The Surprising Benefits of Taking Cars off Our City Streets
By Marcela Guerrero Casas
A future in which everyone travels in driverless flying cars may still dominate the popular imagination, particularly when it comes to media and marketing hype. But if we are to meet the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) on sustainable cities and communities, a more revolutionary (albeit more low-tech) picture will unfold, in which people are moving freely and swiftly — but not by car.
Reducing our dependence on petrol cars is not only better for the planet and our individual wellbeing, it will pave the way to a better future for our cities. From improving mobility and ensuring civic participation in how cities are designed, run and experienced, to public health and strengthening the social fabric that will make our communities more resilient, a shift towards fewer cars can help our cities not only survive, but thrive.
The process may not be simple, but there is a practical and easy strategy that can help people see streets differently: temporarily taking cars off the street.
Cars contribute to a public health crisis — air pollution
How to get people out of their cars continues to be a global challenge. Even in cities where public space and public transport are safe and reliable, this can be difficult; it is especially so in places where these amenities are unsafe, unaffordable and unreliable. This is where temporary interventions such as car-free days can unlock a whole new approach to movement and mobility.
In the mid-1970s, Colombia's capital city, Bogotá, saw the birth of what would become a global movement to make streets safer, more inclusive and more appealing to city dwellers. It is called Ciclovia, often known as "open streets" in English-speaking countries, and entails the creation of car-free routes throughout the city every Sunday and public holiday.
The swarms of cyclists that take over city streets on these occasions is a real spectacle. Even though the impact on mobility patterns has not yet been fully understood, it is clear that in places like Bogotá, Ciclovía was the genesis of bicycle infrastructure in the city and perhaps the country. Culture and environment has helped the movement to grow bicycling in Colombia: people have relied on the bicycle to travel for more than 100 years and professional cycling is a source of national pride. This might not be the case everywhere, but the worldwide frenzy around urban cycling makes this an opportune moment to try car-free street programs and put them to the test.
On most days, our city streets are clogged with motorized traffic and, in some cases, crime and pollution. Temporary car-free space thus becomes a platform to exercise our right to the city and to co-create a new urban vision.
In most Latin American capitals, governments run a weekly Open Streets program. As acknowledged at a recent congress of Ciclovia initiatives in the region, many local officials have bought into the concept and one of the key objectives of this program is to bring happiness to their citizens. This, as far as non-material infrastructure goes, is what city-making is really about: the sense of belonging, involvement and self-determination, which is best expressed in physical joy.
Great efforts have been made to measure the impact of Ciclovia in Latin American cities' public health. In Colombia, for instance, researchers from Los Andes University have demonstrated that for every dollar spent on the program, three dollars are saved on public health. The Ministry of Sport has also helped create a national network to promote the program in more cities and towns of the country and continues to carry out rigorous studies to ascertain what type of physical activity curriculum is most effective. In getting a regular dosage of physical activity as recommended by medical practitioners, there is no better place than kilometers of car-free space in which thousands – and in the case of Bogotá, millions – are also exercising and moving. As the Latin American network likes to explain, "It is a healthy epidemic." And it is one that keeps growing, not only in Latin America but across the globe, with African cities most recently joining through the creation of Open Streets programs in places like Cape Town, Johannesburg, Addis Ababa, Abuja, Nairobi, Kigali and more.
In cities where people have been historically segregated and economic disparity continues to dig deep trenches between communities, creating a space of inclusion can be powerful. In Bogotá, the impact is such that areas which are normally out of bounds, both because they exclude the poor or because they are deemed to be too dangerous, become welcoming spaces for everyone to experience and enjoy.
Similarly, in Cape Town, where the program has been tested in different parts of a city where spaces of racial and social integration are rare, Open Streets is a symbol of a new future, because young people are able to experience a city where streets are democratized and inclusive of all ages, races and backgrounds.
To ensure sustainable cities all around, we must take steps to shift away from the current over-dependency on the automobile. We can begin this process by thinking how we re-organize and utilize public space for the benefit of not only new design and infrastructure, but also for new generations to think of that space differently and therefore create new narratives around it. Temporary interventions work with existing assets and focus on shifting people's perception which will ultimately shape how we view and exercise sustainable urban planning in the long term.
Marcela Guerrero Casas is the founder and an associate of Open Streets Cape Town.
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By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.