mercredi 26 mai 2010

Walkable cities

Walkable Cities

Stumbled across this article by accident, where someone compares American and European cities and lifestyles. I think it's a great article (accompanied by photos) and it's interesting to see the gasoline/land usage graph as well.

Here is a website I found some time ago. I thought it was only for US cities but it works for almost any city in the world.


I plugged in some suburb/city names:

Where I grew up, Sydney, Australia - 55%
My suburb now, Sydney, Australia - 86%
Sister's suburb, Sydney, Australia - 92%
(Inner city) Surry Hills, Sydney, Australia - 98%
Champs Elysées, Paris, France - 8o%
Republique, Paris, France - 82%
Manhattan, New York, USA - 86%
Brooklyn, New York, USA - 89%
Trafalgar Square, London, UK - 98%

Abbey Road, London, UK - 85%

I know some are street names while others are suburb/neighbourhood names but I just wanted a rough idea of what would come up. Also, in Australia, everything is called a suburb but I know that in the US inner-city suburbs are called neighborhoods. And in Paris they are of course arrondissements.

OK so it's not 100% accurate but for a computer-generated Google maps thing it's pretty clever :)

I am all for walkable cities. Australia has obviously followed the United States model in creating mostly unwalkable cities. Obviously there are a lot of reasons for this. Namely our countries' larger surface areas, the fact that our countries are younger, historical reasons and probably many other reasons I'll never understand.

Up until World War II (1940s) the inner cities in Australia were very walkable. I've seen those old black and white photos and the city looked beautiful. If we had bothered to keep it like that, I would easily say that Sydney would look more a European city than some modern city thing. Of course the population explosion got in the way of that ;)

In the article I mentioned above, it talks about Bordeaux and their tram system:

As mentioned above, Europeans do most of their non food shopping in the town centre. In the 1930's, it was common for towns to have tramways (streetcars) and these would generally run from the outlying residential areas to the town centre, running through the main street. However with the advent of the car in the fifties, these were taken out of service, and replaced with buses as it was thought that the trams consumed too much space, and to make room for cars. The growth in car ownership soon resulted in these town centre street being clogged with traffic, and first to go was onstreet parking, and by the seventies, municipalities started to close the main streets totally to traffic, and paving them to become pedestrianised areas.

Today the overwhelming majority of town main streets are closed to traffic, but in a quirk of history, some towns are reintroducing tramways that run through these pedestrianised streets. As an example, Bordeaux inaugurated its new tramway system in 2003, and is constantly extending it.

The same thing happened in Sydney. According to Wikipedia, Sydney used to have one of the largest tram networks in the world but then it was all pulled down. Although Melbourne is well-known for their trams Sydney had none from WWII up until 2000, when during Olympic fever, it was built up again. However, it doesn't have many stops and it is privatised and very expensive so I don't think that many people use it. It's also called a light rail and does not have that old tram charm.

IMHO living in the 'burbs in a huge house on a huge piece of land is only good if you have young kids and need the space. Or you absolutely need to have your peace and quiet. Otherwise, to me, it's a waste. You have to pay more for the land, pay more for the house, pay more to clean/heat/cool the house. And use more energy. Of course you then have to buy more things to fill up that house. And then you have to pay more for petrol (gas) to get yourself around from place to place as there is nothing within walking distance!

Living in a large sprawling city like Sydney though, even if you lived in a walkable area you still need your car if you don't want to take half a day to get from one end to the other end. In that sense, I also prefer compact cities. I've been told by almost everyone I know who's been there that they loved San Francisco but hated Los Angeles and I think the main reason for that is because Los Angeles is so sprawled out.

A few years ago I remember when London introduced a tax for people driving into the city centre (I remember it well because during a holiday, I was actually driving into the city centre myself during peak hour and having a heart attack about getting a massive big fine because I didn't know where or how to pay this tax). Now, the councillors here want to introduce the same thing for Sydney. It's the sort of topic that gets brought up and forgotten about and then brought up again a year or two later. If they introduced it I'd be all for it. I mean, if 80% (or whatever the figure is) of people who work in the inner city use public transport to get themselves there I don't see why the other 20% can't. These people are mostly fat middle-aged men. I know this because I used to cross Sydney Harbour Bridge on a bus every day and look down and I noticed that in every car there was only one person, and that person was likely to be a big, fat, balding middle-aged man with his beer belly poking into the steering wheel who wouldn't give two hoots about anyone else or environmental issues because him getting to work in his air-conditioned comfortable car was the most important thing!). Sorry for the visuals but there was no other way to explain it ;) 

Which brings me to my next point.  I think this lack of walkable suburbs/cities has something to do with the obesity epidemic! Not that I'm saying everyone living in a big house in the 'burbs is obese but you can't deny the facts that in Europe and Asia where almost every city is walkable (and people are a lot more active in general and eat smaller portions and healthier food), they have a much lower rate of obesity than in the USA or Australia (which I believe have 2 of the highest rates in the world).

I could go on and on about things like car pooling, and creating more bicycle lanes/tracks and.. well, I know that Sydney city council is trying very hard. They are trying to 'greenify' the city and create more bike tracks and a more pleasant place for pedestrians and I imagine that in the future that many roads will be closed off (like in Europe) to cars altogether. During the massive renovation just before the Olympics in 2000 I remember that they actually narrowed the main street (George St) and created wider footpaths. They are also thinking about making the CBD (central business district) bus only.

Something else I noticed whilst living overseas is that because most people living in the 'burbs have a big backyard, the kids don't really need to use the community playground. Here in Sydney we have so many lovely parks or children's playgrounds and so many times I've walked or driven past and noticed they are completely empty. In that regard I noticed that we have lost that sense of community as well. In countries or cities where people don't have the luxury of a massive house and backyard they have to use communal/public amenities like parks and they are always full of people enjoying mother nature. Not only that, people also interact with one another which I think is something that's definitely missing from our modern lives.

Walkable cities, public transport and being 'green' are all topics that I'm passionate about and this post wasn't supposed to be an essay but I got carried away so I'll stop here.

Disclaimer: I understand I may offend some readers but meh, it's my blog, and my opinion and you can cry if you want to ;)

Speaking of public transport, check out this video of the Paris metro in the 50s (in French).


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