photo: Catherine via flickr
Though it sometimes might not seem so, living in cities is a pretty green thing to do. Two prime reasons being that average home sizes are smaller and transportation distances are generally shorter, both leading to lower levels of resource consumption and energy usage. But that doesn't mean that every city is a green oasis. Lots could use some sprucing up, even if all the basic amenities are taken care of. Here are some of the top programs I wish every city would do to make urban living even greener:
1. Make More Pedestrian-Friendly Areas
photo: Matthew McDermott
If there's a person in the world that doesn't like good pedestrian infrastructure, nice outdoor plazas, and a pleasant walking environment, I haven't met them. I'm pretty sure that person doesn't exist. But just because your city was built post-automobile addiction pushed pedestrians to the fringes, doesn't mean your city is out of luck.
I was convinced of this over the past weekend when I saw the effect in Times Square of blocking off traffic from whole blocks: Congestion on the sidewalks was eased, people ambled about in an area previously crushed by congestion. Farther down Broadway in Herald Square, blocks were closed off around an existing park which, though it's a bit rough still, made the entire area decidedly more calm and peaceful.
Now, there are plenty of places in the United States which have pedestrianized areas. But what we need are more of them. And not just in areas that are surrounded by shopping—the idea isn't to just create outdoor shopping malls—but to fill more residential and mixed use areas with pedestrian zones as well.
2. Make Entire Zones Car-Free
Places that take the pedestrian concept even further are also needed. TreeHugger has waxed on about Vauban and its car-free development model on a number of occasions. All this really is an extension of the pedestrian zone, and could be implemented as such.
If the idea of completely relegating parking and car traffic to the outside of an area is too daunting, restricting traffic in certain zones to residents and emergency traffic could work well too.
When I was in Copenhagen a few months ago what really struck me, besides the obviously exceptional bike infrastructure, was the fact that entire networks of streets had been pedestrianized creating de facto car free zones. There might be one lane of traffic in some places, but because of the narrow width of the street it might as well be entirely pedestrian.
Again, just because we've built streets with cars placed front and center isn't any reason they have to stay that way.
3. More Light Rail & Trolleys, Plus More Varied Transport Options
This is just another extension of encouraging car-free urban living... We're always on about good public transportation systems and one of my favorite forms of urban mass transit is trolley and light rail. I love me a good subway system, but if I had my druthers I'd spend my time above ground rather than tunneling beneath it.
These can be used to connect urban areas as well—like we used to have in the US, a fact that plenty of authors will remind you of. But the missing link in that is having more varied transport options once you get off the rails. If we expect people to live car-free most of the time then we need more varied transport options.
While the auto-rickshaw isn't exactly a pollution-free vehicle, there's no reason green ones can't be made, or perhaps better still a safer, smaller form of short-distance taxi, more sealed to the elements for colder climates, to fill a public transportation void.
Bicycles and bicycle share programs could do some of this, as well as car share programs, but it seems there's another vehicle class that we're overlooking.