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Designing a city without cars – for the sake of the kids

UniSA Media Release

More than half of Australian households own two or more motor vehicles, while only seven per cent own none – we are, without a doubt, a car country.

However, while countless advertisements celebrate the freedom cars provide, University of South Australia urban planning researcher, Hulya Gilbert, says there are growing reasons to question the cost of that freedom, and even challenge whether it is freedom at all.

“There’s obviously the environmental impacts, and the health and fitness consequences of using cars, but there’s also a huge social impact,” Gilbert says.

“Despite the common view across the world that cars provide freedom and flexibility, increasingly we’re seeing the priority given to cars is infringing people’s ability – and right – to get around without one.

“That’s especially true of children, and the more we build our cities around cars, the more we rob kids and teenagers of opportunities to enjoy some independence and develop self-reliance.”

Gilbert’s research shows the assumption that most people travel by car dominates current transport discussions, which, in turn, has dictated the design and location of key places in children’s lives, such as schools and sporting clubs.

Once our cities are built that way, she says, it’s hard to move outside the plan.

“It’s not enough just to say, ‘kids need to walk to school more’,” Gilbert says. “In many situations, we have planned that possibility out of cities, and now it’s just not safe or practical for children to ride or walk to the places they need to go – so much so, that there are now perceptions that parents who do let their kids ride or walk are being negligent.”

Gilbert says a change in priorities by urban planners is needed to reverse this trend, and despite a growing interest in alternatives to the private car across the world, her research suggests we’re unlikely to see large scale shifts in travel behaviour unless we make the required changes to infrastructure first.

“That involves building and maintaining safe walking and cycling paths and associated infrastructure including green spaces, trees and pedestrian crossings, and reducing speed limits and traffic flow around those areas to ensure they’re safe.

“It also means ensuring public transport is connected to those active transport networks, and that key locations, such as schools and sports clubs, are located so they’re accessible by those modes.”

Developing these networks will not only benefit children and teenagers, Gilbert says, but also help other social groups currently disadvantaged by being unable to drive, including the elderly, vision impaired and lower income earners.

“At the moment, our cities and societies are set up based on the idea that having a licence and owning a car is the norm, and we often consider the lack of car ownership as a disadvantage. Our right to move around our cities without a car is not commonly considered.

“Now, even though it’s the case that most people have access to a car and travel by car in cities such as Adelaide, planning and thinking as if they don’t would open up many possibilities and opportunities which would accelerate progress towards less private car usage and the associated, wide-ranging benefits,” Gilbert says.

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4 comments

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  1. New England Cocky

    As Australia is about 3 million square miles it seems ridiculous that over 80% of the national population is crammed into metropolitan cities on the eastern coastline, with high-rise residential apartments generating huge profits for property developers while stifling traffic movement thus generating huge pollution and subsequent health problems.

    Canberra development originally included neighbourhood shopping centres that quickly gave way to a CBD retail precinct of high rise department stores that snuffed out the smaller neighbourhood centres which in turn were re-purposed to professional centres.

    Perhaps a better solution may be to encourage the development of population centres at about 100km distance from each other ( the distance a horse could be ridden in a 10 hour day, as happens in New England) each with a population of about 100,000 persons, (about the size of present day Toowoomba SE Qld).

    Such a metropolis would require about 10,000 government public servants to provide the economic backbone for the private sector that would contract to build the necessary infrastructure along similar lines to Canberra. Government offices would be linked by the original Labor high speed Internet and working from home may increase.

    A local economic boom would be generated much like the slow continuous growth of Tamworth NSW or Albury Wodonga after the Whitlam decentralisation experiment.

    Such greenfield design could encompass any and every innovation for healthy living such as wide open spaces, car free zones, walk to work possibilities, improved health outcomes, indeed, everything that persons living in urban regional centres now enjoy except for the Nazianal$ political representation and their regressive planning for a 19th century future.

  2. Yes Minister

    Whoever dreamed up this utterly nonsensical idea in a country like Australia with vast distances and stuff-all public transport and that which exists is horrendously unreliable needs to be run out of town with a cattle-prod. What rug-rats do isn’t my problem, certainly the little horrors need to walk to school rather than be ferried there in a four tonne urban assault vehicle, but does anyone seriously think tradies can carry their tools on a stupid treadlie ? Even more ridiculous, can anyone imagine SCUMMO, potatohead, conman and the screeching harpie in lycra ? Whats good for the gander and all that.

  3. Andrew J Smith

    Our major cities apparently followed the Chicago model giving preference to cars and related infrastructure ably supported by the fossil fuel/auto complex.

    Using a motor vehicle is viewed as freedom of choice (or ‘public choice theory’) where most people don’t seem to notice how bitumen roads and car parks dominate urban spaces.

    Further, the Chicago model seemed designed to increase future income streams for various players through large(r) open plan homes, requiring elongated road systems and direct/indirect subsidies (again) for fossil fuel/auto complex.

    In case there is any resistance a smorgasbord of (mostly) negative PR had been developed for mainstream media, govt. and social narratives e.g. cannot afford investment in public transport and/or higher taxes needed, ‘immigrant’ driven population growth causes congestion (no evidence when growth in vehicles outstrips population growth), exhaust emissions are clean (not) and it’s drivers’ right to use cars.

    Nowadays there is so much unnecessary vehicle usage outside of tradies, logistics, health care etc.; including white collar ‘manager’ tax/salary incentives for daily commutes, helicopter parents dropping/picking up kids, lack of planning by individuals, self entitlement, lack of or avoidance of exercise and sheer bone idleness.

    However, a car is not much use if too old to drive (as our permanent population ages, now including any boomers), or the unlikely implementation of a carbon tax ensuring realistic costing of this scourge.

  4. Pingback: Designing a city without cars – for the sake of the kids #newsoz.org #auspol - News Oz

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