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Entirely Car-Free Cities, the Stuff (Impossible) Dreams Are Made Of

Oh, what a brave new world. Imagine riding the train home from work, walking the rest of the way while breathing in clean air, listening to the sound of the city and the chirping of birds, and taking in the beautiful, green sights.
It’s an amazing prospect, one that could only happen if we cut private car ownership out of the equation. Industry analysts believe that car ownership will become a thing of the past in the following years, because ride-sharing will become a much cheaper and efficient means of transport. Idealists would have you believe that it will happen because communities will start banning private cars, until entire cities and countries become completely car-free.

Most countries already have at least a handful of cities where vehicular traffic is restricted or limited considerably, particularly in tourist or historic areas. There are islands with a small number of residents that haven’t seen a car on their roads in decades. Imagine that.

It’s not that people can’t live without cars, but rather that they won’t. Despite claims that millennials are turning their backs on the auto industry, they’re still buying cars. Their kids will probably do the same, as will their kids’ kids, and so on.

One real estate developer from the U.S. aims to build the first residential community in the country with a ban on privately-owned cars. A literal ban on cars. It's building a 1,000-resident community that will open in the fall of 2020, complete with everything from ride-sharing services (cars, scooters, bikes, the works) to public transit and easily accessible shopping centers. And zero parking spaces, because not a single one of those residents will own a car.

The idea is glorious and with a very obvious appeal: by removing privately owned cars from the equation, Culdesac Tempe (the first community will be in Arizona, but they’re eyeing nationwide expansion from here) is replacing pavement with greenery. It’s bringing the city back to the people, after it was taken over by cars. It’s offering a better-quality life where you don’t spend time stuck in traffic, breathing in toxic fumes and dying slowly from it. Who wouldn’t want that?

It’s not that such an idea is not admirable or even desirable, but rather that it implies a shift in society that society is simply not prepared for. Drastic times call for drastic measures, indeed, but this is too drastic whichever way you look at it. We’ve been living, eating, working, and breathing in cars for so long that we’ve come not to be able to imagine a future in which we wouldn’t (or couldn’t) own one.

Radical ideas always have a short lifespan, even when they’re inspired by a crisis and the need to take radical action. History has taught us that, time and time again. They are a logical, defensive reaction that is completely understandable and even justified, but people don’t do well with extremes.

No-car communities and cities will probably appear here and there, and there will be enough people willing to buy a home and move there, but they will live in a bubble. Their reality will be a car-free one, but they will be surrounded by other communities and cities where people are still largely dependent on a family vehicle. Once outside their bubble, they will still need a car to get by.

It’s true, cars are a major contributing factor to the climate crisis. It’s true, the auto industry and us, the consumers, need to start thinking outside the box if we still want to have a planet to live on in a few decades. We need to be more responsible for our private car use, we need to give alternative means of transport a chance, we need to switch to electric, reduce our carbon footprint.

We could use more trees and greenery instead of parking lots and highways, we could do with the extra exercise and less of the stress of private car ownership, we could be healthier and happier.

However, banning cars is not the way to get there. Banning something has hardly ever worked for mankind, let history be a lesson in this sense.

 
 
 
 
 

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