What Might Our Cities Look Like Without Cars?

German firm 3deluxe reimagines Times Square.

Times Square reimagined


Computers have dramatically changed everything about the practice of architecture in the last 30 years, but nowhere more so than in presentations and renderings. Where one used to spend thousands of dollars and a couple of weeks to get a single image, now one can build entire cities in 3D and get incredible photorealism. It is cheap enough now that architects with a bit of time on their hands can do exercises like this reinvention of Times Square by Dieter Brell of German firm 3deluxe. Asking if it was a real commissioned project, Rebecca Zentgraf of the firm told Treehugger "it is a case study to show how we could banish the cars from the city and how we could use the space."

aerial view of Times Square


It is an interesting exercise, a look at Times Square after the car. In press materials, Brell says:

"Covid is speeding up change in the cities. Since it has become obvious that motor vehicles are set to gradually disappear from the cityscape, it is now time to give some thought to how road spaces might be redesigned in the future."

He notes that many cities are making changes now, including redistributing road space to give more to bikes and pedestrians, and less for parked vehicles – but these changes could become permanent.

Before and after views


"The next level will go beyond mere cosmetic adaptations to these valuable spaces, incorporating radical structural interventions in line with the new circumstances: Sidewalks and roads as we know them will no longer exist. Instead, the opportunity arises for a complete reformation of the surfaces between buildings, which will change the cityscape of the future fundamentally."
Mobility Concepts


"The road of the future will have landscaping elements: the urban landscape and gentle slopes to break up the zones and skater-park-like terrain to give the various modes of transportation playful impetus time and again. Former intersections could be the lively city squares of the future, hubs of city living into which the urban offering is condensed, with small 'deceleration islands' for passers-by and 'acceleration hubs' for those on the go, so they can surf their way speedily through the city."
closeup detail times square
closeup detail of rendering.


There Are Issues

"There are dynamic thoroughfares allocated to soft mobility (bikes, scooters, skaters, inline skaters, walkers, runners, public e-transportation), and in between these, zones and isles with different offerings for city-dwellers out and about on foot: communicative seating areas, spaces to work out or relax, play areas, water features, urban gardening, green zones, pop-up stages for cultural events, beer gardens, pop-up stores, charging stations for e-mobility, etc."

This vision is not entirely convincing. Anyone who has ever cycled or walked through Times Square would see endless conflicts and collisions here with walkers in the bike lanes and we won't even start with the scooters.

Times Square

Lloyd Alter

Times Square wasn't particularly busy when I was last there midweek in February, but I took a photo of the sign, never having seen a "pedestrian flow zone."

really close up detail


It's fun to imagine what would happen when you mix all those scooters and Segways and cyclists with a couple of thousand tourists in Times Square. Perhaps it was a poor choice for this study.

Square in Lithuanai
V-Plaza, Kanaus, Lithuania.

Norbert Tukaj

The architects have done this for real with a plaza in Kaunas, Lithuania. "The open design of the square, with interwoven zones for relaxation, communication and play, as well as areas for ways of getting around like bicycles, scooters, skates and skateboards, has been extremely well received by the local inhabitants – over the summer the plaza swiftly evolved into a vibrant, public living space for the city." It attests to the quality of their renderings that I wasn't certain that this was really a photograph until I saw the credit. It all makes a lot more sense here than in Times Square.


Vaidotas Darulis

And wow, it's so hard to tell whether it's live or if it's Memorex.