Vision: Some first reflections on what is, what can be a “Soft City”.

To create a city that works for all, we need to have a vision. Policy without vision is like driving blind-folded. In this short posting we would like to explore the vision of a Soft City.  You will have your own ideas on this but here are ours.  And of course your comments and suggestions are as always most welcome.

  1. The Soft City is recognizable. Has a clear sense of identity. When you’re there you know where you are.
  2. Proximity: In contrast with the reality of sprawl and limited accessibility for the majority,  a place where many things you need in your daily life are within a comfortable and safe walk or bike ride.
  3. The Soft City is quiet and clean.
  4. And safe – for all but above all for women and children (who are visibly apparent on the street).
  5. There are people on the streets (eyes on the street, assuring safety and amenity).
  6. Traffic is light, unobtrusive and moves slowly – in tempo with the others sharing the street.
  7. It offers schools, education and culture
  8. And commerce, services and jobs.
  9. It is diverse, the people there do not look like clones.
  10. Active civil society, caring groups and NGOs to speak for and defend vulnerable populations.
  11. Open government, open data
  12. May well be a satellite city in a larger metropolitan region. A city within a city.
  13. It is soft on the planet and has a strategy to reduce GHG and other harmful emissions.
  14. It is self-governed – and the people there vote.
  15. You want to live there.


And when it comes to mobility and public space:

  1. The city offers more and better mobility choices.
  2. An active policy guaranteeing fair mobility and access for all who live there.
  3. A place you can live quite happily without owning a car.
  4. But offers a considerable range of other, mainly shared modes (carsharing, ridesharing, bike sharing, shared taxis, DRT, electrical transit systems (urban rail, trams, trolleybuses)
  5. It is plugged in, smart if you will. Transportation is 50% information.
  6. It has a strategic parking policy working to reduce the space of the parked car in the city (rendering this valuable public space available for other social and amenity uses)
  7. The body of existing experience and knowledge is altogether sufficient and available to those cities that would put it to work. It is not a knowledge problem.
  8. Nor a technology problem (the technology is there, proven and waiting to be put to work)
  9. Nor is it a money problem.
  10. It is a leadership and public awareness challenge (the hardest of all).

This may see very idealistic. But if you do a bit of research you can see soft cities emerging, above all but not only in Western Europe.  The Soft City is an emerging reality.  An invitation to democracy. And plenty of listening, hard work and making sure there are better choices

# # #

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Trained as a development economist, Eric Britton is a public entrepreneur specializing in the field of sustainability and social justice. 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 and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets, his latest work focuses on the subject of equity, economy and efficiency in city transport and public space, and helping governments to ask the right questions -- and in the process, find practical solutions to urgent climate, mobility, life quality and job creation issues. More at:

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