 new Hyde Parks. Also, if AV succeeds in eliminating street parking, at least partially, the city will gain a huge amount of extra space.

© Davi Augusto

In most cases, rain-wet and empty parking lots may appear to be over redemption. But even they can be reused. A rooftop gallery, a resident orchestra, and a studio have been added to one of the parking lots in southern London to become a Peckham facility. Ten years ago in Miami, architects Herzog & de Meuron created the 1111 Lincoln Road. This is an airy piece of tropical modernism, with stunning views of boutiques, event spaces and the city in a dynamic concrete stack of frames. Parking lot too.

For most of the last 70 years, city planning has been delegated to highway engineers, and cities have been understood as a mechanism for facilitating traffic flow. That era has declined, and the mayor of Metro has re-engaged in the public territory. The “15-minute city” of Paris, headed by Mayor Anne Hidalgo, is best known for its decentralized projects, with stores, schools, offices and municipal services all locally accessible and subsidizing businesses. The purpose of the payment is to reduce the distance people need to travel. If necessary, use government-owned land to build them. Covid also helped with these ideas. Residential areas are more important than ever as people become more and more able to work from home.

This move to improve the outer neighborhood is probably the most promising future and the biggest challenge. The problem faced by many of these places is traffic. Vehicles are being pushed out into the suburbs as they are excluded from the city center due to congestion charges, traffic restrictions and parking restrictions. Traffic calming plans, speed limits, road closures, and replacement of parking lots with parks can work a bit, at least until you encounter fierce local opposition.

It is in the suburbs and exurbs that the real change needs to happen, and it is almost entirely dependent on the car. Can they be densified and strengthened? Or do they lose their charm? If next-day delivery is killing the mall, will they, and their huge parking lot, be something else? More sociable? Some US malls have been converted into retiree communities and others have been converted into medical centers. When shared AV and improved public transport, new trams, light rail, and safe cycling make life easier on the outskirts of the city for the poor, that is, those who are unlikely to own a car, the situation is It can change rapidly. Ghost malls can be a hub for workshops and businesses that are struggling to build a foothold in the city.

The problem, of course, is that the imminent climate catastrophe is now demanding that we give up on traditional cars — and the government doesn’t seem to support this. A new, visionary city of modernists a century ago did not materialize. The lesson is that if you want things to happen, you need to adapt your existing build environment.

The answer is not to demolish centers, serviceable buildings, or huge engineering projects, but to do what is called urban acupuncture. That means creating cities and suburbs that are easier to walk in and more affordable. Reached by efficient and cheap public transport. This place may certainly look like a historic city. Architects are still designing new airports and daydreaming about visionary green city planning. They need to refocus their gaze on what is already there while it can still live.

Edwin Heathcote is a critic of FT’s architecture and design

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