2012 J.H. Crawford
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Thanks to all who suggested articles, especially Richard Risemberg of Sustainable City News, who is a prolific contributor.
The old Blue Bonnets Hippodrome in Montréal is a 43 hectare site that has not been used in years and should be relatively free of pollution. It's a few miles from downtown. I attended a planning workshop on this project in early December and met briefly with Mayor Applebaum to encourage the redevelopment of the site as a carfree district. At the conclusion of the three-day meeting he announced that the project would be "carfree except at the edges." This far exceeds the size of the carfree area in Quebec City, up to now the largest in North America. This is a major project for the carfree movement. (ville.montreal.qc.ca)
"Heart and the City: Environment and Heart Disease" (PDF!)
Dr. François Reeves was the keynote speaker at the Hippodrome project meeting. I had the privilege of speaking with him at length before his talk. He's a highly experienced cardiologist, and his public health prescription is very simple: "Stop burning fossil fuels." Read the paper above to learn about the shocking effects of carbon nanoparticles on cardiac health.
"America's Real Criminal Element: Lead"
"New research finds Pb [lead] is the hidden villain behind violent crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic. And fixing the problem is a lot cheaper than doing nothing." The great American crime wave was caused mainly by leaded gasoline. Who knew? Who knows what today's gasoline additives are doing? Autism? Asthma? Cancer? Nobody knows, I strongly suspect. (Mother Jones)
"Autism and Air Pollution: The Link Grows Stronger"
"[T]he latest study findings suggest that air pollution may be one of the best characterized environmental risk factors for autism. In an earlier study published in 2010, Volk and colleagues showed that kids with autism were much more likely than kids without the disorder to have been born to mothers living within 1,000 feet of a freeway. Other researchers have shown that kids with autism are also unusually likely to have exposure to high levels of diesel exhaust particles and metals (mercury, cadmium, and nickel) and to other air-pollutant chemicals, such as those used to make rubber, plastics, and dyes." (Time)
"Secret funding helped build vast network of climate denial thinktanks: Anonymous billionaires donated $120m to more than 100 anti-climate groups working to discredit climate change science"
Conservative billionaires secretly funded groups casting doubt on the science behind climate change. Surprised? Shocked? Naw. (Guardian)
"Richard Risemberg of GRID Logistics"
The I-710 has been a controversial presence in eastern Los Angeles county for half a century, with proposals to expand and extend it returning every few years despite strong community pushback. It's back in the news again, but this time there are progressive alternatives in play. Port freight traffic has always comprised a large proportion of the traffic on this corridor. This series of articles explores the state of port-related goods movement past, present, and future. How the corridor develops could influence infrastructure and investment patterns in coastal cities all over the USA. A carfree district is among the proposals.
"Cargo Bike Crazy: The Potential of Delivering Goods By Bike"
"When it comes to urban delivery, the first and last mile is a major headache. It's expensive, it's congested, and in urban areas, logistic companies have to fight for limited space. In city centres most goods reach their final destination in motorised cars, vans and trucks. Even light goods are often moved by heavy vehicles over very short distances. The cycling world has a solution." You'll never guess. (European Cyclists' Federation)
"How Bicycling Is Transforming Business"
"We want young talent to come here and stay. And good biking is one of the least expensive ways to send that message." (truth-out.org)
"Life Without Cars: 2012 Edition
"Imagine Life Without Cars. Or, even better, on your next vacation, visit a place like the ones described above. This is not a fantasy. There are hundreds of beautiful real-life places in the world like this. . . . See for yourself how well it works, and how much more fun it is than your Suburban Hell catastrophe (or New Urbanist failure). Live the Dream, if only for a week. Make it your reality, even if temporary at first. You can do it tomorrow, if you like. It's so obvious." Lots of nice photographs. (NewWorldEconomics.com)
"10 Techniques for Making Cities More Walkable"
"In Jeff Speck’s excellent new book, Walkable City, he suggests that there are ten keys to creating walkability. Most of them also have something to do with redressing the deleterious effects caused by our allowing cars to dominate urban spaces for decades." (TheAtlanticCities.com)
"Lessons From Zurich's Parking Revolution"
"The essence of Zurich's historic compromise of 1996 was that parking in the core of the city would be capped at the 1990 level, and that any new parking to be built would, on a one-to-one basis, replace the surface parking that blighted most squares in the city at the time. Today, almost all these squares are free of parking and have been converted to tranquil or convivial places for people to enjoy." Please pass the champagne. (TheAtlanticCities.com)
"Proposal for Urban Regeneration of the Suburb ZEN, Palermo, Italy"
Our friends at International Making Cities Livable bring us this proposal for redeveloping a failed suburb. I might have drawn the plans myself, although not all streets are carfree, and there's plenty of parking. (LivableCities.org)
"No Parking Required in Mixed-Use Plan For Cornfield Area"
The LA Planning Commission has approved planning guidelines for an area north of Downtown. The plan would create a mixed-use neighborhood. Among the plan's innovations: a complete lack of parking requirements - either minimum or maximum - for the first time in LA. (Curbed.com)
"Back to the future: building homes for people, not cars"
"A developer has proposed an interesting concept for an apartment on 37 North Beacon Street in Allston [near Boston]. The land area is approximately 18,000 square feet and is currently a used car lot and a single family home. His two main stated goals are to provide 18,000 square feet of greenery and to avoid adding to the traffic congestion in the nearby Union Square. The first will be achieved with an array of courtyards, patio and rooftop gardens. The second will be achieved by not building parking spaces and by attracting car-free tenants." (WalkingBostonian.com)
"A House in the City"
This new book looks at urban housing and compares many various forms. The website itself is a useful resource. See also an interview with the author by The Economist. (RIBA publishing)
"German children enjoy far more everyday freedom than their English peers"
"[O]nly a quarter of English primary school children are allowed to walk to school alone - yet in Germany, three quarters are." In Germany, half of all seven-year-olds get home from school on their own. "My own view is that it is differences in car culture, not parenting culture, that are key." (RethinkingChildhood.com)
"Synthetic molecule stores solar energy"
"Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have made progress in developing an 'all-in-one' system for the capture, storage and use of solar energy." (NanoWerk.com)
"As Biofuel Demand Grows, So Do Guatemala’s Hunger Pangs"
"Recent laws in the United States and Europe that mandate the increasing use of biofuel in cars have had far-flung ripple effects, economists say, as land once devoted to growing food for humans is now sometimes more profitably used for churning out vehicle fuel." It's only the subsidies that make it work economically. From an energy standpoint it's a total failure. (NY Times)
"The politics of peak oil"
Argues that the peak of conventional oil production has already been reached; we've been on the plateau for nearly a decade now. (SmartPlanet.com)
"Car pollution, noise and accidents 'cost every EU citizen £600 a year': Researchers challenge view that drivers are overtaxed, saying they are subsidised by other taxpayers"
Taxes on cars and their fuel are vastly higher in the UK than in the USA. Even so, drivers are not paying their way. (Guardian)
"Drivers Cover Just 51 Percent of U.S. Road Spending"
"A new report from the Tax Foundation shows 50.7% of America’s road spending comes from gas taxes, tolls, and other fees levied on drivers. The other 49.3%? Well, that comes from general tax dollars, just like education and health care. The way we spend on roads has nothing to do with the free market, or even how much people use roads." (StreetsBlog.org)
"Beijing is not the only Asian city with lethal air pollution: The Chinese capital is just one of hundreds of cities where poisonous air is the fastest growing cause of death"
"Fastest growing cause of death"? And still nobody cares. (Guardian)
"L.A.'s Bloody Hit-and-Run Epidemic: The city ignores a crisis of car-as-weapon crime in the streets"
This one is really shocking. The city just doesn't give a damn. (LA Weekly)
"Big Dig pushes bottlenecks outward: Artery has cleared, but commutes longer on several major routes"
No, Virginia, you really can't build your way out of congestion. (Boston.com)
"Cars and Robust Cities Are Fundamentally Incompatible"
"Today, in many cities, roads and parking facilities continue to grow, as though the problem for the last 50 years has been that the growth was not enough. These cities might be able to guarantee a parking space in front of every destination that still remains (or they might not), but they are likely doing so at the expense of those things that cities really need - namely, people." (TheAtlanticCities.com)
"Scientists Confirm: Arctic Sea Ice 'Collapse' at Our Door: Warming planet and new evidence portend future of ice-free Arctic"
"The Arctic Sea is experiencing rapid ice loss at a pace so fast that the area will soon be ice-free in warmer months, scientists confirmed in a report this week - showing a collapse in total sea ice volume to one fifth of its level in 1980." That's just 20% of the ice that belongs there. That's 20%! (Just wanted to see if anybody was listening.) (CommonDreams.org)
"Arctic lost record snow and ice last year as data shows changing climate: Findings from US science agency NOAA suggest widespread and irreversible changes because of a warming climate"
"The Arctic lost more snow and sea ice between October 2011 and August 2012 than any year other on record." (Guardian)
"Antarctica, Greenland ice definitely melting into sea, and speeding up, experts warn"
"This improved certainty allows us to say definitively that both Antarctica and Greenland have been losing ice." (NBCnews.com)
"Melting Glaciers in Andes Could Spell Continental Water Crisis in South America: Climate change is driving 'unprecedented' shrinking of crucial resource"
One more nail in the climate change coffin. (CommonDreams.org)
"The Density Atlas"
This is another useful tool to help visualize density. Be prepared to spend some time with this site. (Don't forget FAR Illustrated right here at Carfree.com.) (DensityAtlas.org)
"Celebrating the Commons" (PDF!)
This is a long look at what a commons is and how many there are in our world. I didn't read it, being already convinced, but you may want to scan it. (OnTheCommons.org)
"The Value of Value Capture"
Considers the financing of transportation infrastructure. (StrongTowns.org)
"Matthew Bronski on design and construction durability"
"Matthew Bronski followed the footsteps of Roman architect/engineer/planner/master builder Marcus Vitruvius Pollio. He directly observed more than two dozen buildings in Italy, deriving lessons on long term durability and preservation." This is quite fascinating, although the video itself is of poor quality. Lesson #1: keep the water off. (95 minute video on Vimeo.com)
The End of Growth:|
Adapting to Our New Economic Reality
by Richard Heinberg
One mantra down, one to go
It is growing increasingly difficult to pretend that nothing is wrong with the current state of affairs in the world. Economic stagnation has continued for years in many countries. The crises in Greece and other European countries have shaken the European Union. Unemployment in the US remains high, far higher than official rates. And then of course there are the increasingly visible signs of climate change.
There will always be those who refuse to connect the dots or who point to exceptions to "prove" that nothing is wrong. China's economy is still growing, so presumably if other countries were willing to turn their country into an industrial wasteland and ignore workers' rights, they too could prosper (at least over the short to medium term). Not all countries are going bankrupt, so the fact that some are simply indicates that their governments are too generous in social spending (!!) or that they are otherwise mishandling "the economy."
But others have long questioned the paradigm of economic growth. For example Jane Jacobs, more famous for her books on urbanism but who also wrote of economics, noted that, denials aside, economies follow the laws of nature. An obvious law of nature is that continual growth is not possible. Perhaps it is that simple, basic fact that most succinctly disproves the hope of technology ending our woes.
But for those of us who wish to bolster our arguments, a bit more than an incontrovertible (if often unacknowledged) law of nature is needed. This is where I found Richard Heinberg's book The End of Growth most helpful. He lays out a number of arguments, backed up by figures, as to why, whatever our feeling about economic growth as a sensible target, it is no longer an achievable one. In fact, his key thesis is startling even to those of us who object to the economic growth mantra: he posits that we have already, in terms of the world as a whole, reached the end of growth. Individual countries and regions may continue to grow as measured by GDP, but for the world as a whole, we will now face stagnation and even decline. All the interesting details aside, the simple reason is that growth was predicated on a seemingly endless supply of cheap fuel; with fuel dwindling in supply and growing in price, growth is no longer achievable.
Fortunately the book does not stop at such issues as pointing out the problems of "low hanging fruit" (we've already accessed the easy natural resources, so it will require increasingly more energy and often water to access what is left), of "peak everything" (we're running out of all sorts of resources, not just oil) and the fallacies of assuming that our endless ability to innovate and economize will allow growth to continue (as Heinberg points out, efficiency can only get us to a certain level; you can't reduce costs below zero).
Helpful as those arguments are in countering the economic growth mantra, they also leave the reader depressed about the future. It is difficult, after reading his book, to smile at your friends who complain about not finding a job and say "Things will get better." When people complain about their debts, it is rather tempting to say "It will only get worse."
But Heinberg does present the positive side of the equation as well, in terms of the need to build stronger communities and to become more resilient and capable in order to deal with the many problems (but also opportunities) that we will soon face. He presents, in brief, various possibilities to maintain or even improve wellbeing while facing a steady state or declining economy, including a resurgence in cooperatives of various types and the use of debt-free currency. (Debt-free currency overcomes the need to have economies grow in order to be able to afford to repay interest on loans; the way we generate money through loans is at the root of the problem of economic growth.)
While I greatly appreciated the information in the book and his attempts at a (guardedly) optimistic approach, I do have quibbles with several parts of his book. He seems to feel that overpopulation is more of a problem than overconsumption, which suggests that he wants Americans to be allowed to continue, at least for the short-term, their lavish lifestyles by keeping immigrants out of the country. He seems to feel that electric cars are environmentally friendly and barely mentions transport in his solutions. When he does get around to talking about transport, he mentions not only bicycle co-ops but also car-share and ride-share, as if even someone brave enough to counter the dominant world belief in economic growth lacks courage when it comes to questioning the equally disastrous international obsession with the automobile.
A few pages from the end he finally gains chutzpah enough to ask: "Can we surrender cars, highways, and supermarkets, but still keep cultural exchange, tolerance, and diversity, along with our hard-won scientific knowledge, advanced healthcare, and instant access to information?" Relieved as I am that he finally puts those words on the page, I wish he had dealt with the possibility earlier in the book and at more length. I suppose there is some comfort in knowing that those of us who believe in the possibility, nay, necessity and inevitability of carfree cities are considered remarkably brave, but it would be a heck of a lot easier to work towards them if the people laying out the arguments for why our current lifestyles must change dramatically would themselves help to carry the torch.
Debra Efroymson is Regional Director for HealthBridge,
a Canadian NGO which in addition to its more traditional
public health programs also works on Liveable Cities.
Debra has lived and worked for 19 years in Asia and has
spoken and written extensively on issues of
non-motorized transport, liveable cities, and
2012 J.H. Crawford
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