This year has been a rollercoaster for the environment. Yes, everyone stopped flying and driving for a few months and the air cleared up a bit, but now we’re witnessing some of the worst forest fires in history on the west coast of the USA (after the nightmarish scenes in Australia at the end of last year) and very soon the US will be pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Even on a micro level, it feels like we’re using more throwaway cups, masks, gloves and plastic (hand sanitiser) bottles than ever - which, to be fair, we can’t really avoid right now.

As always however, there is a silver lining - due to phased re-openings and new safety rules, many cities have been pedestrianising areas to encourage people to start walking and cycling more (as busy public transport has lost it's appeal). Some as part of longer term plans to pedestrianise, others out of necessity for the time being (i.e. Soho) - it’s been in the pipeline to pedestrianise Oxford Street in London for years but it looks like it’s imminently beginning, with a £235 million contract just being signed off by the Mayor of London to bring together 100 different projects to make things more eco-friendly, improve air quality and ultimately boost the tourism experience for the notoriously busy street in central London.

Designs for a pedestrianised Oxford Street - Credit to Dezeen

Potential designs for a pedestrianised Oxford Street - Credit to Dezeen

Not everyone's cup of tea

For some reason, generally, people aren’t all for pedestrianisation however. When the Mayor put forward his first plan at the consultation phase, less than half of the respondents agreed with it so they has to go back to the drawing board. I’m not entirely sure why people don’t like the concept - is it because it’s pushing traffic elsewhere? Because they themselves actually like driving along Oxford Street (surely no one does...)?

Similar issues have arisen in Bristol, where plans to pedestrianise some of the city’s key roads have been fast tracked due to the pandemic. The Bristol Association of Restaurants, Bars and Independent Establishments are opposing the changes, as some businesses say they can only remain open with parking directly nearby. It’s a balance between improving air quality and keeping local businesses happy (many of whom have been terribly affected during the pandemic) - but in the long term, surely pedestrianisation is the only way forward?

But what about in other countries? In Milan, they spent the summer creating cycle lanes across 22 miles of the city’s roads, essentially wiping out half of the traffic capacity on them. You may never have heard of the Brazilian city of Curitiba (in the southern state of Parana) but in the 70s it was literally designed to be as eco-friendly and practical as possible, and to this day sounds like it beats most western cities. The Mayor (also an architect) Jaime Lerner specifically designed the city to have as much green space as possible, dedicated bus lanes, a world-leading ‘subway’ system (with 200m passengers a day) and a focus on bringing everything together to benefit the majority of people, of all ages, rather than solely focusing on one group (business people, families, etc). It’s inspiring that this kind of thinking was going on so long ago (in relative terms) and if only more cities had been designed/re-designed that way back then, perhaps we wouldn’t be looking at the climate crisis we are today. 

The A-Listers

Some more good news is that the CDP have created an A-list of cities who are going green and striving to cut their emissions (by as much as 100% in some cases) and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see British cities on there (Coventry, Leicester, London and Manchester). We have a long way to go, but as this list has shot up from 43 cities in 2018 to 105 in 2019, it feels like there is more of a push for change than ever. There is no way of cutting down emissions without cutting down on vehicles that rely on fossil fuels and the only way to do that is to pedestrianise areas, or entire cities. It feels like something we’ll see a lot more of in the future - and with everything we've gone through this year, it’s about time we started to hear some good news.

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