This week I happened to find new articles about three of my favourite measures to transform cities, make them more resilient, reduce CO2 emissions, and make them more liveable. Each of these could be a separate post but they also make sense together as examples of how to achieve large impacts without having to invent anything, simply changing how things are done.
Lots of evidence is piling up to answer a resounding yes to the piece Can Removing Highways Fix America’s Cities? at the New York Times. Not only is the article a valuable read, it’s also full of satellite images of multiple cities, making very visible the fractures (or scars) created by highways, and the fantastic change removing them can make. Not only that, but in most (all?) cases, it doesn’t even affect trafic much or at all.
As the quote below highlights, it’s also important to note that these projects, when originally built, more often than not, ripped apart disenfranchised communities, often along racial lines.
Highways radically reshaped cities, destroying dense downtown neighborhoods, dividing many Black communities and increasing car dependence. Now, some cities are looking to take them out. But reconnecting neighborhoods is more complicated than breaking them apart.
We already wrote about this topic a couple of weeks ago, trees can be a huge help with city temperatures. In this excellent Twitter thread by Jon Burke, he lists a number of the benefits, including the research he used and some links to dig further.
What if I told you there was a single intervention we could deliver in our cities that would cool them during heatwaves, reduce flooding, scrub pollutants from the air, boost biodiversity, improve public health, and even reduce crime? You wouldn't believe me. But it's true. pic.twitter.com/W1KWm6RHFk
— Jon Burke FRSA (@jonburkeUK) May 28, 2021
Work less or from home
This one might seem less like the kind of idea you’d find in discussions about reinventing cities but it’s actually a perfect fit. So much of the pollution and wasted time has to do with cars, especially in North America, they are a huge component of what needs to be addressed, regardless of the views one might hold (even if you absolutely love cars and find them indispensable, traffic is still an issue you need to deal with). Perhaps this article shows part of the solution: moving to a four-day work week.
The study found that moving to a four-day week by 2025 would shrink the UK’s emissions by 127m tonnes, a reduction of more than 20% and equivalent to taking the country’s entire private car fleet off the road.
Beyond the reduction in emissions, there are also a number of social and health benefits to such a change.
Advocates say reducing working hours would create jobs, improve people’s mental and physical health and strengthen families and communities. A recent report found the change could prevent a steep rise in unemployment post-Covid pandemic and that most larger companies would be able to cope with the change through higher productivity or by raising prices.
Even if a shorter working week never materializes, the pandemic has forced millions to work from home, and some never want to go back to the office, to the point of quitting their jobs when asked to return. Some companies will keep a lot of work from home, and even more will switch to a hybrid of in and out of office, like letting employees work from home two or three days of the week. Widely adopted, such a shift would have the same emissions repercussions as the four-day week the above report suggested.
Fewer in-city highways, more trees, shorter weeks, even if considered purely in terms of quality of life, that sounds like a plan.