blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Reclaiming our cities for people

On Market Hill, in Cambridge
Since I visited Cambridge, England, and Cardiff, Wales, earlier this summer, I have been thinking how pleasant it would be if Ottawa and other North American cities followed the example of the British ones and eliminated more motor vehicles from the places where people congregate. As you walk towards and through Cambridge's central Market Square or along St. Mary Street in Cardiff, where cars once used to wage a continuous battle with pedestrians for priority of access, what you now hear is the sound of human voices and footsteps. What an improvement! Those are acceptable, tolerable, natural sounds; they do not raise your blood pressure. The air is easier on the lungs as well.

Four happy people walk down St. Mary Street, in Cardiff
In Cambridge we sat on a bench by the Guildhall and watched the people go by, very conscious of this quietness. In Cardiff I sat at an outdoor streetside coffee table noticing the same thing.

The only time when Ottawa's city core is reclaimed by the people is on Canada Day when the approaches to the War Memorial and the streets from Parliament Hill to the Byward Market are so thronged with partying crowds that it would be impossible for a vehicle to get through in any case. The only street that's permanently closed to traffic in downtown Ottawa is Sparks Street: "Canada's Most Unique Street" as it claimed to be (to our amusement as we discovered that there are degrees of uniqueness), when we first arrived here.

Where have the vehicles gone since they were forbidden access to the heart of the city in Cardiff and Cambridge? They have been diverted, of course. Driving into town now demands a bit of thought and planning, because you have to park around the edges and walk. Is that such a bad thing? People do get used to the idea when they discover how much more attractive their city has become since the ban on cars, and tend to stop complaining. My elderly mother told me yesterday that small vehicles––"shop mobility scooters"––have been laid on free of charge for the people who don't find walking so easy (although you have to know where to locate them). The city has obviously given this a good deal of thought, as can be seen from this leaflet. Of course it helps that the bus and rail network in and around Cardiff is very good, too.

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