Cars are killing us – so how can we wean ourselves off them?

"Well, this all looks pretty healthy to me." Air pollution hovers above a Chinese freeway. Image: Getty.

Road traffic accidents are the number one cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds. If no action is taken, it is predicted that road traffic will kill as many as 1.9m people worldwide per year by 2030. Add to this the negative impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, air and noise pollution, chronic diseases such as heart disease or diabetes and rising levels of obesity, and a future full of cars looks bleak indeed.

These are the concerns underpinning European Mobility Week – an annual campaign, which began in 2002 – to promote sustainable forms of urban transport. This year, more than 1,700 local authorities from 42 different countries play host to a range of public events to support the uptake of sustainable and active travel: bicycle masses, talks and seminars about green mobility patterns, walk-to-school initiatives and many others.

Over the past few decades, most cities around the globe have been shaped by the car. The majority of our public spaces have been transformed into endless flows of traffic, to better accommodate our dependence on this form of transport. As the number of people living in urban areas continues to grow, so too will the number of cars on the roads. There is a serious risk that this type of car-centred urbanisation will become unsustainable, and damage living standards for all.


As a result, governments are becoming increasingly committed to controlling the number of conventionally-fuelled cars on the roads. To complete the transition from a heavily car-dominated society to a resource-efficient one, cities will need to achieve a more equal “modal share” – that is, city-dwellers need to be encouraged to take up alternative modes of transport in greater numbers. As a part of this effort, hundreds of cities in Europe and around the world – from Barcelona, to Brussels, to Istanbul – will encourage motorists to give up their automobiles for 24 hours, typically by closing their central streets to cars, as part of World Car-Free Day.

Moving on

About half of all car trips in countries like the UK, the Netherlands, and the US are fewer than five miles long. Replacing cars with other modes of transport for these short journeys would be a colossal step in the right direction. To this end, policy-makers, transport planners and traffic engineers have a variety of stick and carrot measures to make car use undesirable or unnecessary.

The stick measures are often regulatory; designed to force people to reduce car usage. These mechanisms range from congestion charges, toll roads, parking levies, traffic calming and road restrictions to fuel taxes, vehicle excise duty and even expensive car ownership permits.

The carrots are often soft measures, which give car users the options they need to be able to change their travel behaviour on a voluntary basis. One example is to make additions and improvements to alternative infrastructure, such as bus and rail services. But they can also include things such as the provision of cycle routes, pedestrianisation, priority bus lanes and other special rights-of-way.

Hybrid public transport modes and cheaper fares also help. So do initiatives for buying alternatively-fuelled cars and tools or information to help people practice smarter and more fuel-efficient driving, which makes the most of advanced vehicle technologies when car use cannot be avoided. The sharing economy has stepped in, too, with ride sharing apps and websites like BlaBlaCar and iThumb and more than 900 dedicated public bicycle programmes worldwide.

Events like car-free days are important reminders of the steps that need to be taken to ensure safe and sustainable urban development. We need to use all these tools, and more, to meet the travel needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to enjoy liveable cities.The Conversation

Alexandros Nikitas is a lecturer in transport at the University of Huddersfield

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Here are my five favourite London council estates

The Dunboyne Road estate. Image: Steve Cadman/Wikimedia Commons.

The author is a Labour member of the London Assembly. In the name of impartiality, CityMetric would like to extend the invitation to write similar columns to representatives of other political parties.

From successful post-war efforts to move families out of slums and into modern homes, to today’s efforts to construct a new generation of social housing, there’s much to be celebrated in London’s precious council housing stock.

This year we celebrate the centenary of the Addison Act, which established a national building programme with government funding for the first time. So here – in no particular order – are my top five London estates:

1. Dunboyne Road

In 1965, the newly established London Borough of Camden was bold and radical when it came to public housing. Their architect’s department boasted 98 staff, led by Sydney Cook. The Grade II listed Dunboyne Road (pictured above) was Britain’s first high-density, low-rise estate. Designed in the late 1960s and completed in 1977, it was the first major work by architect Neave Brown.

Its concrete construction and geometric layout are eye-catchingly modernist, but the 71 flats and maisonettes fit neatly into their surroundings; a reimagining of the classic London street for the 1960s. Each has a private terrace and own entrance onto the central pedestrian walkway and communal gardens, with stepped levels and dual-aspect windows creating light throughout.

Neave Brown himself lived on the estate in the final years of his life remarking, “Who am I to say, but it’s beautiful”.

2. Lilington Gardens

Located just off Vauxhall Bridge Road, the fourteen blocks at Lilington Gardens were built between 1964 and 1972. Between three and eight storeys each, it was again a rejection of the tower blocks which dominated the era, showing that mid-rise housing could provide both beauty and density.

Image: Ewan Munro/Wikimedia Commons.

At a time when Westminster could be proud of the quality of its housing, John Darbourne and Geoffrey Darke won a competition to design the new estate. The result was something special, eschewing modernist forms for something more rugged and layered. The layout allows for secluded green spaces, while the red brick cladding echoes the neighbouring Victorian church of St James the Less. Like all good estates, it included a pub – the Grade II*-listed Pimlico Tram (now The Cask). It was included not as an afterthought, but an integral part of the estate’s design.

3. Ossulston Estate

By the early 1950s, the London County Council’s architect’s department was the biggest in the world, building housing on a huge scale in addition to showp iece projects such as the Southbank Centre.

Though their suburban estates – Downham in Bromley, and Becontree in Barking and Dagenham – were pioneering examples of low-rise of modernity in metroland, these efforts did not always suit the needs of poor city dwellers who weren’t able to move further out. The Ossulton Estate, however, built between 1927 and 1931 on the site of a Somerstown slum and located between Euston and St Pancras stations, did exactly that.

Image: Stephen McKay/Wikimedia Commons.

Chief architect George Topham Forrest’s work was inspired by visits to ‘Red’ Vienna and Ossulston bears distinct similarities to Karl Marx-Hof, which was constructed at the same time. While the roofs and windows have traditional elements, the overall aesthetic is a modernist classic. Like many estates in post-war years, it suffered from neglect and a lack of investment, but following a £6m improvement programme by Camden Council in 2004, the Ossulston is now back to its brilliant best.

4. Alton Estate

Roehampton’s Alton Estate, completed in 1959, was designed by a team led by Rosemary Stjernstedt – the first woman to serve as a senior public sector architect in Britain.

The two parts of the estate – East and West – are the crown jewels of British post-war council housing. Alton West was Le Corbusier in Albion: six ultra-modernist blocks modelled on the Unité d’habitation in Marseille, set among the landscape inherited from the Georgian Mount Clare house. Alton East was a softer, Scandinavian-inspired design of the “new Brutalists” in the LCC.

Image: Stevekeiretsu/Wikimedia Commons.

Rising above the trees to the north east of Richmond Park, the Alton Estate stands testament to the visionary idealism of post-war council housebuilding. On its completion, visitors flocked from across the globe, with American critic G.E. Kidder Smith calling it “probably the finest low-cost housing development in the world”.

Sadly, Alton West however is now at risk from ‘regeneration’ proposals which would see 288 existing homes lost. While council estates should not be fetishised, with investment, improvement and expansion encouraged, any change must be done sensitively and with residents’ backing. I hope that Wandsworth Council and Redrow will follow the mayor’s Good Practice for Estate Regeneration and hold a ballot before plans go ahead, and that if they do, they build on Rosemary Stjernstedt’s legacy.

5. King’s Crescent

When it comes to regeneration Hackney Council have taken an altogether different approach to Wandsworth.

Located on Green Lanes opposite the magnificent Clissold Park, King’s Crescent’s route to a successful and well-supported regeneration project hasn’t always been an easy one. The early 1970s estate was blighted by poor construction, navigability issues and an ill-fated partial demolition in 2000 which turned much of the landscape into hoardings and rubble. But thanks to a step-change in resident engagement and a transformation programme funded by Hackney Council, by 2023 it will be host to 765 new and refurbished homes.

Image: David Holt/Wikimedia Commons.

In the era of government-imposed cuts to local authority budgets, councils have to be pragmatic about funding choices and the new King’s Crescent does include homes for private sale. This is understandably a source of some consternation, but it’s also the source of funding which has made the regeneration possible. Hackney has ensured that more than 50 per cent of the new homes are genuinely affordable, with 97 brand new council homes for social rent.

The new developments have greatly enhanced the area, using both new build and renovation to stitch the estate better into its Victorian surroundings. Existing homes have been retrofitted with balconies, while disused garage space has been repurposed for modern flats. Hackney have clearly thought carefully about character and open spaces, as well as ceiling heights, windows and internal storage.

It is an exceptional project – one of a growing number of new schemes now being spearheaded by ambitious councils across the capital. In 2018-19, the Mayor of London funded the start of 1,916 new council homes – the highest figure since 1984-85.


…what about the Barbican?

On the fiftieth anniversary of its opening, it would be remiss not the mention the Barbican. It’s a brutalist masterpiece and a fantastic feat of post-war planning and design. The location and design are clearly outstanding, but it’s the bright and modern interiors which are truly to die for.

So why is it not on the list? Although it was built by the City of London Corporation, not one of the flats was ever available at a social rent. The properties were built to let at market rents to workers in the City, who later found themselves in the fortunate position of being able to snap them up under the Right to Buy – still the fate of far too many of London’s vital social homes.

Tom Copley is a Labour member of the London Assembly.