- a collection of notes and reflections on urban living from the perspective of a family of five in Tokyo. My epiphany was many years ago, but being hit by a motorbike and seeing my life flash before my eyes caused a sudden change that slowly made me reflect on whether American style auto-centric urban transportation of the Roosevelt era really is a capital G "Good Idea" for civilized modern cities in the 21st Century. This blog explores the good and the bad in urban planning and design, here and elsewhere. The goal is simple - not "death to all cars," just more walkable communities, quiet tree-lined streets, good public transport, traffic calming, Velib style bicycle sharing and a bit of common sense. The bolg is mostly theraputic, so I don't go wanting to throttle every dangerous driver I come across, but partly also out of a real desire to see positive change. This blog explores how it can be done, the people who do it, and how, in many small ways, this very old idea may at last have found its zeitgeist. Comments and suggestions welcome.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Car Free Day in Japan

In contrast to American rock and roll ideas about freedom and mobility, the Car Free Day is a celebration of human mobility, started way back when in Europe and now an annual event as part of Mobility Week.

An ever growing number of Japanese cities is participating in this event, with the 松本カーフリーデー above a regular participant, closing of a number of streets to automobiles.

Nine Japanese cities participated in 2009, according to Japan for Sustainability, and one can only hope this event grows even bigger, as Japanese city centres are surely ripe for more car-free zones.

The whole stretch between Matsumoto Station and the famous 烏城 or Raven Castle is an obvious candidate. One of my favourite candidates in Tokyo is the whole area around Jiyugaoka station. A popular high density urban transit node and trendy shopping district, the area is an intricate network of narrow streets and always seems to be a mess of cars still attempting, often aggressively, to assert their right of passage in what has become a defacto pedestrian zone.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Positive Note to End the Year

2008-9 was a year when we were starting to see some progress. The zeitgeist of the walkable cities movement really began to get rolling, concern for the environment and anti-automobile sentiment was running high. Oil prices were skyrocketing, bicycle sales were going through the roof, car sales falling through the floor, people talked about building communities not roads and restoring waterways and pedestrian streets.

But then the "GFC" scared everyone off for a little while. Environmental concerns took a back seat while governments decided things were bad enough to require propping up the ailing auto industry with unprecedented levels of government intervention to maintain the status quo, the reasoning being that we had to keep the Titanic afloat if we were going to turn it around. Possibly sound policy, but to those concerned about where the status quo it has been very disheartening.

However, amid all of this, more and more people in business, government and the community seem to be slowly but surely getting behind the idea of walkable communities. And the really wonderful inspiring thing is that this zeitgeist is gathering pace with little to no advertising, marketing, viral marketing, legal teams or highly paid political lobbyists.

So here are a few videos celebrating these wonderful developments. Enjoy!

Starting with something serious, but uplifting all the same, we have an interview with Rodney Tolley, editor and contributing author (I think) of the book "Sustainable Transport":

And more Rodney Tolley:

Secondly, a practical look at Copenhagen with Jan Gehl. The climate talks in Copenhagen this year may have failed, but this video shows just how far ahead of the rest of us Copenhagen is in its thinking about sustainable transportation. This short excerpt from the fabulous "Contested Streets" documentary.

Love this quote: "sometimes [the pedestrian areas] are too popular. If you don't have enough nice spaces you can see overcrowding like this, but then you should just make more pedestrian spaces."

Omotesando in Tokyo had this problem some years ago. The car free Omotesando, with its lofty trees, was so popular it became overcrowded. Unfortunately Omotesando turned the otherway and decided to let the cars back. Now it is both crowded AND noisy.

Next, a look at Auckland's dismal situation. I find this one uplifting because recognition of a problem is the first step towards redemption!

Part I

Part II

And finally, a simple happy celebration of the new car free streets in New York:

Two legs good, four wheels bad

Prince Charles on urban planning priorities:

I couldn't have said it better myself...

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Congestion Tax

This from the New York Times: M.T.A. Tax Revenue Is $200 Million Short

If ever there was a time for New York to introduce a congestion charge (an electronic charge on driving automobiles into the inner city) that time is right now.