Safe, accessible and easy transportation is the only way to sustain well-being of cities
If you don't have any plans, Sunday 27th September might be a good day to visit Paris. Earmarked as La Journee sans voiture - literally, 'the day without cars' - city officials will will be closing off a large portion of its downtown area to cars between 11am and 6pm in a bid to reduce local air pollution in the City of Love.
The move follows emergency regulations that were enforced last summer to drive down "dangerously high" pollution caused by car fumes across the city.
Tackling the negative impact of local transport on the wellbeing of citizens is an issue not exclusive to the French capital. In Delhi, regulators have just announced plans to limit emissions from vehicles by cracking down on those that drive cars without the necessary pollution check certifications, and by investing heavily in gas-powered buses.
In fact, most of the world's cities, large and small, are struggling to develop the right transport infrastructure that will keep its citizens moving while also maintaining a sustainable environment that fosters social cohesion, economic prospect and the well-being of its citizens.
City leaders the world over no doubt dream of car-free urban environments, filled with green space, cycling lanes, superb public transport systems that whizz people from A to B without fuss, and pedestrianized streets that make walking safe and easy. These are all the things we know to make cities great places to live, work and play, as evidenced by research conducted by the likes of Monocle and the Economist Intelligence Unit.
Some cities have been making progress for many years. In Copenhagen, a raft of urban planning laws have been redefining the city's public space since the 1970s, promoting cycling over driving. The 180% sales tax placed on the purchase of new cars was a key part of this. As a result, car ownership is incredibly low and the city's former car parks have been turned into parks and pedestrianized zones.
Other cities are trying to follow suit. In Tampere, Finland's second city, government officials are ploughing ahead with plans to pedestrianize its main street, the Hämeenkatu, and cutting off the area to cars in preparation of a new tram system coming in 2018. Similarly, Sydney's main shopping and business thoroughfare will soon be transformed by the construction of a 12 kilometer light railway system.
And plenty of others – from Mexico City and Bogota, to Hamburg and Shanghai – have explored and trialed strategies for encouraging people to get out of their cars and onto their bikes or public transport.
Of course, transforming cityscapes with sustainable transport modes is easier to action in some places than it is in others. The medieval layout of a city like London makes the implementation of cycling lanes a tough undertaking, for example. The embedded culture of people living in Los Angeles, who are so wedded to their cars, makes it really hard for policymakers to get public transport infrastructure projects off the ground. Having said that, the Mission Zero Corridor project in the American south – initiated by the carpet tile manufacturer Interface – should give some examples of what's possible in creating a 'zero-impact road'.
Strong leadership is so important in effecting change. Rather than thinking about short-term, quick-win projects – which rarely lead to the creation of the sustainable transport infrastructure that is required to make places better – our political leaders must find ways to use their influence and power to consider the long-term economic, environmental and social prosperity of their cities and those living, working and visiting them.
By investing in more sustainable modes of transport – which offer a more attractive, pleasant, easy, quick, safe and, not to mention, healthy way of moving around – cities can aid the culture change that's needed. Strong leadership is also required from the business community. Through its Human Cities initiative, designed to help find ways of making our cities more inspiring, energizing and vibrant, AkzoNobel continues to play an important role in helping to reduce crime, boost safety, better the aesthetics and improve way-finding through innovative color and coatings that make transport systems safer, more sustainable and more pleasant places to travel in.
And new technology is starting to support this culture change too, making it pain-free to use public transport. Mobile apps like Uber have made it incredibly simple to 'hail' a taxi in hundreds of cities around the world. Others, such as Waze, use the power of data supplied by its community of users to give commuters real-time information on the best routes and modes of transport in getting from place to place.
By creating the right environment that incentivizes people to get out of their cars and cycle, walk, or jump on a bus or train, cities are able to truly foster and encourage people to interact with their fellow citizens, neighbors and the environment around them. Isn't that the sort of city you would want to live in?
Johan Widheden, Sustainability Specialist, AkzoNobelAkzoNobel