Let your car be squashed to the size of a refrigerator and you’ll get a year’s free use of public transport! This is one of the more creative solutions they came up with in England to help reduce the many problems caused by cars in city centers.
-Cars take up a lot of space. For each car in Japan, there are a mere four parking spaces
-Around 50% of air pollution, and a lot of the noise pollution in most urban areas is thanks to cars
-Cars kill. It is estimated that worldwide each year, 1.2 million people die in car accidents
-And more! There’s illegal parking, esthetic pollution, driver stress, motorists using mobile phones while driving, huge car graveyards… need I go on?
What can we do?
Sell the car, buy a horse? Good idea, but impractical. No, obviously cars cannot be done away with completely. Once in a while I find them very convenient – for that trip to Aso or when I want to stock up on tortillas and cheese at COSTCO. We do have a problem though, and it’s only getting worse, so what can we do? We could car-pool or share car ownership, drive less, walk, ride a bike or use public transport more. A solution I would like to focus on is a car-free city center.
You’re walking around the Daimyo area of Fukuoka. You’ve just bought a t-shirt and now you’re crossing the street to buy an ice cream. You sit down on a bench under a tree to take in the sounds of a street musician, without any beeping horns or grinding gearboxes to ruin the tunes. You admire the artwork across the street, with no hulking SUV’s blocking your view. There are no noxious car fumes, just the smell of street vendors’ flowers. A friend passes by with her two young children. They play tag and she doesn’t have to worry about their safety; only early-morning delivery trucks are allowed here. Pleasant, no?
What you’ve just imagined is Daimyo as a car-free zone. I believe Daimyo is the perfect place to attempt this idea. It is one of the oldest parts of Fukuoka; the streets are narrow, the shops are stylish and it already has a cozy, trendy atmosphere with people walking in the middle of the street. The area isn’t too big, so you don’t need to be Mizuki Noguchi (Athens Gold Medal Marathon runner) to get around.
‘This girl has been drinking too much shochu, she’s delusionalﾉ’ I don’t think so. Coming from Holland, this is nothing new; I just described most of our city centers. It didn’t used to be like this, though. Car culture crept up on us rather quickly and took over the city streets, until local residents, shop owners and other concerned citizens voiced their concerns and voted for change.
No smooth ride
Some shop owners in cities where it was proposed were initially negative about the idea, as they feared they would lose income. However, car-free centers proved a great success and were extremely popular with residents – the quality of life within the city center improved significantly, sales went up and real estate prices increased, as did the number of tourists. These changes didn’t happen overnight, but pedestrian-friendly car-free city centers are becoming more prevalent in European towns and cities.
It doesn’t have to be done all at once. To start with it could be one day a week, once a month, or even a one-off experiment. Shop owners could see the effects on their sales and a questionnaire could be used to find out what shoppers think.
‘There’s no point trying this here, it’s too difficult,’ I hear people say. Yes, it is rare that one person or group makes a change by themselves, and most of the time it’s a very slow cumulative process involving ideas and attempted action. But, if the people in charge hear about a car-free Daimyo often enough from different people, they might start considering it.
A car-free zone: you either think it’s a good idea or a bad idea. I’d like to hear your opinion, so please visit www.now.blog-city.com and leave your comment. By writing this article, I hope to find out if there are more people wanting to try to make a change and who are willing to spend the time and energy to do so. I hope this article will make people think about the issue and talk among themselves. Together we can make a change!
Dutch, Part-time Pedestrian Revolutionary
Originally published in Fukuoka Now magazine (fn83 Nov. 2005)