Europe has been making some some fascinating moves towards fundamentally changing how its society functions, from Sweden experimenting with 6-hour working days, cashlessness, and becoming the world’s first fossil fuel-free country, to Finland ditching a subject-based curriculum for an education system based on topics of interest.
Now it looks like one of the staples of the last century - cars - are on the outs, with Norway announcing that its capital will be permanently car-free by 2019.
The news comes just weeks after cars were banned from the Paris CBD for a day in an effort to give its citizens a rest from the "noise, pollution, and stress". Organised as part of European Mobility Week last month, the initiative saw 246 cities, towns, and boroughs from 14 countries across Europe sign up to go carless for a day, including Budapest in Hungary, Lisbon in Portugal, and Stockholm in Sweden.
While a car-free day a year is a nice gesture, it’s not exactly going to make much of a difference to the health of a city’s people and environment in the grand scheme of things. So Norway wants to take things a step further.
"We want to have a car-free centre," Lan Marie Nguyen Berg, lead negotiator for the Green Party in Oslo, told reporters yesterday. "We want to make it better for pedestrians, cyclists. It will be better for shops and everyone."
Right now, of the 600,000 residents in Oslo, 350,000 of them own cars and 90,000 work in the CBD, so city officials now have four years to offer up appealing transport options. Reuters reports that the local council has committed to build at least 60 kilometres (37 miles) of new bicycle lanes, and provide a "massive boost" of investment in public transport.
Public buses and trams will still be permitted, plus cars for disabled people and approved supply trucks.
"Oslo’s municipal authorities hope to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in five years to 50 percent of what they were back in 1990," Amy X. Wang writes for Quartz. "By 2019, it also aims to cut automobile traffic across the entire city - not just the city centre - to 20 percent."
While those are certainly worthwhile goals, the plan has been met with concern from shop owners who will soon find their premises in a car-free zone, some saying they’re at risk of losing revenue if people can’t drive there. But the plan is going ahead nonetheless.
As Adele Peters reported for Fast Company earlier this year, Madrid in Spain has been progressively expanding its car-free zone, redesigning 24 of its busiest streets for walking, not driving, and the streets of a new satellite city planned for Southwest China - called Chengdu - have been designed so you can walk to any location in just 15 minutes. It's not likely that car-loving cities like Sydney, Australia will follow suit any time soon, but if driverless and electric cars live up to their potential, maybe they won't have to.