Future Oxford: Car-less Freedom!
THE ECOTOPIA 2121 PROJECT PREDICTS THE FUTURES OF 100 SUPER ECO-FRIENDLY CITIES ACROSS THE GLOBE FOR 100 YEARS INTO THE FUTURE. THIS WEEK, WE FOCUS ON THE ENGLISH CITY OF OXFORD
Oxford, England, 1821. If you ambled gently along the banks of the River Thames, then across it, past Christ Church Meadow, and through New College Lane just after sunrise on a day in May of this year, you had a good chance to spy dreamy white swans, languid willows, and luscious fresh fruit taken from the fields.
Oxford, England, 1921. If you ambled once again along the banks of the river and then across the meadow and through New College Lane on a day in May of this year, the swans would be a little harder to find. The noise from all those dozens of loud new automobiles would be scaring them right away.
Oxford, England, 2021. All the roads around town are so jam-packed with cars every single day of every single month in this year that it takes nearly ninety minutes to travel just a mile. So dump the car and take that slow amble along the river—it’s got to be quicker.
Oxford, England, 2121. The swans are back, dreamily floating again, each morning and every day of May, and New College Lane is peaceful and enchanting enchanting once more, for Oxford has banned cars. In a few hours the entirety of the city’s scholars and townsfolk will be awake and ambling.
So, what’s so bad about cars that Oxford 2121 decides to ban them altogether? Well, for starters:
1. Car production leaves a giant ecological footprint all over the globe, especially with all the steel, rubber, plastic, paint, and glass that’s needed to produce a single car.
2. During its lifetime, even the cleanest car will emit toxic chemicals and climate-changing gases.
3. When a car dies, it leaves a decaying, rusting body that takes up land space and slowly pollutes the environment.
4. Fueling a car often involves the need to wage violent international interventions and incur further environmental despoliation.
5. Car accidents are a leading cause of death among young people, in England and around the globe.
6. Exhaust gases from cars cause respiratory diseases worldwide, often paid for disproportionately in health terms by non car users (including children and the elderly) and in financial terms by the public purse. Cars also have a big role in the global cancer epidemic; about half the cancers attributed to outdoor pollution result from vehicular exhausts.
7. The roadways needed to facilitate car use have:
(a) destroyed many natural environments and communities,
(b) caused the incursion of urban sprawl into nature and the countryside, and
(c) ushered in further dependence on car ownership as the only possible transportation option.
8. Cars have encouraged:
(a) conspicuous overconsumption,
(b) social isolation (among both those who own them and those who don’t), and
(c) increased time and distance between places of work and places of living, giving rise to further problems associated with long-distance commuting.
9. Cars punish non–car users by encouraging the elimination of sidewalks in suburbs and pedestrian plazas in city centers, and they make for a noisy, stinky, stressful, and dangerous environment for those who walk, especially for children and their minders, and for those with limited mobility like infants, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
10. Cars may be seductive to look at individually (if you don’t mind the noise and stink they make as they whizz on by), but traveling bumper to bumper all together, or parked all over the city in great, desolate concrete wastelands, they tend to turn pretty and peaceful areas into noisy, ugly, crowded places.
Despite the allure for car fans and their glorification by the car industry, these “machines of death” are not universally loved. This is especially the case among those who cannot afford or cannot operate cars. Cars create a strongly divided society. Those people with cars in a car-dependent city exert great physical power on a daily basis over those who do not have a car—threatening them with injury, risking their safety, cutting off their options to walk or cycle freely, and poisoning the air they breathe. As one example of the socially divisive effects of cars, consider that the highest concentration of harmful gases caused by motorized traffic usually is found at the height of three feet above ground level. Hence, in most cities of the world, children breathe more toxic air than adults and their health is jeopardized even more strongly than that of adults.
But to ban cars from an entire city? All the way to the edge? It’s not as far-fetched a scenario as it may seem. Even today, in the early twenty-first century, parts of Oxford city center are car-free pedestrian zones, and many cities across Europe have much more extensive car-free zones. By 2121, it might not be impossible for an entire city to ban cars right to their outer limits.
It’s appropriate to admit here that one person’s vision of utopia may well be another’s vision of hell. If you are loathe to lose your car (if you are laboring under the misconception that it provides you with security, convenience, and freedom, or you just absolutely need it to get to work or take the kids to school), it is likely that Oxford 2121 will not be much inspiration to you. This attitude is, for sure, widespread across the world, supported and bolstered within city economies and the car-glorifying media. However, rest assured that an evolving ecotopian city will offer citizens a chance to pursue other forms of freedom beyond the superficial freedom of mobility that a car offers. A utopian city—as it is brought into being or transforms over time—acts to encourage each and every person to learn and adapt to the new or the evolving utopian form. Citizens can thus teach themselves (as individuals, as communities, and as societies) to be happy—even happier—without cars.