Another urban design

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By RICARDO ABRAMOVAY*

The restriction on car advertising in France and the possibility of a new, more compact, connected and integrated city

Automakers were outraged by the French government's decision to treat car advertising similar to cigarette advertising. As of March 2022, advertisers will have to remind the public that bikes, walking, car sharing and public transport are better than individual car use. And, in 2028, SUV advertising will simply be banned, by decision of parliament.

The French governmental orientation is consistent with the policy of the fifteen minutes city, that is, with the idea that mobility infrastructure should allow people's daily commutes to take up no more than fifteen minutes of their time. It is the answer to one of the most important contemporary paradoxes: the individual automobile, a symbol of freedom, of the wide spaces covered in a short time, has become its opposite, a synonym of congestion, paralysis, waste of material resources and one of the most neurotic modern life icons. The verbal and gestural violence to which individuals are prone in their cars is much rarer when traveling on foot or by bicycle…

Part of this paradox is the fact that, in the overwhelming majority of cities in developing countries, individual vehicle owners occupy most of the circulation space and enjoy public investments aimed at improving traffic, with results close to those of someone who wipes ice .

Hence the importance of “demobility”, a neologism that came from France in the early 2000s and which gained even greater prominence with the intensification of telecommuting during the pandemic. as it shows Julien Damon, one of its most important scholars, “demobility” is not paralysis. It is, above all, the ability to avoid painful displacements. It is a question of reducing the long and painful journeys to which the poorest are particularly subject — and increasing those made by choice and under dignified conditions.

But “demobility” faces notable obstacles. These obstacles are a good example of the difficulties linked to the fight against the climate crisis itself. The distribution of people and activities (economic, cultural, leisure) in cities is very diverse. There are cities characterized by population density in areas where activities and services are concentrated and where the goal of rapid displacement can be achieved at a relatively low cost. In general, these are cities that, during the 20th century, built dense networks of public transport and where commercial activities and residences are not rigidly separated. These cities are close to what the UN agency specialized in this subject recommends, the Habitat: compact, connected and integrated cities.

There are others whose urban design goes in the opposite direction – and where transport by buses powered by diesel or gasoline, covering long distances and facing congestion, is what dominates a significant part of the trips.

Um recent study by the Center for Cities compares mobility in British urban agglomerations with that prevailing in the rest of Europe. In mainland cities, 67% of people arrive from the suburbs to the center in a maximum of 30 minutes. In the British cities covered in the study, this total does not exceed 40%. This is not due to the larger areas occupied by British cities when compared to the rest of Europe, but to the fact that on the continent more people live in central areas and close to public transport.

The inefficiency of the British transport network (due to the dispersed patterns of occupation of its urban territories) has an annual cost of £23,1 billion (R$ 165 billion). This cost derives basically from the fact that the distance from large centers reduces people's access to the best jobs and reduces the positive effects of agglomerations and, therefore, productivity and economic performance. Rome and Manchester, for example, are the same size, but, by the Center for Cities' calculations, Rome is 55% more productive than Manchester — largely due to the difference in access time to the centers where jobs and services are located. more important.

The study's message is that it is not enough to electrify the vehicle fleet. Clogged traffic and long distances with electric vehicles (or those powered by ethanol) are better than with gasoline or diesel cars. The most important thing, however, is to value the areas close to public transport stations and, above all, to prevent the depletion of population in large centers.

Of course, this is an issue that involves city halls, but at the same time, it has a decisive national dimension. Programs such as Minha Casa Minha Vida (which, as shown Servant Lion, was called by Jaime Lerner “My House, My Life, My End of the World”) increase the “costs of living far away”, as was amply demonstrated by the works of Choices Institute.

Reoccupying the centers, imposing heavy tax sanctions on vacant properties located there, encouraging diversified forms of use in these areas through the coexistence of residences with commerce, cultural centers, gastronomic and artistic attractions are forms of struggle against the territorial apartheid of our cities. It is one of the most emblematic expressions of the idea that sustainable development, more than technological solutions (which are undoubtedly important) presupposes and opens up wide opportunities for social reorganization.

Compact, connected and integrated cities, where everyone has quick access to work, services, culture, constructive socialization and leisure is the translation, for urban life, of the urgency contained in the idea of ​​environmental justice. As important as the electric car is, it is “demobility” that will improve urban life and contribute to the reduction of inequalities.

*Ricardo Abramovay is a senior professor at the Institute of Energy and Environment at USP. Author, among other books, of Amazon: towards an economy based on the knowledge of nature (Elephant/Third Way).

Originally published on the portal UOL.

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