A revolution that started in the late 19th century, with the arrival of the first motor car, has since enveloped the world – the coup that has reduced humankind to passengers (literally) is complete.
Our towns and cities have been taken over by motor vehicles and despite adventurous ideas and enthusiastic attempts at securing our liberation, we continue to huddle in the shadows while we afford absolute freedom and the joy of life in the sun to the motor car.
We conceived of the car as a tool to make our lives easier and more comfortable – it was, at first, our servant, and now roles are reversed with us living in a way that ensures the motor car has the run of the world. We built the car, a mindless mechanical thing, with the thought that it would free us, but something quiet to the contrary has happened. We have given the car freedoms and rights we afford to almost nothing else and, as it rampages around the world, we huddle almost like refugees on our own planet.
Roads of tar and cement spill around our planet looking like a bowl of spaghetti and what were once beautiful spaces are turned into soulless parking areas for these modern day monsters. The car has the world in a sleeper hold and we can’t even talk our way out of its embrace for we can no longer understand the language. Everything we do, every decision we make is tinted by this strange dilemma – the car tightens its grip and we begin to lose ours.
Mention ‘pedestrian friendly’ to a community and immediately most see the job as done – the community, they argue, is already pedestrian friendly – it has a few walking paths, a couple of pedestrian crossings and a few pedestrian refuges that allow a moments relief as the behemoths of the road surge by. There is, however, a distinct difference between walking for relaxation or exercise to walking as a part of daily life – walking to work, walking to shop, walking to school, walking to see a friend or walking to and from social events.
This is an important difference. We fail to understand how we need to look at our towns and cities again. We need to reconsider our designs, to relegate the car to its rightful position of servant, and the pedestrian again becomes elevated, honoured and respected.
In Australia, our towns and cities are suffering from a similar difficulty as many in the population – obesity. We are becoming grossly overweight, spreading as we shouldn’t, while we should be trimming up, ensuring our towns and cities are taught and trim like a fit athlete.
Rather than sprawl, we should be designing for compact communities that not only encourage walking, but make it possible, rewarding and so enhance our well-being as we walk our way to healthier and safer towns and cities.