At a time when fresh ideas are needed to renew our ways of building cities, this book is a huge disappointment.
The author is obviously honest and passionate in his quest against automobiles. Unfortunately, he clearly is no specialist in the field of urban planning and appears disconnected from many realities.
A good part of the first portion of the book presents a far-fetched comparison between Venice and Los Angeles. As fascinating as it is to visit, Venice has not been economically viable for anything but tourism for many decades. This basic choice thus invalidates the author's thesis since L.A., despite its urban and environmental shortcomings, is a vibrant city.
In the second portion of the book, a century after Ebenezer Howard, the author introduces a new `urban model', based on flower-like shapes, totally disconnected from any geographical or social reality. Clearly, a lot of thought has been awarded to this physical model as some elements are presented in excruciating details. Sadly, an ounce of common sense is sufficient to make the whole scheme fall to pieces. The notions of costs or implementation in fact do not seem to cross the author's mind whatsoever.
Although an effort has been made to organize the contents intelligibly, the writing style is poor and the work is plagued with repetitions.
I can think of no reason to recommend anyone spending time and money to read this book.
on October 16, 2001
What can we do about smog, traffic congestion, traffic fatalities, excessive energy consumption, unhealthy lifestyles, and sprawl, among others? The author identifies a solution to this problem, and surprisingly, one that has been proven in a number of countries. We have been sleepwalking into undesirable land use patterns (sprawl) for so long that we take it for granted that it is normal. Yet we complain about all the serious problems sprawl creates as though we can do nothing about it. For the first time, the solution by J.H. Crawford addresses these concerns with a carefully thought-out, well-supported framework: the carfree planning approach. Outrageous as this may first sound, it is already being practiced in many cities around the globe, notably in Europe. Cars are not totally removed from the equation, but serve less frequent, more focused roles. With oil resources steadily dwindling, such a proposal merits top-shelf prominence among visionary planners and developers alike. This book has changed my land use planning outlook completely.
on November 13, 2000
Carfree Cities is a pathbreaking work that outlines how human beings can live in an urban environment entirely free from cars. As someone working to uncover mathematical forces that shape urban form, I appreciate Crawford's efforts and applaud his conclusions. I personally believe that the city of the future will have to combine many different means of transportation, including the hated/loved car, but it is not clear to most planners how to achieve this. Crawford's book provides a well thought-out plan for pedestrian life, which, in the hands of an enlightened urbanist, can be used to drastically improve the quality of existing cities.
Therefore, while I don't necessarily accept Crawford's total exclusion of cars, I find his solutions vitally important to the future of cities. Furthermore, I don't think that anyone would have taken him seriously unless he did what he has done: to show that a totally carfree solution is possible. Not only is it possible, but Crawford has shown that it is both feasible and practical. Congratulations to him for this outstanding work.
on April 28, 2000
Would you like to live in a truly genuine community: where local shopkeepers, familiar faces, and quiet streets recreate the small-town ambience so many of us crave? ...And yet the magic and excitement of the city is also just fifteen minutes away... aboard a fast, safe, clean, energy-efficient train ( a metro, that stops at your stop every four minutes, all hours of the day, and continues running all night)?
Would you enjoy living in a place where the kids can get to school in the morning; to soccer practice in the afternoon; to grandma's over the weekend; and to their friend's house anytime.... without having to ask mom for a ride? Where senior citizens may sit in nearby parks while children play; instead of being sentenced to the isolation of a retirement 'community'? ... Where they can reach the nearby doctor or the market on foot?
For the intrigued skeptic, J. H. Crawford's, "Carfree Cities" provides a comprehensive review of existing, successful patterns of urban development; as well as several proven technologies for conveniently and efficiently transporting people and freight. The accompanying website... offers a quarterly update of developments in a few new car free residential neighborhoods ( in Amsterdam, Vienna and Hamburg ); as well as the popular and growing car free districts in many historic city centers: in Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere. Crawford, a former public transport ombudsman for the State of New Jersey, combines the best of all of this into a brilliantly coherent Reference Design for a car free city. A benchmark, which can be adapted to fit the unique needs and topography of almost any area.
This Reference Design details how a series of infinitely variable, tight-knit, well-defined neighborhood districts, could be linked up along the loops three figure-8 metro train lines that all intersect in the center of downtown. These six loops surround huge tracts of permanently open space. The circular shape of each district puts the village center, with its metro stop, post office, shops, daycare, etc., within a five minute walk of every resident. Five blocks out from the center in any direction, is the well defined edge of the neighborhood; beyond which lies raw, unsullied nature; preserved and accessible to all.
This striking contrast between real city and real nature represents the quintessential void of modern suburbia. Where, absent both the stimulation and excitement of the city, as well as the serenity and delight of the countryside, we often find ourselves alone in front of a flickering screen... bored, frustrated, and increasingly suspicious.
Replacing vast, asphalt parking lots and arterials with human-sized streets, may have far-reaching repercussions. Streets filled with a shuffling, observant, irritating, and enchanting melange of glance-exchanging human traffic ---instead of the noise, stench, danger and disconnectedness of auto traffic--- just might change the world.
Crawford considers how popular and governmental support for carfree cities could be developed. "There are active anti-car movements in most of the richer nations of the world.... Perhaps the most important lesson that activists have learned is the importance of fun and humor." A recent demonstration in Lyon, France is described, during which "...large numbers of passersby joined the organizers in dancing in the street, and almost nobody got angry." He notes that many expensive resorts are essentially car free: "Switzerland, probably the richest land in the world, has carfree areas in most of its cities. Residents and visitors alike flock to these areas." Some common objections are addressed: "...people won't use public transport unless it is of extremely high quality. Frequent service, on-time performance, efficient route systems, comfortable vehicles, easy use and assured personal safety are essential." On overcrowding: "The perceived congestion of modern cities is largely the result of motorized transport. On a summer afternoon there may be more people per square kilometer in Venice than anywhere in the world, yet it does not feel oppressively crowded. Once streets are dedicated to human uses, very high densities are no longer unpleasant and offer rich social opportunities."
Would you like to live in a neighborhood where every kid has a big park beyond his back patio, and other kids of all ages to play with, while neighboring families keep a watchful eye? A place where you still have a car, safely tucked out of sight in a garage at the edge of town? The car is parked ---perhaps fifteen minutes from your doorstep--- near the approaching busload of tourists, eager to glimpse the magical streets on which you live: The broad boulevard through the center of town, teeming with life; the cozy lanes lined with rows of beautiful three and four-story houses; and the narrow cobbled paths which wind through intimate courtyards.... some sunny and filled with children; others shady and silent....
Crawford examines important tools that can be used to plan carfree cities, including intensive public design workshops; computer simulation of transport systems; large, 3-D, scale models; even on-line, virtual walk-through tours of an entire city. He then proposes several ways to begin developing the first modern large-scale carfree projects:
"In many metropolitan regions in the USA, a new trend is emerging: people want to live in cities again. Demand for housing in cities and older, denser, inner suburbs is increasing. Quite a few people have had enough of sprawl, endless commutes, and places that are not communities at all... That this trend should arise in the USA, that bastion of automobility, indicates that urban car usage is poised to decline." "It is also worth noting that the demographic picture in the USA is changing: there are fewer (large) traditional families and more single parent families and people living alone....These households are not well served by conventional (suburban) single-family housing..." "As the baby boomers begin to retire in large numbers...(they) are likely to demand solutions that permit them to live dignified lives, after they have had to give up driving... This generation is large, active, and accustomed to having things its way... I believe that a market exists in the southern states for carfree developments."
Crawford closes with an afterword entitled: 'Making Magic':
"Many people have never experienced a magical place, and they are poorer for it... Magical places are characterized by human scale, rich detail, beautiful setting, harmonious sounds, evocative scents... People involve themselves in the magic, helping to sustain it... You can feel it when it happens. The creation of such magic is one of the highest achievements of mankind."
Imagine leaving a quiet park: you pass beneath a thick stone archway, through a building, that opens onto a lively plaza... with a corner grocery store, a sidewalk café, and a cozy bar where familiar faces are to be expected...
Imagine a city, where big rigs are replaced by sunken metro freight trains that furtively unload directly into the basements of commercial and industrial buildings... Where the closest thing to a freeway is the high-speed, dedicated bicycle lane running through the middle of each district... Where the loudest sounds on the street are human footsteps.
Everyone who is interested in a compelling means of improving the quality of all our lives, while substantially reducing our collective burden on the earth, will undoubtedly savor the persuasive and timely