At the heart of any good urban community is it’s transportation system. The heartlessness of most North American cities comes from their growth in the postwar years, during the pinnacle of the car. 30% of the modern city is covered in tarmac and concrete. 30% of the value of a city is lost due to roads. 30% of our land is covered. Why? For cars.
Our modern lifestyles have to undergo a radical rethinking. With the price of gas being pushed higher by such diverse causes as raids on facilities in Nigeria, or a storm in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Polar Ice caps rapidly turning into new habitat for endangered tropical fish, we all must seriously consider, is driving a car worth it?
There is a great article at the Independent which can be summed up as this. We aren’t quite doomed yet, but if we keep flying around the world for vacations, we are. What we need is high speed trains. I’d take this argument a lot further. Yes, planes cause a lot of damage, but a lot of people don’t take many long-haul flights (except those of us who live in Asia…we are excused). Most people do commute to work. North Americans are guilty of creating entire commuter cities, which are filled with nothing but parking lots.
Half of the problems in North America could be helped with better URBAN train systems. I’m going to avoid arguing for high speed trains in N.A. because I’m trying to be realistic. North America would be fantastic if it had a train system like Japan, but let’s get serious, it’s never going to happen. Urban rail is possible, even plausible.
Seoul, a city with a greater metropolitian region of 22~25 million has a subway system that carries 8 million passengers a day, with 8 lines, and 2 suburban lines. They are currently building 2 new lines in the city, both due open by 2010, and putting additions onto 8 other lines.
Building new lines and stations is critically important if we hope to tackle urban problems. Subway stations act as hubs for development. Development which ultimately slows urban sprawl. The electric trains carrying hundreds of passengers reduces a city’s carbon footprint dramatically. The amount of traffic in a city center is reduced. The air of the city is remarkably cleaner. People are actually fitter because they are walking MORE. The city will be much more traveller friendly, ultimately attracting more tourists. Trains have fewer accidents, saving lives, and more importantly to governments, money. More jobs are created as people must build, maintain, and staff the trains and stations.
We must start forcing our governments to spend more money on transportation systems, and less on road building and maintainence.