This is the full unedited text of the original 18 October 1994 presentation to the Ciudades Accesibles Congress in Toledo Spain organized by the Spanish Ministry of Public Works, Transport and the Environment, with the participation of Leber/EcoPlan International, Car Free Cities Initiative of the EuroCities program and the Direction General XI of the Commission of European Communities.
Thursday: A breakthrough strategy for reducing car dependence in cities
– Eric Britton, Toledo Spain, 18 October 1994
I would like to put before you this morning the rough outline of a proposal for an innovative urban policy project which takes on the dual challenge of rendering our cities more accessible, while improving the quality of the environment and conditions of life for all who live, work and play there. While some progress has been made as a result of a certain number of innovative programs and continuing attention over a period of years in a few places, this is not the situation in most. New means have to be found in order to break the policy bottleneck in the many places that need to introduce major changes in these areas, but which for one reason or another have failed until now to do so.
To explain why, the paper sets out six bones of contention: observations which have come out of our long-term program of watching briefs, research and hands-on counsel with cities and transport authorities, which amply shows why altogether new approaches are needed to deal with these challenges in most places. It is now clear that major improvements will continue to be unobtainable in most cities — without major reductions in car use. However, contrary to what has traditionally been assumed by planners, car users do not make rational choices between alternatives, but rather are effectively addicted to car use. The author argues that change on the scale that is needed is blocked in most places because of a wide-spread inability on the part of those concerned (including the general public) to envisage a city and transport situation which is very much different from the unsatisfactory situation which prevails today.
The paper presents an outline plan concerning one way in which a city, town or neighborhood might begin to revise attitudes towards car use: a proposal to spend one carefully prepared day without cars, and then reflect on the results. The author refers to this approach as Thursday. The proposal stresses (a) explicit radical targeting for that one day, (b) a major effort of preparation and consensus building and (c) meticulous monitoring of results with a view to follow-up and fine tuning. Earlier presentations of this paper elicited expressions of interest from a number of cities and groups, and discussions are now underway concerning a first wave of exemplary demonstrations on an informal inter-city cooperative basis to begin already in Spring 1995.
The author is hopeful that this paper will encourage debate, inputs for further improvements, concrete follow-up actions and collaborative programs in many places. Readers are invited to address comments, project suggestions, etc., either via the ECTF ACCESS/New Mobility Library as an open communication to all readers or to us via email at email@example.com or telephone: (331) 4326.1323 or Fax (331) 4326.0746.
1. Cities, Cars & Access — What is Going On?
“Automobiles are often conveniently tagged as the villains responsible for the ills of cities and the disappointments and futilities of city planning. But the destructive effects of automobiles are much less a cause than a symptom of our incompetence at city building. The simple needs of automobiles are more easily understood and satisfied than the complex needs of cities, and a growing number of planners and designers have come to believe that if they can only solve the problems of traffic, they will thereby have solved the major problems of cities. Cities have much more intricate economic and social concerns than automobile traffic. How can you know what to try with traffic until you know how the city itself works, and what else it needs to do with its streets? You can’t.”
- Jane Jacobs, Death and Life of Great American Cities , 1961
As part of our long term New Mobility monitoring effort of the cities/cars dilemma, we have over the last dozen years methodically followed the development of promising techniques and leading edge projects around the world in what we and others have come to call centers of excellence. As a result we have been able to locate a substantial number of techniques and approaches that can be of help to those on the lookout for new ways of dealing with the vexatious challenges of sustainable transport in their city, town or neighborhood.
But if you look out the window in most of our cities this morning you have to admit that, with pitifully few exceptions, “excellence” in this general area remains a most scarce commodity. The unvarnished truth is that things look significantly worse out on the street today than they did back in the late fifties. There are indeed places which are doing rather well, those so-called centers of excellence. But they are still relatively few in number and, even in the best, it is fair to say that the battle has been only engaged — not yet won!
The harsh reality of 1994 is that there are more cars stuck in traffic than ever, for more hours of the day, the streets are more dangerous than ever (particularly for children and older people, never mind the poor foolhardy cyclist), the air is dirtier, public transport has been steadily scaled back, the quality of urban life has considerably deteriorated, and the cost of all this has steadily mounted to the detriment of all concerned. Perhaps worst news of all, while all this has been going, the very context of the problem — the shape of the city itself — has been continuously altered, pummeled and stretched in most places, to a point where one is justified in wondering whether we can ever get back to a more reasonable set of transport arrangements.
All of this would perhaps be understandable enough if nothing had been done over all these years in an attempt to make things better. But, irony of ironies, all this occurred at a time when we were devoting a great deal of professional effort and taxpayer money to the goal of solving the problems. If we take a few steps back to survey the scene, what we can see as a result of all these attempts at making things better is: first, that it has indeed cost the poor taxpayer a great deal of money, and second that in most places the basic problems have gotten worse and not better as a result.
Taking all of this together, we clearly have a situation that fits very neatly with Mrs. Jacob’s warning concerning our collective incompetence at city building. In fact, if one thinks about it, what we have in the main accomplished in many places has been precisely to unbuild our cities, combining what ultimately proved to be public policies on the one hand with carelessness and inattention on the other, in order to make them less amenable places in which to live, work and play.
2. Why Aren’t We Doing Better? (Six Bones of Contention)
After looking closely at these problems in a number of places and for a number of years, I have reached the conclusion that most observers, planners and policy makers are, for some strange reason, not taking fully into account the realities of the situations that exist in most communities. Is it possible, I asked myself, that all these people might be operating on some patently wrong assumptions? Might the reason for our flagrant inability to make the major inroads that are obviously needed be that we are somehow either unable or unwilling to see what is really going on? And if so, what then is the truth of this situation? As I labored over the accumulated evidence, I was able to come up with a handful of observations which I refer to as my six bones of contention. While simple and straight-forward enough in them-selves, together they combine to suggest that some radically different approaches are going to have to be found and put to work in order to make any major inroads on these pressing issues in most places.
1. Everybody Who Can, Will — Other Things Being Equal — Buy And Use A Car.
There is massive statistical evidence in city after city and country after country around the world that points up the general veracity of this statement. The policy key in this case is the phrase, “other things being equal”, which we shall explore a bit further on in this thinkpiece.
2. However, We Now Know that Cars Don’t Work in Cities.
At least not in all cities all the time. It is above all a problem of incompatible geometries. That much is demonstrable and unambiguous. Or, to put it a bit more moderately, there is not a city in the world that would not be greatly improved on all scores (including its economics) if it could intelligently reduce peak car traffic by, say, a factor of ten. (Notice the egregious immodesty of this objective! But as we shall see aggressive targeting is a very important element of the new policy paradigm.)
3. But, We Also Know that Cities Can Work Without Cars
There is enough evidence now to make it clear that there are a rapidly growing number of cities which are not only agreeable places to live in and visit, but which also make economic sense — despite the fact that the role of the private car has been greatly reduced over the last few years. On the other hand there is no conclusive evidence that suggests that if you take away the cars, the city will fall apart. (As with virtually every point made here, this contention requires qualification. While claiming that cites can work well with many fewer cars, this should not be taken to mean that we believe that any such transition can be handled brutally and without meticulous preparation and concertation. Improperly prepared programs can threaten the well-being of a city, no matter how laudable their ultimate objectives. There is also ample evidence that suggests that any attempt to force such programs through is going to end up being blocked sooner or later in most places — and rightly so!
4. Major Car Reductions Have Been Successfully Achieved Only in a Striking Minority of Cases
After several decades of experience at the leading edge, we know quite well what is needed in any given place to achieve major car reductions and associated amenity and efficiency improvements. But this turns out to be quite difficult indeed. Here is a shortlist of what is needed to make the transition, based on accomplishments until now:
• Far-sighted and responsible political leadership
• First rate administrators in municipal government and public service
• Competent and flexible technical expertise.
• Fine cooperation with full range of concerned public and private interests in the community
• A highly developed spirit of community and social cohesion.
• Substantial cooperation with outlying areas/extended region.
• An enduring consensus that does not depend on party politics or short term election results
• Great discipline.
• Usually a pretty wealthy city/region.
• And then anywhere from 5 to 20 years to make it all work at the level of detail that is needed to achieve fully the conversion.
Now, if this is the only demonstrated formula for success — and I can think of no other based on our study of actual achievements — this is not exactly what you would call great news for the rest of us. How many cities in the world do you think already have or are going in the next few years to have all those pre-conditions for success? Does this mean that we are first going to have to achieve all these major achievements in our cities before making the move to more rational and sustainable transport? Or might there be something that we can do for places that have not yet achieved all of the above?
4. Are Cities Without These Qualities Unlikely to Innovate Successfully?
I am afraid the answer is yes! There have been numerous examples of places that have at one time or another reached the conclusion that something had to be done about these problems, but which then, for any of a variety of reasons, were unable to turn their attempts into something that ultimately was able to change the face of the city and its transportation system efficiency. What one observes in such cases is not successful long term programs, but rather either nothing at all or occasional start and stop measures which remain at best as isolated incidents without ever achieving the broader continuity of coverage and interaction that is needed. Thus, a second-rate (or even a first-rate) pedestrian zone, shuttle bus service or occasional car-free or “air alert” day does not an New Mobility program, or a happy city make
5. Car Use/Dependence is a “Habit”.
This may not sound like a particularly dazzling observation. If true, however, it makes all the difference in the world from a policy and results perspective. It has for many years been cheerfully assumed by analysts and policy makers that cars users are “rational beings” who make choices. The received wisdom is that the user, when bit by the urge to travel and before making a final commitment to his car, first scans the range of available alternatives and, should any of these become attractive enough (or should his preferred historical choice become inconvenient enough), switch over to another mode of behavior. But after years of experience and observation (including of my own very ordinary case), it can safely be said that this is patently not true. Quite another process is involved, including one tremendous discontinuity.
For virtually all of us who have them, car dependence is an addiction, and like any deeply ingrained habit of daily life, very very hard to break! And almost wholly resistant to reason! As with any kind of addict, it is easy to be fooled by what those who are affected by it say, the reasons they give for their choices. There is thus a whole universe of reasoning, words and stated noble intentions on the one hand — and then on the other the simple, ineluctable facts of actual behavior. The truth though is that our car owner/driver is just one more addict, and all the evidence massively confirms that, like any other addict, he is going to continue to do his thing — despite his high professions or protestations to the contrary — right up until such time that he just can’t do it any more… (And please understand that we are not attempting to demonize drivers, that is not the point. Rather we are trying simply to understand what is going on, and this is, therefore, neither more nor less than the simple truth of the matter.)
3. The Need for Alternative Approaches to Breaking the Bottleneck
At this point we reach a continental divide. Either the reader agrees that the analysis set out here offers a generally accurate overview of the reality of the situation, or s/he does not. If what we say is true, it certainly suggests that radically different approaches will be required in most places — if a major breakthrough is to be on these issues made within a relatively short period of time. It would also seem to imply that no matter how much money we are prepared pour into building up public transport infrastructure, new and better vehicles, nicer transit stations, more cops on the beat, improved information systems, expanding the supply of alternative services, bike paths, and dead cheap fares, the only way that most of us drivers are ever going to leave our cars behind will be the day we no longer have that choice.
The next issue that it brings up is: what exactly does this mean for policy makers?
As we shop around for new approaches to do the job, the first bit of reality that we need to bear in mind is that the dominant model of public policy in the western world today is not the mighty sweep of the unopposed technocrat (or despot, if you prefer), but rather a far more messy set of arrangements that we refer to as democracy plus contentious pluralism. Now, if rule-by-decree had emerged as the preferred policy model in the late twentieth century (as for example in the case of Singapore) , we would be able simply to outlaw with the stroke of a pen all car traffic in specific geographic areas and at specific hours. And that would be that. After a few weeks/months of discomfort, whining and scrambling, I have no doubt at all that ingenious humankind would quite quickly figure out how to survive and eventually even prosper in this brave new environment — leaving just about everybody so much better off that there would be plenty of surplus benefit to compensate any who might actually turn out to be losers.
Seductive as it may at times though, this is of course no longer an option on Europe or most advanced democracies. So let’s step back to the real, murky and menacing world that lies crouching out there and see if we can deal with reality, a reality which is above all conditioned by that sixth and last of our “bones” — the almost total unwillingness of just about anybody in our societies to leave her/his car behind… if she or he has a choice.
Certainly by far the best way for any city or region to deal with these issues is by mounting a broadly supported, long-range program of the sort that have been carried out in leading cities across Europe and a few other outstanding places in the world. We have seen, however, that such programs succeed only in situations where extremely rigorous preconditions are met. Furthermore, that where such successful programs have been maintained, one of the most visible results of the overall system change is the extent to which the city has taken control of the car chaos that previously was making trouble — along of course with the many other things that also have to be done to make such systems work overall.
But what happens in all those places where the mandate for change has not yet received such a high level of support… the great majority? Must they remain mired indefinitely in their overall transport and amenity bottlenecks until such time that all those demanding preconditions have been met? Might there be perhaps simpler some things that can be done to “break the ice”, to get all those concerned within the city, town or neighborhood to moving in new directions on these challenges?
With this as a target, I should now like to sketch the broad outlines of a proposal for what I believe could be a relatively easy to implement “policy action project” aimed at achieving major reductions in private car use in one or more towns, neighborhoods or cities, as exemplary demonstration projects. The first and most important objective behind this proposal is to organize and run successful demonstration projects in one or more places which will be directly useful to those communities. The second is to carry out each project in a such way that it can be useful to others who might eventually find the desire and will to try something along these lines themselves — hence the term exemplary demonstrations.
The proposal is borne from a growing sense of dissatisfaction with both the results and the approaches that have been relied on in most places until now. Dissatisfaction with continued dithering in the face of what are clearly urgent and mounting problems. Dissatisfaction with calls for yet more research and analysis before actually getting around to doing something concrete that might help us in dealing with the issues that press. Dissatisfaction with the results of incremental policies and “solutions” whose only long-term impact is to make the basic problems just that much worse.
The approach builds directly on the arguments behind the six “bones of contention”. At its core, the proposal is based on the belief that, because of the heavily inertial nature of most of us and of our institutions, it is close to impossible for us to conceive of a future for the place we live in (or ourselves) which is very much different from the realities and constraints of our current daily existence. We are literally blinded by the present. For this reason, in almost all cases we end up locked into the situations in which we find ourselves — for better or for worse.
With this very human dilemma in mind, this proposal offers one way in which cities, which have somehow failed to make the break with their traditional ways, can substantially alter their perceptions of what they are and what they might become — but not in a way that will be the equivalent of jumping off a cliff with one’s eyes closed. What we are seeking to develop here is a context that will provide new ways of
1. Letting people look at their own city, and then of . . .
2. Exploring alternative patterns of behavior and social organization in a striking and credible way (say as opposed to a modeling or scenario exercise which most often is neither).
In this project the context that we propose is the streets themselves, but this time in a controlled “laboratory” environment that will give all of those who are directly concerned — political leaders, administrators, technicians and citizens alike — a collective opportunity to observe, witness, understand and then, against this real world base, decide what they should be doing next. The immediate goal will be to organize such projects so that they that can be undertaken with a broad consensus in the host community, at an acceptable level of cost, and which offer the possibility of adaptation and fine-tuning over time to ensure that whatever is achieved will be broadly acceptable and supported by the community as a whole. Until now this has been no simple task. With the Thursday approach, however, it can become considerably less daunting.
This is, it needs to be stressed, not an environmentalist or Green project. It is motivated by a deep concern with environmental and life quality considerations, but it is also closely attuned to the need for cities to be efficient economic machines as well as pleasant and healthy places to live, work and grow up in. The proposal attempts to be especially attentive to the need for “political realism”, and in particular the importance of finding ways of building up the broad base of public support within the community which is needed to ensure the long run success of the program. (A short bibliography of sources which deal with some of the main background issues is available in our Web site at http://www.ecoplan.org. For those looking for more, the bibliographies of those sources offer a strong guide.)
4. Thursday – A Breakthrough Strategy
Thursday is a proposal for a city, neighborhood or group to spend one carefully prepared day without cars. To study and observe closely what exactly goes on during that day. And then to reflect publicly on the lessons of this experience and what might be prudently and creatively done next to build on these.
The point of departure for this exercise is the determination that you cannot usefully engage in meaningful dialogue with addicts: that what you have to do is start treating them in some way. As often as not this means thrusting the poor souls (especially poor in this case, since we are in fact talking about ourselves) into a no-choice situation, at least for a time. In this particular instance our proposed “treatment” will be to find an answer to the following question in three main parts:
•a) Is there a way to get drivers out of their cars in one or more cities…
b) In ways which will be tolerable in a pluralistic democracy…
c) For at least be long enough to allow those concerned to learn a great deal more about the whole complex of things that need to be adjusted and introduced to make a car-less (or, more accurately, less-car) urban transport paradigm actually work?
One of the main tasks of planners and policy makers is (or at least should be) to ask creative questions. This one turns out to be a pretty interesting question indeed: one that presents us with quite a neat set of targets.
Harnessing a Planned or Existing Car-Free Day
There is of course nothing new about a proposal for a car-free day. In addition to a growing number of small city center closure projects and pedestrian zones of varying sizes and sorts, over the last decades there have been literally hundreds of cases of cities that have banned car traffic for a single day, some special event, or during some particular (usually crisis) period. What these projects have in common is that in virtually all cases they are handled as once-off exercises. Typically they are done, endured and quickly forgotten; little effort is made to follow up or build on the experience in a systematic way. Nor or they planned for with any great precision. Talk of them to most of the people who have lived through the experience, and they will either laugh (aggressively) or smile (perhaps somewhat ruefully). The consensus is almost always however that these are obviously approaches which can’t work in our city, at least not on any regular basis.
In the face of the inherent conservatism which is the rule in most places, perhaps the least radical car-free experiment will be to make use of some planned event as an opportunity to probe in a structured way for eventual alterations in future policy packages. In this variant, the car-free day is redefined as a collective learning experience with a view to providing new visions of how their city or neighborhood could be organized. In such cases, careful prior study, extensive consultation and concertation, and meticulous monitoring and evaluation could provide some potentially valuable insights and support for future policy changes of perhaps a more permanent nature.
This approach can be carried out at a relatively low level of cost and disruption. The great advantage is that it can help those involved to see their city and their daily lives through an entirely different set of lenses — on the condition that the community’s planners are ready to take advantage of this unique situation. Another is that, since it is based on events that are already planned and accepted, it requires no great effort at consensus building in order to get underway. Despite the modesty of its objectives, however, it must not be assumed that such a project is of only limited value. All by itself it could make a major contribution!
But it is also possible that some places may be ready to consider a somewhat more radical though still basically conservative approach. This is the one that we refer to as… Thursday.
A Thursday Program for Your City or Neighborhood
The “ice-breaking” approach that we present here is called Thursday. We suggest that the day Thursday as a target. because it is important that such a demonstration take place on a ‘normal week day’ — not, as often happens, on a holiday or weekend. The reason for this is that what we are trying to create a situation in which people will see their own city under ‘normal’ circumstances, but with altogether different eyes. If you try to do a Thursday on, say, a Sunday or holiday, you will have learned almost nothing at all about your city. Also, it is important that the project be organized (a) not on a day immediately adjacent to the week-end and (b) rather in the second half of the week than at the beginning (so that people will have enough time to get priority tasks out of the way first). Hence the choice of Thursday.
Here is how such a project might work? There will be as many variants as cities, but here is one possibility. On, say, the first working Thursday of May 1995 our city will undergo its first Car-less Thursday. From 7:00 in the morning to 19:00 at night, no private cars will be allowed on the city street. The run-up to this day will be extremely important and should involve meticulous preparatory work over at least several months or so involving the organizing team and a very large number of people, institutions, players, media, etc., so that all those concerned have plenty of time to get their fully act together for that first fatal day. Subsequent to that experience, there will be a (three month?) hiatus during which time the experience can be studied, better understood, broadly discussed and then fine tuned for eventual next stages or steps.
It is perhaps reasonable to ask, how are all those people to get around in the city on that first Thursday? Will life in the city come to a complete standstill? Will the existing public transport operations crack under the strain? Will stores and businesses just close their doors?
It is perhaps not uninteresting to reflect on how those who live in your own city or neighborhood will handle this situation, with a little planning and forethought. Certainly there will be employees who “call in sick” or just don’t call in at all, and there will be employers that will do nothing to prepare for that day and then simply refuse to pay all no-shows. But will that be the majority? There will be a rich array of potential ways of dealing with this exceptional situation. Some will take a bus or bike, others will run or walk, then there is the possibility of group rides in taxis, Park+Ride, special shuttle services, cross-school programs, teleworking, simply taking home some ‘home work’, using the time to take care of a medical visit to a nearby facility, spend a day with the family, clean out the attic….
The point is that, with enough preparation and collaboration, it need not be the worst day of the year for all involved. For many, it could be one of the best and most interesting.
And for those who live or go into the center, and for all the rest, the importance of the monitoring and follow-up program will be critical. How did you like the way your city looked on Thursday? Were there any important differences? How inconvenient was it for you to deal with it? What might be done to make it better if we were all to agree to do it again?
I shall not, at this point, get into the richness of the activities that could eventually be carried out in many quarters of the city in order to enrich and build on this new fabric of urban life. The point is, quite simply, that what we would have here is already the making of a major paradigm shift — but, this time, getting time on our side, giving people a chance to adjust to both the constraints and the new advantages of the changed situation, and to make, in due course, what may be some very interesting and creative decisions which would quite possibly never have come up if we had not somehow got things off the dime and moving in a new directions.
This will require a process of deep consultation and activist planning that will bring in (just to start the list) public transport operators (public and private), taxis, police, the people who handle the traffic signal timing, schools, store owners, employers of all sizes and ilks, doctors, social service organizations and groupings, etc. In the final analysis, whatever the limitations of the experience, it will be for many an opportunity to view both their town and their own lives from a new and quite different perspective. On those grounds alone, it would have to be counted as a useful experience.
An All-Cities Thursday Program
One possibility that is now getting considerable attention is that of organizing Thursday demonstrations in a number of places at the same time, either within the same country or even on a multi-country basis. The advantage of such cross-project collaboration will be immediately apparent. Not only will the media impact be potentially much greater, but also the possibility for inter-city collaboration should help to ensure better and stronger projects. And then there is the usefulness of emulation, as cities look at each other, learn from each other, and try to do perhaps just a bit better than some of the others.
What Will Happen After That First Thursday?
A poorly prepared project will — for sure! — fall flat. But there is no reason that such a project cannot be done very well indeed. Nor do we recommend it for just any city. The choice of site will be very important. This is, quite obviously, not the sort of thing that can be imposed by planners or central authorities. It must be a project which has the enthusiastic endorsement both of the community’s leaders and, in time, of the great majority of its citizens and institutions. If such an undertaking is perceived as being thrust on the city by some sort of distant central administration, it will never succeed. Thus, a Thursday project must, in each case, be the result of a strong social consensus in that place.
Of course, if the results of the trial are considered to be unsatisfactory, there will be no reason to consider moving ahead on this basis. If the project is a flop, it is just not repeated. At worst, the cost of failure was not unbearably high (certainly many orders of magnitudes less than an urban rail project which is unable to attract the targeted ridership or a lot of nearly empty buses scuttling around the city streets or stuck in traffic). In point of fact, even if the experiment is judged as unsatisfactory, as long the initial preparation and the parallel effort of monitoring and feedback are handled well, a great deal of useful information and ideas can be gleaned in the process.
From the outset the idea should be to look for ways to adapt and extend the Thursday program on a more continuing basis — building on experiences which are considered by the community as successful. Thus for example, once the result of that first Thursday have been analyzed and discussed, a second Thursday project could be organized, say three months after the first. Then if that works the game could change and things could shift into a higher gear. In this stage, the city might move into a situation where the car is out the first Thursday of every month. That stage might last for, say, a year, and will entail monitoring, measuring, discussion, confrontation, education, and adaptation.
The main objective of this stage would be to lay the groundwork for what happens next, one year later, when perhaps the city will decide to begin in September 1996 with every Thursday…..
5. Notes on Implementation
Such a program will best be initiated and carried out individually by each town, city or rural community as a self-organized cooperative venture of a highly spontaneous sort. It is my considered view that any attempt by any external body at central direction or even “orchestration” of what must in the final analysis be highly individualistic and self-contained local initiatives, will only lessen their chances of success. Each “placescape” is going to be unique in many ways, therefore highly resistant to uniform approaches or standardization. Indeed, the very fact that many different variations and approaches are possible will be in the interest of all concerned. The strength of the Thursday program is in numbers, diversity and total reliance on local initiative, thus all centralizing or homogenizing influences must be fiercely resisted.
That said, it will be most useful if some sort of means of communication, feedback and results sharing can be established among the various independent demonstrations. There will be many common elements and needs, and much to be gained through an enthusiastic and totally voluntary and self-regulated sharing among those cities and communities which decide to take part. Here are some of the areas in which cross-city collaboration could be mutually helpful:
• Materials and expertise sharing in general
• Development of activity checklists (e.g. preparatory tasks to complete, organizations to involve, etc.)
• Tool sharing (both in terms of the analytic tools which are needed to put a strong project in place, and then subsequently to monitor its performance, shortcomings, requirements for fine-tuning, etc.)
• Media kits and guidelines
• Peer support
• Networking and communications systems (cross-city, regional, national, etc., including integrated “War Rooms” for information and expertise sharing at different levels)
• Perhaps eventually even cross- or collaborative-financing
In due course there will also be an important “kit building” role, which could bring together all of the best of the practices, materials and routines in such a way that later Thursday projects will be able to benefit from the previous experience of the others. (Kit building, though, we must never forget, is a technique which assists and enhances but does not take the place of individual initiative, judgment or control.)
There will be numerous ways of approaching the networking aspects of these collaborative undertakings. One possibly worth thinking about is to make use of The Commons or similar appropriate WWW sites, but which today serves as a fairly efficient channel of information and communications which is available for all who might be interested. Another will be to encourage existing networks of cities and public interest groups to take an active role in encouraging demonstration and action programs along these lines, possibly as Thursday programs but equally well as projects that they would tailor to the special circumstances of their members and mandates.
This leaves us in closing with the question: What is the appropriate role of central or regional government and other such “external” institutions in such projects? If these initiatives are be entirely locally driven, accomplished, evaluated, etc., as indeed they should be, the answer is that regional, national and even international institutions can help, but in a much more discrete way and with a much lighter touch than has characteristically been the case in the past, where centralized decision-making, purse strings and technocratic projects were the main mode of public sector operation. In projects such as these government (other than local government, whose full and enthusiastic participation holds the key to success) can learn to play a very useful enabling function, which can extend to support in all of the areas indicated in the above list and yet others. This will be a new and quite different mode of operation for many public institutions and agencies, but the Thursday projects could also serve them as good learning experiences, since this is exactly the sort of thing they are going to have to get a lot better at in many areas in the future– and not just transport.
6. What Happens if You Don’t Happen to Be a City?
Agreeable as the idea may be, there will be many who will find themselves in situations where their city or neighborhood will not be prepared to make the leap and try a Thursday project. How for example can even the most willing citizen hope to participate in such an experiment if you happen to live in the middle of Los Angeles, London, Tokyo or any other of tens of thousands of cities where responsible intelligent people will tell you that “it is just not possible here”? (And that will, incidentally, be the first reaction in most places.)
As luck would have it you have a choice. Anyone who wishes can go out and organize their own Thursday project on their own terms. You don’t have to be a city or even a small town. Thus, for example, if you are president of a company, you can get together with those who work there and ask them if they are interested in giving it a try. Or a school or a gym or a hospital. Perhaps you will decide with the members of your bridge club, church or karate group that you are all going to try to see what happens if each of you decides to spend just one day without getting into a car by yourselves alone. Or maybe just the people in your family. Or possibly just yourself — one person alone who has decided that she or he is willing to take a fling to see what it might be like.
There will of course be no one best way to do it. Each person, group, and place is going to have to figure out the rules on their own. In some cases, car pooling and shared taxis may be considered acceptable, in others only non-motorized or public transport. Each grouping will decide its own rules and live its own experience. But the point that I wish to stress is that this can be an individual decision and does not have to be something that comes out of some government agency or very large collections of institutions and interests. This is, quite blatantly, not the sort of approach that will appeal to docile, fatalistic or passive citizens. These are concepts that are going to be picked up only by more thoughtful, individualistic, self-confident individuals and groups. And it is my belief that there are in our societies many more of these kinds of people than most might think.
One of the challenges behind each Thursday project will be to find imaginative ways for all those who decide to participate not only to have their own unique experiences on that day, but also to get together later so that what they have done and learned individually during that fated day can somehow be summed up and inspected from a community or group wide perspective. This suggests a combination of something like individual log books wherein each participant or group can record the detail of their particular experiences, and then some way of adding these experiences up in order o draw some larger lessons from the whole. I have no specific suggestions at this point how the detail of this will best be handled, but I am confident that once the problem has been clearly posed, there will be people and groups who know what to do next. Good organization and careful planning will help, and so too could sensible use of state of the art electronic communications.
* * *
Annex A: New Mobility – 1988-1994 Program Summary
The New Mobility Agenda is an international collaborative program (originally called ACCESS) first established in 1988 as an independent non-bureaucratic support effort aimed directly at the challenge of first defining and then implementing sustainable transportation systems. The program builds on more than two decades of cross-disciplinary research and advisory work with the problems of transport, the economy, energy, environment, industry and quality of life, and more generally with the broader challenges of managing technology in society.
The point of departure for the New Mobility Agenda was the obvious conflict between cars and cities. But that was only the beginning. The next step was to recognize a gradually growing uneasiness that something has gone badly wrong: that private cars no longer work particularly well in cities, or at least not all cars in all cities. This hard fact is proving awkward for planners and policymakers alike. Despite the problems they have brought in their wake, cars continue to perform a variety of functions and are perceived by many people as essential to their daily lives. As a result they have been planned into the system. And now that they are in there, their extreme complexity of function effectively rules out any easy solutions.
For this reason we cannot in most places sensibly talk about cities without cars — but rather places with fewer and much better managed cars. The problem of cars in cities is, in truth, part of a much broader set of social and technology management issues which are coming into increasingly high relief. The links to pressing environmental and energy concerns are obvious and critical, as are impacts on quality of life, safety, urban form and economic efficiency. More subtle are the links between cars and human behavior, including such problems as urban isolation, alienation, violence, rejection of responsibility, and loss of human vitality, intimacy and neighborliness. A great deal of good work is going on in many places around the world aimed at parts of this complex problem, but much of this is not widely known. And there is a requirement for altogether new approaches which has yet to be met.
It was against this background that the New Mobility Agenda was established, with the goal of developing a long term (ten year), independent and vigorous international collaborative effort, untrammeled by bureaucratic requirements and run on an open basis with creative inputs and sup-port from a wide variety of co-operating individuals, sources and institutions.
Five objectives were set for the period 1989-98:
1. Provide concrete evidence showing how modern communities can work without today’s overwhelming and damaging dependence on cars — drawing attention to leading techniques, groups and places that have successfully tackled parts of the problem.
2. Encourage the development of much broader agendas of issues and approaches to the problems of transport in cities — thereby bringing into the discussions and solution process actors and interests beyond the limits of traditional transport agencies and specialists.
3. Contribute to improving international communications, co-ordination and ex-changes of information and expertise in the full range of disciplines and approaches involved — so that each new project is able to build knowledgeably on the experience and accomplishments of the past.
4. Work to stimulate further research, tools development and problem solving as needed to improve our collective knowledge and mastery of these issues — and find the means to inform and involve the public in both the debate and the decision process.
5. Encourage and contribute to exemplary projects and programs in leading communities, working in close collaboration with highly qualified local partner groups and sponsoring institutions.
The Thursday program is one more example of the sort of activist approach which we believe to be needed.
Annex B. Other Tools To Get The Job Done
Studies, reports, debriefings, conferences and “more research” have been the main tools of trade of university educated policy advisors over the last decades. All are of course highly respectable and have their uses — but also their limits and abuses. Given these limits and that the issues that concern us are complex and systemic, and further that they involve reconciling the positions of groups and interests which are usually far from identical and often highly conflicted, we must be prepared to try other less “academic” approaches to knowledge-building, communications, conflict resolution and, finally, to the mobilization of opinion and resources that is now required. Instead of always accepting automatically that the right next move is to have a technocratic ‘elite’ generate yet more paper (and that in a society that increasingly won’t read, never mind act on what they read!), may I propose in closing that we bear in mind the powerful educational levels and competence of civil society in 1994 and that we should in the future, therefore, be giving far more importance to such things as …
1. Standing around and watching carefully what is really going on
2. Insisting always on the use of simple language
3. Looking for ways to heighten the impact of words (written or spoken, and which does not always necessarily mean even more words)
4. Not excluding humor, wit, jokes, irony (& even the possibility of bad taste, if that’s what it takes to increase the level of critical thinking and creativity) from policy discussions
5. Using photographs, photo essays, film, architectural renderings, video scenarios, cartoons, posters, drawings and other forms of lively graphic expression and characterization — to impart greater depth and impact to the issues and realities being faced
6. Using these techniques to illustrate alternative futures and policy options, in ways which render them striking and understandable.
7. Polls, surveys, feedback monitoring schemes which improve awareness of the diversity of needs and views – not as instruments to indicate easily satisfied uniform conditions and values.
8. Creative use of small samples (cheaper, faster and sometimes even more accurate)
9. Imaginative linking of quantitative analysis with more vivid information concerning the real impacts on individuals, families, firms & communities
10. Socioeconomic analysis, studies and portrayals of actual daily life experience
11. “Day in the life of … ” profiles, scenarios, stories, rapportages & other “literary” treatments
12. Books and articles on these challenging issues aimed at informing and involving the general public (as opposed to only the usual specialist or academic readers)
13. Editorials, columns and op-ed pieces (carefully written) to hammer the key points home
14. Games, educational and others, using a wide variety of media
15. Contests, competitions to elicit broader, more vigorous and more imaginative participation in all stages
16. More brilliant use of “commercials”, spots, etc., to achieve educational and social objectives
17. Events, books, images, programs aimed at informing and socializing children
18. Finding ways to involve children actively both in the collective learning experience and in the solution process
19. Use of the school system as a resource, to carry out surveys, mini-studies, demonstrations, parent education and activism on these issues, etc.
20. Using town halls, libraries, museums and other public places including the streets themselves as centers of exposition and public debate
21. New techniques of knowledge building (including opening up of the policy process to public participants in new and more far-reaching ways)
22. Active networking at all levels of society, and using an increasing variety of media
23. Electronic bulletin boards, networking, conferencing, new group work/groupware techniques
24. Use of simulations, artificial intelligence, etc. to encourage depiction, emergence, and collective consideration of broader solution sets
25. Innovative techniques of conflict resolution (including iterative adversary pro-grams using video, audio and other feedback techniques)
26. Town meetings & other fora of debate, consensus building & group decision
27. Process-oriented projects involving the semi-structured use of things like brain-storming sessions, roundtables, confrontations of opposing points of view-all oriented to attain specific objectives
28. Cross-project and cross-country support by policy gurus, networks & public interest consortia
29. Demonstrations of new ways of doing things (properly prepared, carefully monitored & flexibly fine-tuned for results)
30. New partnerships with radio, television and the media, which increase public awareness of both issues and trade-offs, as well as direct public involvement in the solution process
31. Active investigation & learning from post-mortems of project experience, both successful & other
Thursday, quite obviously, is an approach which comes out of this general way of thinking. But since variety and intensity of effort to promote better understanding and action are vital, we also need to bear in mind that it is only one of many things that are going to have to be looked and tried in order for us to get control of our own futures. As Jane Jacobs put it so well many decades ago: “The processes that occur in our [societies] are not arcane, capable of being understood only by experts. They can be understood by almost anybody. Many ordinary people already understand this; they simply have not considered that by understanding these ordinary arrangements of cause and effect, we can also direct them. If we chose to.”
# # #
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France
Bio: Trained as a development economist, Eric Britton is MD of EcoPlan International, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change and sustainable development. His forthcoming book, “Toward a General Theory of Transport in Cities”, is being presented, discussed and critiqued in a series of international conferences, master classes, workshops and media events over 2014. (More at http://wp.me/PsKUY-2p7)