It’s hard for me to remember being in a town where cars where not the dominant form of transport. Maybe university towns come the closest, where most everyone rode an old bike to classes and cars were more on the periphery, isolated in huge campus parking lots for the weekend. But I’ll have to admit that I find the concept of a town without cars quite attractive, as I’m sure many of my eco colleagues would agree. But could it work? And would it be a positive move towards the future, or a birkenstock-step backwards to a romantic past?
Many have heard of the German town of Freiburg. It’s where the Green Party really started. The locals famously resisted the building of a nuclear power station, and instead proved that trams were better than cars, solar energy was sufficient, thanks very much, and low-energy homes became the norm.
In Vauban, a suburb located on the outskirts of Freiburg, the community has gone further. They pride themselves in being car free.
Vauban has gone further and made it generally socially ‘undesirable’ to own a car. Well, people actually do own cars, but they are kept in expensive solar parking structures on the outskirts of the town. So people can have their car, or use the local car-club, when they need a car, otherwise public transport, cycling and walking gets them around.
But does it work? And is this a template for other towns? Well, it seems that maybe a car-free system is not as desirable as we’d like to hope. If the tram workers go on strike, then everything goes pear-shaped. Car clubs get overbooked and taxi services become stretched to the limit.
But more importantly, articles seem to suggest that the town is too socially contrived, even militant, controlled by ‘school teachers’ who thrive on ‘rules and discipline’. People still desire to own a car. Or already own one, and pretend they don’t.
Maybe we’re not ready yet for these towns, or there needs to be new and more visionary ideas added to the picture if we’re to really wean a post-modern society away from the 20th century love affair with private car ownership.