Eliminating or heavily restricting cars would be impossible for nearly every city and suburb in America. Yet a small car-free town in Germany profiled in this week’s New York Times has intrigued and inspired Americans to consider a tantalizing possibility: what if we didn’t need cars to perform everyday tasks?
The #1 most emailed article on the Times website (on 5/12) describes Vauban, a small, upscale German town where residents must walk or bike within town limits. The former home of military barracks, Vauban has compact infrastructure that was capable of being retrofitted to eliminate cars. An efficient public transit link via tram to the nearest city, Freiburg, ensures that residents can commute to work.
Having been built in an era of automobile dominance, very few American communities are endowed with Vauban’s type of infrastucture. Moreover, public transit is either nonexistent or a less than desirable option for the majority of Americans. Still, much can be done to create more walkable communities and destinations where a car is unnecessary to work, shop or have fun.
Judging by the comments on a fascinating followup post on the NYT “Room for Debate” blog post, which explores what a car-free America might entail, most people are eager for the opportunity to drive less and walk more. Contributors and commentors expanded on the myriad ways already being taken to reduce car dependence across all levels of society, from supporting government initiatives that fund transit to making personal sacrifices.
While a transition to a less car dependent America will not be easy, where there is a will, there is a way. Vauban, and the great interest it has engendered, demonstrates the possibility of creating car free districts and public interest in even imagining the possibility.