David Engwicht is an innovative community planner and transportation analyst from Australia. He believes that traffic is largely to blame for the decline of today's cities and communities. For 10,000 years, he says, city streets were a place to socialize and play, as well as a pathway for all forms of transportation: carriages, wagons, pack animals, and, most of all, people. But today streets are reserved almost exclusively for automobiles. This dramatic shift in human civilization began in the United States, Engwicht points out, but is now the rule throughout most of the world, even in developing countries where only a tiny percentage of the population owns cars.
Engwicht maintains that cities were originally created as places for people to come together to trade goods and stories. A city, by definition, can be seen as a concentration of exchange opportunities. Cars get in the way of these exchanges in several ways. They drive people out of public spaces and create inhospitable environments for social interaction because of noise, fumes, and the barrier effects of the stream of traffic. Furthermore, they eliminate what he calls the "spontaneous" exchange — the unplanned encounter — thereby depriving cities of their essential spontaneity and life.
Traffic also sets into motion a wide range of self-reinforcing inefficiencies, according to Engwicht. Cars require roads, which require space, which require urban expansion, which requires more travel, which in turn requires more space.
Engwicht outlines ten valuable guidelines for creating more robust and less auto-dependent communities: 1) build and strengthen healthy neighborhoods; 2) revitalize the city center; 3) optimize exchange efficiency by bringing destinations to people, increasing housing density, and encouraging mixed-use zoning ordinances; 4) shift the true costs of the car to those who use them through "green fees" and "user pays" schemes; 5) promote "exchange-friendly" modes of transport, such as walking and bicycling; 6) convert "planned" exchanges into home-based or spontaneous exchanges; 7) encourage diversity; 8) strengthen the "commons"; 9) give people and neighborhoods greater control over decision-making; and 10) make those usually considered least those considered most.
Copyright 2000 by Scott London. All rights reserved.