Tailpipes, Traffic and Climate Change

In the early 1960’s, International Ecocity Conference Series Founder and President of NGO Ecocity Builders’ Richard Register was living in Los Angeles when it was, as he says, “Hell on wheels, smog burning your throat and eyes and hundreds of ‘excess deaths’ a year from air pollution.”  Register has never been fond of cars, but he concedes that almost five decades later, despite millions more cars on the road, catalytic converters have done much to clean up the smog problem in LA. However, he still takes issue with car-centric cities. While no one would disagree that clearing the air of smog is a good thing, we must ask ourselves if slapping a filter on our tailpipes is enough to abate the other problems that come with lots of cars.  Nothing we add to our tailpipe can alleviate traffic, prevent car accidents that kill 40 thousand people in the U.S. every year, make our communities more walkable, or stop climate change.

While owning a car has become a common aspiration in many developing countries, those Los Angeleans who daily spend two or more hours sitting in traffic on LA freeways may wonder why anyone would want to follow suit.  According to Forbes.com, the annual delay per driver in the U.S. is in excess of 47 hours per year, creating delayed shipments and wasting more than 2.3 billion gallons of fuel each year.  Moreover, according to the Texas Transportation Institute the cost of U.S. traffic delays is, conservatively, $63.1 billion a year, based on 2003 figures.

Yet the world drives on.

In Sao Paulo, nearly 1,000 cars are added to the streets each day. Traffic in Bangkok has gotten so bad that hundreds of women over the past few years have been forced to give birth in cars. The Royal Thai Traffic Police has trained 145 of its officers in basic midwifery.  While some may admire the multi-tasking that’s inherent in such a situation, perhaps it’s time to think about creating a different kind of city.

As we approach the UN Climate Talks in Copenhagen this December, we might consider stepping back – way back – out of our cities and looking in at what has happened to them.  Could they not be better designed to meet humanity’s needs and to avoid catastrophic climate change?  Could they not afford us more time with family and friends and less time stuck in a metal box with wheels on a four-lane road?

Register believes the answer is yes.  His solution? The EcoCity.  Register first conceived of the idea several decades ago, calling it, “One stop shopping for all your solutions.” According to Register, EcoCities could not only run on one tenth of the energy that cities currently do, but also could bring on the age of bicycle and rails while reducing car crashes and supporting solar and wind energy.  EcoCities also hold the promise of reforestation and restoration of vast areas of green space and farmland recovered from urban sprawl.

Register is far from alone in this idea.  A highly influential community of architects, planners, designers, policy makers, green businesses, political and nonprofit leaders, with the added participation of international experts and delegates will be convening at the Eighth Annual International EcoCity World Summit to present papers and ideas on the EcoCity and its role in the escape from dangerous climate change.  Participants from Australia, the U.S., the U.K., Israel, France, Senegal, Egypt, Singapore, India, Nepal and more will join together in the discussion in Istanbul this December.  In addition, more than 100 papers will be presented in concurrent sessions from more than 40 countries representing young emerging and pioneering talent from around the world.

For more information, go to: http://www.ecocity2009.com

Stacey Meinzen


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