Carfree Times
      Issue 10

Spring 1999     

Ecocity Berkeley
Architect Richard Register's vision for a sustainable
Berkeley, California, perhaps a century from now.
See this issue's Feature article for more on his work.

Drawing Copyright © 1999 Habitat for Humanity/Ecocity Builders


Carfree Cities

Work on Carfree Cities continues apace. Two publishers are actively considering buying rights to the book, which will be published within a year. You'll hear about it when it happens!

Help with Photographs

The book still needs many photographs, in particular:
  • Good illustrations of bad sprawl
  • Streetcar and railroad suburbs built in the early 20th century
  • Cities around the world
  • Urban transport arrangements
If you have such photographs and would consider allowing their use (with proper acknowledgment) in Carfree Cities, please check the photo wish list. Many thanks.

New Venice Site boasts a new version of the Venice site. The new design overcomes the previous problems with long loading times, although it does require a browser size of at least 800 x 600. The old frames-based site works at 640 x 480 and will remain available indefinitely.


Walk a Child to School Week

Walk a Child to School Week is slated for 4-8 October 1999. Parents, care-givers, faculty, staff, and children are encouraged to walk to school. Public health and safety, education, and elected officials are urged to take part. The goals are to:
  • Encourage adults to teach children safe pedestrian behaviors
  • Have adults help children identify and practice safe routes to school
  • Remind everyone of the tremendous health benefits of regular walking
The event is sponsored by the Partnership for a Walkable America.

From Mark Fenton, Editor at Large of Walking Magazine,
one of the sponsors of Partnership for a Walkable America.


The Second International Conference on Traffic and Transportation Studies (ICTTS) will be held in Beijing from 31 July to 2 August 2000. The conference is a forum for researchers, experts and professionals, government officials, policy makers, and managers to discuss recent developments in transportation.

For more information, send e-mail to:

The Urban Street Symposium will be held in Dallas, June 28-30. The conference will attract transportation engineers interested in new approaches to urban design.

Bike Summer

Bike Summer will be held in San Francisco in July and August. It will celebrate bicycling and alternative transport, and will include events for people who believe that the automobile is choking our cities, and that there are better ways to get around.

More information:
Bike Summer

Quote of the Quarter

"If you design an environment for children, it will work for everyone."

Larry Beasley, Vancouver's director of central-area planning
U.S. News & World Report
Cities That Work
8 June 1998

I call this the "good for kids" yardstick. If something is good for kids, it's probably a good idea. If something is bad for kids, it's definitely a bad idea.

Oil Slick Awards

We have a limitless supply of Oilies. Those honored should contact the editor to collect their flask of used motor oil. Just add water. (Be sure to apply for a disposal permit before claiming your award.)

Award #1 goes to the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, which ran a contest to promote public transit. First prize? You guessed it - an automobile!

Award #2 goes to Labor member of parliament Alan Meale, who was driven three kilometers from Peterborough railway in a stretch limo. Purpose of the trip: to deliver a speech about how "the way we travel is damaging our towns, harming our countryside and already changing the climate of the planet."

Reuters, as cited by
Eivronmental News Network's
Daily News

Nominate an Oily

World News Notes & Comment

Current events related to urban automobiles during the previous season.

Enough Sprawl, Already

State and municipal ballots in the November 1998 US elections carried 240 initiatives to preserve open space, and voters approved 170. In New Jersey, voters approved by a 2 to 1 margin an initiative to spend nearly a billion dollars to preserve undeveloped lands.

"Earth Almanac," National Geographic, May 1999

I think the tide has turned. It happened very suddenly. There now appears to be an emerging consensus that sprawl is bad and density is good. The change is not limited to the USA; major changes in transport and land-use policy are under way in the UK and other nations in Europe.

Atlanta Gets Sprawl-Control Agency

Atlanta, Georgia, one of the fastest sprawling regions in the USA, recently got a 13-county regional transport agency that has the power to forbid development projects that will further increase traffic congestion and worsen air quality. The agency will also have sweeping powers to build transport infrastructure, including bus and light-rail systems. The necessary legislation was adopted by the state legislature on a sweeping vote; the new governor had made sprawl his main campaign issue, and even succeeded in getting the local chamber of commerce to support his proposals.

"Georgia Setting Up Tough Anti-Sprawl Agency,"
New York Times, 25 March 1999

The federal government had put Atlanta on notice that it was going to lose its federal highway funding if it didn't do something about the awful air quality. This new agency isn't the end of the story, but it is a beginning. They're still talking growth, but now it's "smart growth," which still isn't likely to be all that smart, but it probably won't be as dumb as what's gone before.

Preaching with the Faith of the Converted

John Williams, an Atlanta real estate developer who made a fortune building suburban sprawl, has had a change of heart: "We have to interconnect people again. We have to go back and re-create the neighborhood, all the things that humans feel comfortable in. We can't keep putting shopping centers in the middle of cornfields. We need sidewalks, and we need to get people out on those sidewalks."

"New Recruits in the War on Sprawl"
New York Times Op-Ed piece by Alan Ehrenhalt
13 April 1999

Better late than never, John.

Ah! Carfree at Last!

On 22 September, the French Environment Ministry will hold another carfree day, following the success of last year's event, when residents of 34 French cities were encouraged not to drive for a day. An official survey found that 89% of citizens were favorably disposed towards the event and 81% wanted to see it repeated. Air pollution emissions fell by 40-50% in the participating cities. Interestingly, noise reduction was the effect most appreciated by the public. These improvements were achieved with just a 14% reduction in automobile traffic. Italy, Spain, Denmark and the UK intend to join France this year.
Think what it would be like without any cars at all! Or just go to Venice and see for yourself.

Britain Sees the Light

Britain will turn hundreds of miles of streets and roads into carfree zones. Local authorities have asked for the changes, which will give far higher priority to the needs of pedestrians than has been the case up to now. Financial measures will be adopted to make car ownership and use less attractive, including taxing employers for parking spaces. Stephen Joseph (Transport 2000, a green lobby group) said the changes ring in the end of the domination of the car. "A lot of people use cars but they don't like them when they dominate towns and cities. This represents a sea change where cars will be on tap but not on top." Birmingham has pedestrianized 25% its city center and plans to convert another 20%. Other city and town centers will become carfree in the years ahead.

"Councils to push drivers off roads"
Stephen Bevan in the Sunday Times
30 May 1999

A good beginning.

Sweden: Sustainability Within a Generation

Sweden has adopted a sweeping program of environmental changes intended to transform the nation into a sustainable society within just one generation. Achievement of clean air and water, sustainable maintenance of ecosystems, and reduced output of greenhouse gases together comprise a strategy for change that is expected to be completed within 20 years. All sectors of society, public and private, will be called upon to help develop the objectives and to manage their socioeconomic effects.

Wind Energy Weekly
As posted to the Urban Ecology news group

Watch for Sweden to become the healthiest economy in the world, if they succeed in achieving these goals. As oil prices go up and supplies go down, Sweden will doubtless reap enormous benefits.

Climate Change Is Real

The prestigious American Geophysical Union in January released a strong position statement on global warming. "There is no known geologic precedent for the transfer of carbon from the Earth's crust to atmospheric carbon dioxide, in quantities comparable to the burning of fossil fuels, without simultaneous changes in other parts of the carbon cycle and climate system. This close coupling between atmospheric carbon dioxide and climate suggests that a change in one would in all likelihood be accompanied by a change in the other." The paper warned of global and regional climate changes, higher surface temperatures, increased precipitation and evaporation rates, rising sea levels, and changes in the biosphere. The statement continued, "The present level of scientific uncertainty does not justify inaction in the mitigation of human-induced climate change."
The scientists are coming off the fence and calling for action in the face of clear and convincing evidence of climate change.

1998 Was The Warmest Year of the Millennium

A report in Geophysical Research Letters indicates that 1998 may be the warmest year in the 2nd millennium. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts analyzed tree ring and ice core data for the last 1000 years and found that surface temperature cooled by 0.2 degrees C until around 1900. Since then, temperatures have risen dramatically. The warmest decade recorded before the 1990s was the period 1166-1175.

Geophysical Research Letters,
vol. 26, pp. 1759-1762, 15 March 1999
Cited in Global Environmental Change Report
12 March 1999

That's right, the hottest year in 1000 years. Or maybe longer.

Crushed Ice

Two small ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula are starting to break up. The Larsen B and Wilkins Ice Shelves together lost nearly 3,000 square kilometers last year, and the rate of breakup is accelerating. The disintegration of these ice shelves would not in itself cause sea levels to rise, because the ice is already floating in the sea. However, if the shelves break up, the glaciers they now restrain would start flowing into the sea, and that would cause sea levels to rise.
Global warming now appears to be an indisputable fact, at least in polar regions. Temperatures in Antarctica and Alaska are rising fast. Nobody really understands exactly what consequences will be, but the smart money is betting on rising sea levels.

Wrong Way, Corrigan

Europe has a target to reduce its CO2 emissions by 8% during the period 1990-2010. As things now stand, we're looking at a 6% increase.
Even though the reductions agreed to in Kyoto were modest, many nations appear to be ignoring their commitments. They won't get serious until rising sea levels start lapping at the door of the presidential palace. Here in the Low Countries, that could happen relatively soon.

Stable CO2 Emissions in the USA Despite Economic Growth

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy has reported that energy-related carbon emissions in the USA did not increase in 1998 despite 4% economic growth.

Sustainable Energy Coalition Weekly Update
27 May 1999

CO2 emissions don't have to rise in lock-step with prosperity.

VeloCity 99

The 11th VeloCity bicycle planning conference was held in mid-April in Graz, Austria, and Maribor, Slovenia. 500 people gathered to discuss bicycle-related topics and facilitate the exchange of ideas between traffic planners, politicians, cycling lobbyists and bicycle user groups. A new manual, "Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities," (European Commission, DG XI) was presented at the conference. Its purpose is to convince mayors to adopt a pro-cycle policy. VeloMondial 2000 will take place in Amsterdam, with 1000 participants expected.
Mayors are slowly starting to get the idea. Here in Amsterdam, very slowly.

Heading Back Downtown

Vancouver, population 475,000, had only 9000 residents in the central business district in 1991. Today, 60,000 people live in the same area. The change was accomplished by requiring all new construction to adopt family-friendly design, with an emphasis on the needs of small children.

"Cities That Work"
U.S. News and World Report
8 June 1998

A good start. Now it's time to push even more cars out of downtown, so those growing children can safely bike to school.

Density Does Not Breed Two-Headed Monsters

In 1985, Kathryn Kelley found no relationship between aggressive assault and population density. Nonviolent crimes actually increased with declining densities.
The "rat-psych" studies usually cited as evidence that overcrowding causes social pathology are clearly not applicable to humans at the kinds of densities we are talking about. The 1978 article by Robert Schmitt refuted his own oft-cited 1966 report that density led to crime (many of those citing the 1966 report neglect to mention the 1978 findings). Densely-populated cities have active street life, which helps keep everyone safe.

Car Pollution Kills More Than Road Accidents

In some countries in Europe, more people are now dying as a result of automobile air pollutants than are dying in wrecks. A long-term study by the World Health Organization (WHO) of Austria, France, and Switzerland indicates that 21,000 premature deaths are now caused each year in just these three countries as a result of respiratory and heart disease induced by vehicular air pollution. These deaths are in addition to 300,000 extra cases of juvenile bronchitis and 162,000 extra cases of juvenile asthma.

As reported by
Scott B. Nelson to the BEST list
16 June 1999

Does anybody care? Is anybody listening? Hello?

Cleaning Up

According to an EPA survey, 83% of Americans would pay up to 2 cents more a gallon for cleaner gasoline. Even more surprising, 85% of SUV owners agree that air-pollution standards for SUVs ought to be the same as for ordinary cars.

"Americans favor clean SUVs, survey shows"
CNN, 8 June 1999

Not a moment too soon.

Going Nowhere

Bangkok motorists each spend an average of 44 working days a year at a standstill in traffic. The average speed of a car in that city has fallen to that of a horse-drawn carriage.

Worldwatch Institute as cited on
Environmental News Network

And I prefer the exhaust stench of horses to that of internal combustion engines. Better still, of course, are electrified rail systems that don't smell at all.

75% Discount for Driving

According to the "Metropolis 2020" report, produced by the Commercial Club of Chicago in association with the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, people in the Chicago metropolitan area pay only 25% percent of the real cost of driving to work. The public chips in the rest.

"A Windy City for the next century"
The Economist, 10 April 1999

Such a deal! It's no wonder that so many people drive. The depth of the subsidy to car drivers has long been known, but now it's starting to appear on political agendas across the USA. All 400 members of the elite and influential Commercial Club voted to endorse the spirit of the report, although the club did not achieve unanimous support of all the report's proposals. Members of the club have already raised $4 million to promote the plan. This is the same group that commissioned the 1909 Burnham Plan that had a large, positive effect on the city. It's also noteworthy that the report concerns itself with issues of economic justice and the adverse effects of exclusive zoning and unchecked sprawl on poor people.

Carbon Tax in Britain

Starting in 2001, the UK government plans to tax business use of energy. Coal, natural gas, and electricity used by businesses, the public sector, and agriculture will be subject to the levies. Transport is, alas, exempt. The tax is expected to reduce carbon emissions by 1.5 million metric tonnes a year by 2010. Also part of the measure is an increase in taxes on big cars.

Global Environmental Change Report, 12 March 1999
DETR News Release, 29 March 1999

Overall, Tony Blair's government continues to get relatively high marks for being green.

Three Cars in Every Garage

The National Association of Home Builders said that 16% of houses built in the USA in 1998 had a three-car or bigger garage.

Wall Street Journal
5 March 1999

I'm embarrassed to admit that my family once had five cars on the road. There were only four of us. We lived in the suburbs, and of course there was no other way to get around. In those days of unreliable cars, a spare really wasn't a luxury.

Progress Towards Sustainable Energy

"The foundation is being laid for the emergence of wind and solar cells as cornerstones of the new energy economy. The [rate of annual growth] in world wind generating capacity from 7,600 megawatts in 1997 to 9,600 in 1998 was concentrated in a handful of countries. Germany led the way, adding 790 megawatts of capacity followed by Spain with 380 megawatts, Denmark with 308 megawatts, and the United States with 326 megawatts. Within the developing world, India is the unquestioned leader with more than 900 megawatts of generating capacity in operation. With the help of the Dutch, China began operation in 1998 of its first commercial wind farm, a 24-megawatt project in Inner Mongolia."

"In 1998, sales of solar cells jumped 21 percent. Growth is being fueled by a new photovoltaic roofing material that generates electricity. In Japan nearly 7,000 rooftop solar systems were installed in 1998. The new coalition government in Germany announced the goal of 100,000 solar roofs. In response Royal Dutch Shell and Pilkington Solar International are together building the world's largest solar cell manufacturing facility in Germany. Italy joined in with a goal of 10,000 solar rooftops."

"Trends Jumping Off the Charts"
From a Worldwatch Press Release announcing
the publication of Vital Signs 1999

To put this in perspective, the 900 megawatt capacity in India is roughly equal to the output of just one large nuclear power plant. It's going to be a long time before sustainable energy really makes a difference. And has anyone yet asked whether or not windmills will eventually remove so much energy from the climate system as to have climatic effects? Let's please ask and answer this question before we build a society based on yet another technology that could turn out to be unsustainable. Notice also that Shell in getting into the renewables business. They wouldn't be doing this if they weren't convinced that the end of the oil age was approaching.

Feds Spur Solar Cell Installation

The US is now funding mortgages for houses that include 250 square feet of rooftop photovoltaic panels, which are expected to generate about 70% of the electricy consumed in the house.

"The Sun Roof Option"
Los Angeles Times
18 April 1999

The real issue here is further improvements in both the economic and energy costs of producing solar cells. It's already far better than it once was, but how much better it is going to get?

Guest Editorial

Suburbs & Teen Angst

Reflections on the Littleton Shootings

By Richard Risemberg

Two teenage boys massacred fellow students and then killed themselves at a school in Littleton, Colorado, in the spring of 1999. This is another in a series of similar tragedies involving children, schools, and guns. Ed.

In the wake of the Littleton shootings, everyone keeps wondering how this could have occurred in the suburbs. Yet, if you look at schoolhouse massacres, rather than one-on-one shootings, you'll see that almost all of them - Littleton, Paducah - as well as lesser horrors such as Lakewood's Spur Posse depredations - did take place in the suburbs, or at least in bedroom communities structured as suburbs. This is not, in fact, too surprising. In the city, crime is a consequence of poverty; gentrified inner city areas have extremely low crime rates. The suburbs, however, are almost perfectly designed to produce social pathologies.

What do you have in the suburbs? Let's take a quick survey:

  • Each family isolated in its house, an island unto itself behind its crabgrass moat.
  • No commons, no public space where neighbors can meet casually on neutral ground.
  • Because of the lack of a commons or integrated commercial districts, suburbanites are utterly dependent on their cars for everything from church to sandwiches; typically one steps from the house to the attached garage, then into the car, and glides away from the neighborhood, encased in a metal cell, to distant facilities where, if you encounter a neighbor, it's an unexpected shock.
  • Long commutes to work for the parents, usually 40 minutes to an hour and a half each way, leaving little time for family or neighborhood life; rockbottom wages for local jobs kids can get, if in fact there are any in the area.

In other words, there's nothing to do and no place to do it. You never get close enough to your neighbors to introduce yourselves, since the only common space is the street, which you enter encased in your car; many suburbs don't even have sidewalks, presupposing that isolation is the desired value.

The consequence of this emotional starvation is stunted souls. If you want to know where family values went in that part of America that doesn't suffer poverty, I say that they died of hunger during the long drive home. No wonder a lot of the kids go nuts.

The vast and violent flats of South-Central LA, of course, suffer a double whammy: not only is poverty predominant there, but the neighborhoods consist of mile after mile of little clapboard castles, with few stores (or jobs) and little if any common space. These neighborhoods were, after all, the original suburbs of Los Angeles, and represent the future of those pink stucco ghettos whose residents delude themselves that they are hiding from all of life's problems, while their kids sniff glue and build bombs in the garage. Yes, suburbanites, Compton is your future, and not all the fiberglass faux-Spanish roof tiles in the world will ward it off, because the suburban form is inherently anti-family and anti-neighborhood.

Is the lawn, the pool, the big-screen TV, really worth it, after all?

Living Room: Articles and discussions on sustainable communities.
Visit the Urban Ecology Archives, where the e-mail forum is stored.

You can, in fact, have your cake and eat it too. There's no reason why you can't have a small pool or lawn in a carfree city, and there would be plenty of room for wall-size TV when it becomes available. The only reason our cities feel cramped today is that so much of them is given over to cars.


Less Parking, More Walking

Ecovisionary Richard Register and the
Fourth International Ecocity Conference

By Kirstin Miller

Special to Carfree Times

View Images (100 kB files!)

Cities where you can walk to work?!... and... bicycle alongside creeks, sunbathe atop rooftop gardens and traverse bridges connecting buildings six stories up? Cities powered by the sun, tall enough to bring us all together for our various cultural pursuits, yet small enough so we can walk, bike, or streetcar into the countryside in a matter of five minutes?

It might sound like a far-out fantasy, but a time of ecological based reorganization may actually be dawning upon our urban landscapes. As suburban sprawl continues separating people from their jobs, friends, family and recreational activities, the cry against the commute and the automobile "driven" lifestyle is growing louder.

People are moving back to the city, hoping to recapture the variety and urban energy they say the tract homes and planned suburban communities don't provide. But this time, they want elements of creativity, sustainability, and nature woven into the fabric of their built environment, alongside the convenience and high tech amenities the city traditionally offers.

As one means to help bring forth the city of the future, Berkeley, California, recently issued a proclamation of support for the Fourth International Ecocity Conference, to be held April 2000, in Curitiba, Brazil. Berkeley ecovisionary Richard Register convened the First International Ecocity Conference in 1990 in Berkeley, and has since helped organize the second in Adelaide, Australia, and the third in Yoff, Senegal.

Curitiba is widely acclaimed for taking a world leadership role in addressing crucial urban and environmental issues. Ecocity Four will gather together city planners, architects, activists, and leaders in sustainable and ecological urban and village planning and renewal from every continent. Conference-goers will share ideas and brainstorm healthy practices and design options for the built human community of the future.

But these ideas are nothing new to Berkeley, where Register and other local activists have tirelessly pushed for the sustainable city, built in balance with nature. Register's landmark Ecocity Berkeley, published in 1987, presented the concept of ecocities to the world, using Berkeley as a template for ideas that could ideally be adopted by any community, but in accordance with each city's unique circumstances.

"At this time cities have become confusing," says Register, "not because they are complex, which cities are inherently, but because the parts are only partially represented in any particular place and they don't connect in a way that seems sensible, natural."

Central to Register's vision is his new campaign to "Roll Back Sprawl, Rebuild Civilization."

"We live in an ecological system created by human beings," Register says, "but unfortunately, that system is fatally dysfunctional...We could be living in a healthy system of our own creation, based physically on a healthy biosphere and based conceptually on ecological principles. A fundamental step in that healthy restructuring is realizing that we need a transformation from sprawl infrastructure to pedestrian cities, from a civilization built literally for machines to one built literally for people and for all other life forms as well."

Towards this new paradigm, Register has come forth with an ecological "toolbox" of ideas and best practices towards rethinking and rebuilding the city of the future.

Most likely the crowbar of the box is the Double Transfer of Development Rights, or Double TDR - a legal financial arrangement in which the rights to build on a piece of land is sold to a developer and transferred to another piece of property, where building makes more ecological sense. Double TDRs remove buildings and restores real estate to open space or agriculture by "de-developing" at the same time it transfers the development elsewhere.

Another component is the carfree condominium or apartment - currently a hot topic in Berkeley, as a local developer seeks approval for his proposed carfree 60-unit retail and residential project. If adopted, the building would be a pioneering breakthrough in ecological city design.

A third tool in Register's toolbox is Ecocity Zoning Mapping, which he says would reshape the city for convenient and inexpensive transit, bicycle and pedestrian access while restoring nature at close proximity to the citizens. The maps target centers of cities ripe for added density and diversity of land uses while indicating areas farthest from those centers as a high priority for withdrawing from automobile dependent development. Features of ecological importance would also be located on the maps, such as creeks partially or completely buried or degraded, shoreline and marshes, ridgelines, natural rock outcroppings, and other natural elements.

If you can imagine streets created for people and not cars, and cityscapes taking into account natural elements, such as the angle of the sun hitting buildings and the movement of the wind, Register claims, then you can begin to picture some of the possibilities of creating a new and sustainable human environment, built with nature in mind.

As the countdown to Earth Day 2000 begins, Berkeley and the rest of the world appear to be well stocked with healthy local and global urban solutions. Yet it remains to be seen whether the future hum of the city will be filled by humming birds circling car-free apartment buildings, or just more cars circling for a parking spot.

Text Copyright © 1999 by Kirstin Miller
Visit the Ecocity Builders web site.
To contact Richard Register, Ecocity Builders,
or for information on the Fourth International Ecocity Conference,
send email to Ecocity Builders or write to:
Ecocity Builders
1678 Shattuck Ave., #66
Berkeley, CA 94709
Phone 1 510 694-1817

Hot Links

Kris Price: "Skeletons in the closet of the Suburban Frontier" in Terrain Issue #4

John Holtzclaw: "Why is Sprawl Such a Disaster?" in Terrain Issue #4 "Sprawl: The Growing Pains of Suburban America"

The Sierra Club: "The Costs of Sprawl"

Governor proposes "Ways to Conserve Wyoming's Wonderful Open Lands"

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