The Book: Carfree Cities

The Book: Carfree Cities

What Others Say


Todd Littman

"Crawford is a designer’s designer, so every detail of the book is carefully thought out and explained. It contains many hundreds of illustrations and photos, many by Crawford himself, others based on his extensive collection of old postcards with photos of street scenes, urban skylines and buildings. These images are used to considerable advantage, described and discussed in the text to illustrate concepts and tell stories."

The full review is available at Planetizen.

Victoria Transport Policy Institute
Victoria, B.C., Canada


Professor Michael Pacione

"This imaginative book complements the author's earlier planning-oriented text on Carfree Cities by presenting a cogent and well illustrated argument for the design of carfree neighbourhoods. Whether one argrees with the basic premise or not, the book is worthy of serious consideration by urban planners and designers concerned with the form of future cities."

Chair of Geography
University of Strathclyde


Chris Coleman

Say your nation's president came to you pleading for advice on how to make his or her cities carfree: where would you turn? If you wished to take the drafts out of the hands of the technocrats to allow the future residents to fiddle with a human-scaled, community-focused carfree design, then look no further than J.H. Crawford's new book Carfree Design Manual. Its 600 pages make the carfree design concept a process accessible to anyone with interest. Crawford starts with a dissection of modernism and explains how it gets urban design all wrong, then, after laying strong philosophical foundations, proposes concrete, innovative ideas on a variety of things, from how to move freight on a metropolitan scale while maintaining an 'urban village' ambience, to the key role that a revived concierge service could play, and to how neighbourhoods could be designed collectively.

Modernism during the 20th century completely overturned the values and culture of the western world, cultivating ideal conditions for entrepreneurs who could profit quickly by rejecting traditional architecture in exchange for the cheapest constructions possible. Architecture, and urban design, shifted from a practical craft to an “art” that expressed “concepts”. This Cartesian faith in rationality over intuition can be especially seen in the grid-patterned streets of American cities. Though useful in exerting “military necessity, capitalist expediency and religious symbolism”, the grid can never match the intimacy of old European meandering streets that intuitively lead to the squares or key monumental buildings. Crawford, on the other hand, defends design that is an expression of local geography, culture and materials; not a cold analysis made behind closed doors.

We may think of the medieval times as an era of superstition and intolerance, but Crawford, Lewis Mumford and many other carfree visionaries acknowledge that this was a golden age for urban design - offering a return to smaller-scaled street design and the aesthetic of beauty. Crawford’s theory is simple: shorten block-lengths, narrow the streets, reduce the height of buildings, and a human-scale is created that is conducive to building strong communities, local commerce and self-propelled transport. Crawford favours less the mild New Urbanism (what he calls old suburbanism) and more the merging of old, intuitive urban design with modern technology and democratic principles.

When it comes to transport, Crawford has no shortage of ideas and is most innovative when it comes to freight. Below-grade rail - as an extension of passenger metro usage - could deliver goods directly to the rear of storage facilities on its route, with smaller shipments left at district depots. Freight trams, now used in Dresden, could expand the network. For loads under 200 kg freight bikes can be used, as in Copenhagen. To unify this system, he envisions the return of the concierge service - one on every block - to serve and maintain, for example, a utility storage area for bikes and heavy carts, a place to temporarily leave odds and ends and a hearth for the community - complete with a wood stove.

The carfree movement is lucky to have the dedication of such a gifted thinker; one who is able to tread the fine line between letting one’s imagination of urban possibilities run unleashed, while not losing sight of reality. The idea of building carfree cities may seem far-fetched to us now, but if circumstances allow for the government to give a portion towards our cause of what was recently handed out to bankrupt banks, the sky is the limit. The EU Commissioner for Environment Stavros Dimas wrote the introduction to this book, giving credence to Crawford’s soundly reasoned and researched ideas. Hopefully we can take up Crawford's challenge and actually use this book as a manual.

Published in CarBusters Magazine


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