Quality Of Life
We like to think our towns and cities offer us a high quality
of life. But do they really?
Designing Cities for Children
Rather than looking at towns and cities from our own perspectives as
adults and (almost always) drivers, we would do far better to look at
them through the eyes of a child.
All the cars rushing past their houses put children's health and even
lives at risk.
Car exhaust can intensify respiratory problems like asthma and
bronchitis, can be harmful to the blood and coronary system, and can
even cause cancer.
And whilst one car driving into another car is quite bad enough, if
the other party happens to be a child who left home without their 2
tonnes of armour then the results are horrific.
Our modern obsession with the car brings social problems too.
Children should be out playing in the street, interacting with the
other kids, exploring the world around them. This is how they grow
into healthy, well rounded adults.
Instead we confine them to the house, ferry them to school and back
in our cars, and then wonder why childhood obesity,
mental and social problems are all on the up.
A city that is built for adults who drive will work for adults who
drive. A city that is built for children will work for everyone.
For a long time, planners have been building our
communities on the assumption that everyone will drive everywhere. The
result? Everyone now has to drive everywhere, whether they want to or
not. We have no choice.
Walking is the greenest mode of transport there is. It's also
healthy, and leads to more vibrant communities. And, having spent the
last 50+ years designing our towns and cities so completely around the
car, today's planners are at last beginning to see its importance.
But they're not going far enough.
Compare the 2 streets pictured below:
The first street is a traffic-calmed street with wider than usual
footpaths; a balance between cars and people. But air pollution, noise
and danger, while reduced compared to an ordinary 30mph road, are far
from eliminated. And the street is still dominated by cars, both
visually and by right of way.
The second, fully pedestrianised street is altogether more pleasant.
Footsteps and voices are the only sounds. The air is clean. And if you
want to visit a shop on the other side of the street you just cross,
with no fear of being run down. It's a place for people, not machines.
Less obviously, cars also spread cities out with all their roads and
car parks until walking is no longer an option anyway.
Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them.
- Bill Vaughan
We need to build communities compact enough to have a full range of
services – grocery stores, schools, post offices, etc. – within a 5 to 10
minute walk of every home.
Better Public Transport
Public transport (assuming it has more than a handful of
passengers onboard) uses less energy and produces less pollution
than if the same number of people had travelled by car, and it
requires less land. With full buses and trams these savings are
But just providing us with an alternative to our cars is not
enough. Public transport needs to be fast, convenient and pleasant
to ride. And the great investment this requires can only be
justified if ridership is high.
Picture a city where most people travel by car. With little
investment the bus service is adequate at best, with buses running
infrequently and getting bogged down by everyone else's cars. So
anyone with a choice switches back to their car, and less riders
means even less investment and the service gets worse still.
Now imagine if everyone in that same city used public transport.
With so many riders we could have buses running every few minutes –
we would need them to to move so many people – and all night long.
There would be no traffic for them to get caught up in. And with
that much investment we could replace the diesel buses with electric
trolleybuses or trams. Everyone would benefit.
A Diverse High Street
We also need a greater choice when it comes to where we shop.
Supermarkets, big name stores and chain pubs are all fine in moderation.
But small, independent shops are what make our communities unique.