The Great Leap China Car Free Days Idea Factory (Draft)

Chengdu China looking at caps on carsIt’s soon 2007 and we have now accumulated more than a dozen years of international experience with Car Free Days of many sorts in many places. Against this background the goal of this proposed group thinking exercise is to see what we might get out of it if we launch an open group brainstorm on how the best of this experience and past lessons may be put to work in in the months and years immediately ahead.

Caution: We are certainly not talking here about anything like some direct “transfer of experience”, not least because in fact the overall record of accomplishment of the Car Free Days movement internationally is, despite occasional successes, hardly what one might call a model of success. But there are in all this some germs of ideas, and the goal of this group think and talk exercise will be to see if we can scratch together and come up with something that might have some uses.

(Please forgive that this early article needs to be carefully reworked and reformatted. It is hard to read in this form. Sorry for the inconvenience but in the hope that there is a thought or two here thar might be of use as our Chinese colleagues prepare for a major push to CFDs in cities across China..)

I. Three Great Truths: of China, Cars and the Future.

  1. They are going to be more and more cars coming onto the streets and roads of China — and coming at rates never seen anywhere in the world in the past. And these cars will be used. Ineluctably. And there is nothing that anyone else can do about it.It is thus not only an ‘all-China’ problem, but it is also an ‘only-China’ problem when it comes to addressing and solving it.
  2. There are at least three basic reasons why this challenge truly needs to be met, as a huge priority:
    • For the country and its citizens, its environment and its future;
    • For the rest of the world in terms of the potential for huge world wide negative environmental and climate impacts; and
    • For a world badly in need of new models of behaviour and collective problem solving in areas such as these.

On the positive side of the ledger, the Chinese elephant is just about unique in the world, in that it is one which can turn on a dime, when it decides to. This means, for better or worse, that once the political decisions have been made at the appropriate level, the country can embrace entirely new patterns of behaviour.

II. The Challenge

  1. These very very large numbers of cars are going to have enormous environmental, social and economic impacts.
  2. Much of this is going to be very negative indeed.
  3. The absorption capacity of almost all Chinese cities and towns for these large numbers of new cars are very very limited.
  4. There are however choices – though it would seem that these are not very clear to those who are making the decisions (or really much anyone else) these days.
  1. The ‘time locks”: There are two that come to mind:

a. Most important, the environmental and other impacts which are already underway and which threaten the country both in specific places and indeed as a whole.

b. And the coming great events, including the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the 2010 World’s Fair in Shanghai.

It may be that for various reasons it will be the concerns about the latter which drive the move toward a pattern break.

The country is keen to innovate and to demonstrate new patterns in the process.

1.Use all the available distance and group work tools to somehow get together with Chinese experts, politicians, the media and civil society to have a look at one specific idea —  To concentrate entirely on the challenges of cars in towns and cities.

2.To carry out this idea search in a way that those of us who are not Chinese understand fully that our role if any is simply to try to lend a hand on the understanding that the ultimate decisions and solutions will be entirely of their doing. Put in other terms our goal is to put our experience and a certain number or raw materials into their hands for them to work with. the, I would like to call them, Enrique Penalosa Car Free Days in Bogotá. (I will be pleased to discuss why I chose to call them as such.)

3. The South African national Car Free Days program. Again the goal here is not to select some sort of ‘top ten’ projects as in a beauty contest, but to see if we can open up the exchanges with a first handful of real world examples that differ from each other and might possibly have application potential in the activities that we would like to help make happen there.

4. How to develop and advance these ideas: b. On the other hand this will have to outreach to bring in the many people and programs who have expertise and competence in these areas. This is quite a long list and perhaps at a next stage we can begin to scope it out as well. i. Some kind of dynamic Wiki(pedia) group work project iii. World Streets at

5.One idea that I would like to see receiving some attention from the beginning, is not so much that of a uniform national program along the lines that the French and EC have pushed, but rather perhaps a Cities Program, even some sort of cooperative competition in which specific cities carve out a particular idea that they are ready to run with, and to this in public and as a contribution not only to their own citizens but also to other cities and groups across China who are looking for ideas that can make a difference

6. The self-organized Car Free Day events in PastoColombia.

7. T he Italian Ecological Sundays – (Domeniche Ecologiche)

Here are two possibly useful examples that I propose we start by looking over and discussing to see what if any useful lessons can be derived from them. (This is my personal shopping list on this and I put it forth her just to get the ball rolling. You will surely have  ideas of your own.)

b. NOT to accept any of the existing Car Free Day models, but rather to search and innovate one that just might open the door to new thinking and new practices which can possibly lead to a major “pattern break” and a new model, both for China and for the world.

2.Specifically to see what might be done if they were to build on the dozen plus years of experimentation and lessons learned in the Car Free Days movement in many other places.

Next Step: the First Great Leap Brainstorm – and Distance conference from Paris

(Stay tuned)

# # #

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Educated as an international development economist, Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher and sustainability activist who has worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change, civil society and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets: The Politics of Transport in Cities | See Britton online at and @ericbritton

View complete profile



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s