Hacia Ciudades Libres de Autos (Towards Carfree Cities) X in Guadalajara, Part 1

Posted by Alexis in News, Thoughts on October 12th, 2011 – Comments Off on Hacia Ciudades Libres de Autos (Towards Carfree Cities) X in Guadalajara, Part 1

Note: This post is the second in a series of posts about my experience at Towards Carfree Cities X in Guadalajara. The first is here. This one covers two of the conference’s early keynotes. In upcoming posts, I’ll discuss giving my own talk, some of the shorter talks I attended, the later keynotes and overall conference themes.

The first two keynotes of the conference, given by Eric Britton, an American living in France, and Noah Budnick of Transportation Alternatives, both addressed issues that are current in Portland.

Eric Britton’s talk was focused on the topic of “Putting Carfree Day to Work”. World Carfree Day has been an important part of the World Carfree Network’s efforts, but being just one day a year, it’s a short-term engagement for a relatively small number of people. He suggested a strategy for “World Carfree Day +++”, each + representing an add-on to the work of a local group or government in putting on a World Carfree Day event:

1) Solicit ideas from all kinds of community groups about what the government should do to improve transportation.

2) Pick the best of those to set benchmarks.

3) The following year on WCFD, measure the benchmarks and talk about how they were achieved, or if they weren’t and why not.

One possible benchmark example he gave was “increase bike mode share from 1.5% to 2.5%”. This is a representative benchmark: a small increase, something that might be possible in one year, but not something trivial or even easy.

These additions would allow more people to get involved in the process of making their city less auto-dependent through the process of nominating and selecting benchmarks, and create regular accountability for initiatives.

One point that Eric made is that having more and different people involved in decisionmaking, as he suggests for WCFD+++, is critical to making different kinds of decisions in the future than we have in the past. Decisionmakers tend to see the world from their own perspective, and make decisions that benefit that perspective.

The current political situation, across much of the world, has one main type of decisionmaker: male, educated, and prosperous. Since these people usually have cars, most decisionmaking takes into account primarily those who have cars. Changing the type of decisionmaker that we have, and asking current and future decisionmakers to listen to people with different perspectives — asking community groups and individuals and neighborhoods what they want and need — is critical to changing who benefits most from political decisions.

Eric’s talk tied in nicely with Noah’s keynote the following evening, also addressing community engagement in the decisionmaking process. Noah, who was discussing “NYC vs Reality”, started out by making the point that most people don’t think in terms of traffic models and graphic renderings, which is how new projects are usually presented. Instead, they think about what they see and experience when they walk out their door. So it’s important to have events that show them what’s possible for their streets, because then they can see the street in a different way in reality. This is how New York addressed the Times Square redesign: it’s just now becoming permanent, after being a massive temporary installation for almost two years.

It’s useful for the community of advocates and activists to share their ideas and to make the demonstration projects, but it’s also very important for people to have a chance to understand and begin to own the idea, and for the result of the process to be community-owned because the community sees the vision. This struck me as extremely relevant for the Williams corridor project, because if the local community in the area has a chance to envision some new possibilities through events and other explorations, I think it would be an opportunity to find both common ground and possibility an even better vision than has come from the proposals under consideration through PBOT.

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