Imagine, if you can, the sensation of visiting an Earthly city from a more advanced off-world civilisation where cycling prevails. Your culture is one where journeys are an adventure to be enjoyed; where the folk live to ride and ride to live, all blended into a whole of splendid harmony.
But as you come in to land on this strange, strange land, you are about as disappointed as an Earth-bound tourist off to visit the ancient lane ways of Paris or Seville… The place of interest is surrounded by a cordon-blight of what appears to be concrete industrial estate. Acres and acres of car parks; and every street is cess’d with the detritus of the peoples’ parked cars. On every otherwise picturesque leafy street, they’ve blighted their world with their ugly piles of mobile tin. The grand historical lane ways, boulevards and parades are encrusted with cars like an eye rimmed by the seepage of chronic conjunctivitis. The aesthetic assault is profound. People invest a lifetime of toil to build homes and communities as a statement of their artistic, landscaped vision. Then they blight and soil the result with the detritus of their cars… Worse, they invite these metallic monstrosities into their homes! Contemplate the modern homebuilder who devotes 25 per cent of her roof space to the housing of a car; more, perhaps, than they would provide to shelter their kids. Why would anyone want such a stinky ugly thing under the same roof as themselves?
Our off-world visitor would, by now, be wondering if this might be some strange cargo cult religious thing. Like the freeway of cattle on an Indian street. Do these people worship their cars? Do their cars demand rights of obedience that inflict an aesthetic, environmental assault as testimony to their disciples’ strength of faith? As these cars slime and otherwise blight the landscapes they despoil with the impunity of the tin gods they surely must be, surely mankind worships these things?
Then our visitor would notice something curious; something hopeful and something of a telltale of possibilities to come. They’d notice that a few, only a few, but a few nonetheless reject the hegemony of the autocratic, sacrifice-demanding car. They ride a bicycle! Or progress by their feet.
These wonderful folk travel with pleasure instead of engorged rage. Their parking rituals are light-of-touch indeed. They leave no residues of oiled-fumed slime. They power their travels with the honest, self-contained efforts of their muscles instead of the ecology-raping pillage of toxic oil. Surely, given the parlous state of the planet they all share, these cyclists must be the enlightened ones. They certainly look the part; pedaling away the ugly obesity-tainted physical flatulence that the car drivers wear like some sort of uniform of servitude to their gods of tin.
There’s a theory I like from the annals of complexity theory. It goes something like this: the world is a complex place. Only the omniscient know all there is to know about how things work. Omniscience is the delusion of those who aspire to be monstrously overpaid corporate gods, academics and the drug-plumbers of the medical profession. The world does not work like a clock. Command and control is like driving a ship with blinkers on. We can pretend, but the hidden surprises and mysterious depths of systems we can never completely understand always get in the way of the grand delusions of the managerialist machine. To manage a complex system is to manage with our eyes wide open, not wired shut.
The enlightened game to play is the game of levers. Find a likely lever, pull it and see what happens. The game is to find the best, most strategic levers to pull. Big outcomes might come from the smallest nudge. Cleverness pays the biggest rewards.
I have a theory about the best lever to pull in relation to fixing the linked problems of global warming, physical obesity and urban decay. I have a theory about how to redress the uglification of our landscapes through the slime trailing blight of the automobile. The lever I’ve found would reduce rage on the roads. The lever I’ve found would redress the physical decay of those who avoid the attractions of exercise. The lever I’ve found would restore the majesty of our more illustrious landscapes. The lever I’ve found would reduce the gassing of our planet and the warming of the globe.
It’s an astonishingly lateral lever! A simple lever. A free lever to pull! A lever that would double the living space within our cities; extend the area for growing crops, extend the space where our kids can play. This lever will engage through a holocaust of short term howling rage. But sanity will eventually prevail; the folk will eventually calm; like the sea after a cyclonic storm. This lever will take gumption to pull. But it will deliver the goods; guaranteed.
The lever I recommend is to cancel all car parking.
Dig up the car parks. Ban the parking of cars on the side of roads. Force those who drive to park way away on landfills. Restore our urban places to the access of feet, rail and pedals. Reinvent a culture of trains. Free our homes from the hijacking terrorism of cars. Turn our garages to romper rooms for kids, or home studies from which so many of us could now choose to work. I am not advocating the banning of cars; just the rationalisation of where we put them when not in use. People can still drive to town. But they must be prepared to walk the final mile or so. Or ride a bicycle. Or take a tram, train or cycle powered rickshaw. Or even a moving footway if they insist. But ban parking in the streets. And ban those hideous, monstrous concrete parking lots visitors can see from space… Now that would really be something! A world where cars are relegated downwards from the throne of enthrallment to which they have for so very long been raised.