Welcome back to Sunday Reading.

First, a quick follow-up story. A few weeks ago I posted a funny/tragic story about how the leaders of a Florida transit agency don’t use their own service. It seems Stuff picked up on the idea and did a local version of it- “How do Auckland Transport’s leaders get to work?“.  The responses were impressive.

On AT’s nine-member executive team, there are just two people who occasionally drive to work: chief stakeholder relationships officer Wally Thomas, who lives in West Auckland drives when working in Henderson, but gets the train two to three times a week when working in the city; and chief people officer Simon Harvey, who also lives in West Auckland and alternates between driving and public transport.

Everyone else travels exclusively by bus, train or foot.

Straphanger author Taras Grescoe reports about how cities are dealing with the growing trend of terrorists using vehicles as weapons. It’s on of the trends that’s leading to increased pedestrianisation and physical barriers that protect pedestrians. Taras Grescoe, “Another Good Reason to Make Cities Car-Free“, New York Times.

Crowded pedestrian zones like Las Ramblas, the Thames waterfront and Charlottesville’s downtown mall are not going away. Nor should they. In a century that is seeing a renewed love affair with the city, these public spaces – which are central to our hopes for progress and prosperity – are growing ever more vital. But it shouldn’t take a security consultatn to explain the obvious: The very thing that makes these revitalized city centers so attractive to visit and to live and work in is what also makes them attractive targets for terrorists, and even the plain deranged.

The most obvious solution would be to ban vehicles from these zones. And many cities in Europe are taking this approach, extending the areas from which vehicles are prohibited. Copenhagen was a pioneer: The vast downwtown pedestrian zone known as Stroget has been steadily expanded since cars were first banned there in 1062.

Recently, however, on some cities, security concerns are acknowledged as the motivation for creating pedestrian-only zones. After the truck-ramming attack in Nice, oficials in Antwerp, Belgium, erected retractable bollards on side streets off the Meir, the main commercial artery closing it to traffic during the busiest shopping hours. On Fridaym Copenhagen’s municipal council cited the attacks in Nice and Barcelona when it announced a plan to further expand the city’s car-free zone.

In many cities, for either practical or political reasons, a complete ban on the private vehicles is unlikely. But given a newly heightened awareness of vehicle-ramming attacks, many city administrators are working on smart ways of separating cars and crowds.

A lot of big European cities are restricting vehicle access – Oslo, Madrid, and Barcelona… Here’s a smaller Spanish town that been moving to remove cars for twenty years. Ignacio Amigo, “How a city in Spain got rid of its cars“, Cityscope.

But it’s not just the streets near City Hall that have been transformed. According to the city administration’s numbers, motor traffic in Pontevedra’s historical centre has been reduced by an unbelievable 97 percent since 1999. Traffic is down 77 percent in the areas adjacent to the centre, and by 53 percent in the city as a whole.

As a result, quality of life in Pontevedra has drastically improved. The city hasn’t suffered a single traffic fatality since 2011. The air is cleaner and the city’s carbon dioxide emissions are significantly lower. A walk in the city speaks for itself: Children play outdoors, elders get around easily and the few cars that pass by — mostly delivery vans — drive cautiously.

People in Pontevedra are happy with these changes. In fact, they are so happy that Lores is currently serving his fifth consecutive term. The mayor’s good work is also recognized abroad. In recent years, the city has been piling up prizes and awards that the mayor proudly displays at a table in his office. It’s all proof that even small cities like Pontevedra can come up with big innovations that improve the lives of their people in palpable ways.

“What we did is to create loops to keep people from driving through the city,” Lores explains. “If you enter by the south, you leave by the south.”

The goal of this strategy, which is complemented by severe parking restrictions in all of the central area, is to get rid of what Pontevedra officials call “unnecessary traffic”. This traffic includes vehicles that drive through the city instead of around it, and those searching for a place to park. While hourly street parking is not allowed in the central area, there are a few free street parking spots where anyone can leave the car for 15 minutes. On the other hand, free parking is available in garages at the city fringes, encouraging visitors to leave their cars a short walk away from the centre.

Here’s host Jennifer Keesmaat of the Invisible City Podcast interviewing Jarrett Walker about public transport. Keesmaat will be speaking at the Auckland Conversations on 22 September.

Changing subjects, here are a couple of articles on human cognition and cities: Charles Marohn, “Autism, PTSD and the City“, Strong Towns.

What impact should this all of this have on how we build our cities? How do our cities impact cognitive disorders? I will acknowledge being both a huge fan of traditional architectural styles — particularly classical architecture — and having a loathing for modernism and nearly all its variations. I’ve argued, as have others, that classical architecture is timeless, thus resilient. I want eyes on the street, front porches, windows and neighbors waving as I pass. I’ve argued that we should be humble and learn from what worked in the past, not so eager — and arrogant — to dispense with it.

Yet is my call for humility a form of arrogance? Am I ignoring the very real trauma that influenced a generation to seek something new? Am I ignoring the difficulties that (a potentially growing number of) those with ASD and PTSD experience day in and day out? It breaks my heart to think that something that gives me such comfort -—a well designed street lined with friendly homes and shops — could cause someone else great pain and anxiety.

Mike Phillips, “The World’s Top Neuroscientists Are Helping Shape The Future Of Cities“, Forbes.

Urban streets with their huge mass of stimuli create cognitive overload that can diminish our attention span and hamper our ability to deal with stress. On the flip side, suburban areas, where pavements are empty because everyone has to drive, create isolation and loneliness that research shows can lead to higher rates of substance abuse, depression and loneliness among teens living there.

“In the past you just had to rely on what people said about how people felt about a particular environment, if it made them feel stressful or calm,” Future Cities Catapult Chief Business Officer Scott Cain said. “Now we can give them a headset and see how their brain reacts in various settings.”

This is a harsh story about the rebuilld underway in Christchurch. It’s looking like one of the biggest missed opportunities of this generation. Stuff, “The future isn’t going anywhere, so why did Christchurch rebuild the city of yesterday?“, John McCrone.

Goodall says the earthquakes with their massive insurance payouts – an injection of some $33 billion into a community of about a third of a million – were supposed to be the opportunity to create the first new city of the 21st Century.

Instead we largely rushed to build the last version of a 20th Century city ever to be constructed, he says.

“The cruel irony is that Christchurch has just built brand new last century infrastructure. For free, we had all the old infrastructure removed. But then what we did was put yesterday back there.”

The question now is whether the dash is done – everyone is too exhausted – or if adventure and ambition can come back into the picture.

That’s it for this week. Please add your links in the comments below.

The featured image: Ellen Melville Hall in Freyberg Place, Auckland, High Street (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 580-7217)

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15 comments

  1. Great reading as always. Love the Taras Grescoe comment about Copenhagen: “the vast downwtown pedestrian zone known as Stroget has been steadily expanded since cars were first banned there in 1062”.

    One of my favourite places on earth. Pretty sure it was car free before then though.

  2. Thanks for the links. The fracturing of Christchurch into a core city and an edge city is a shame. To me it highlights the importance in policy terms of having carbon prices and resource (water?) limits. Without them corporations do not do the right thing. Governments can lead with some projects, but it is not enough.

  3. While those who administer Auckland public transport also use it, what about the politicians, local and national, who ultimately decide what public transport there is and how it works? How many of them actually use the public transport they control?

  4. Thanks for another interesting post. The Marohn article on city design with regard to autism and PTSD made sense. I read a book last summer ” Landscape and urban design for health and well-being : using healing, sensory, therapeutic gardens” by Gayle Souter-Brown which delved into similar issues. Autism was covered, but so too were other conditions that were improved by highly sensory environments. My conclusion then was that we need a huge variety of gardens and parks to meet the needs of everyone – sparse clean lines for autistic people, jumbles of textures, scents, forms for those needing stimulation, and variety for the majority of people (who like different things in different moods).

    As regards modernist or brutalist architecture lacking in details and windows: perhaps this is another reason for distinctive neighbourhoods? Psychologists have found many reasons for why a more classical architectural style is more welcoming and creates a more empathetic response in people. Simple modern lines in some neighbourhoods to appeal to people with PTSD or autism sounds good to me, rather than interspersing those styles with older, more stimulating architecture.

  5. only a matter of time before some religious nutjob packs an autonomous car full of dynamite and sends it into a packed mall or equivalent.

    as for christchuch it was plain from day one that gerry brownlee wasnt upto the task of [re]building a modern city.

    1. Indeed, the day he said transport would be put to the side and ruled out any expansion of light rail, and waxed lyrical about copious parking was the day I knew ChCh didn’t have someone up to the task in charge of its rebuild.

  6. Great Sunday read. Both Melbourne and Brisbane have done some hard work pedestrianizing spaces and it has certainly paid off. Without delving too far into the past, I wonder if in both cases it was a river (Yarra and Brisbane rivers) running through these cities that helped provide the catalyst for pedestrianized recreational spaces starting with; along the river.

    Chrstchurch – I have family living there. At the time of the earthquakes and those early decision-making timeframes for the rebuild, I suspected, as did others, that the future of Christchurch was in the hands of people with no vision. It wasn’t just Brownlee, it was boring “blokey” white corporate New Zealand that have delivered a personality-free Christchurch rebuild to date.

    More’s the shame as Christchurch people, my family included were too busy dealing with today, and tomorrow and correctly focusing on rebuilding homes and families. It seemed frivolous to me to be pontificating about architecture and urban planning in such a situation.

    Now that Christchurch has time to take stock, it has the opportunity to take back its city. Maybe living with, and nurturing the Heathcote and Avon Rivers, will yet provide the chance for Christchurch to become a great city. Will now Google earth Copenhagen….

  7. It good to see AT bosses regularly using public transport. But the question has to be asked if they see the problems that others see every day why are the fixes taking so long? Why isn’t there a better measure of delivery by operators rather than self reporting? And the list goes on.

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