In September 2015 I went on an adventure. I boarded a train at St Pancras for Gare du Nord in Paris to meet an unknown twitter contact. I had no idea what he looked like but knew that we both shared a passion for a less polluted and less car dominated world. He was my charming guide for the car-free day in Paris leading up to COP21.
I have imagination unbounded. But nothing I imagined could compare with experiencing and sharing the joy of Parisians reclaiming their city centre. This was not an organised event, but an act of generosity on the part of Mayor Anne Hildago, who trusted her citizens to reclaim their public space in whatever way they liked.
Jeanette Sadik-khan recently said that people are ‘hungry for space and play’ that ‘we just need to follow the people’ and ‘get the obstacles out of their way’.
Unstructured play helps us understand who we are. Freedom to roam helps us discover what makes us happy. Reclaiming our public space builds self-esteem by connecting us to our fellow citizens and our city.
Will Norman says the Mayor of London does not want car-free days as London already has some 42 existing ‘events’. It all sounds very rational and costed, like a business case but completely misses the point.
When everything in your city becomes monetised from the gold bricks to the ‘events’ that are just marketing vehicles to sell you more stuff, your city loses its soul. Putting people before business on their own streets gives them back autonomy and ownership of their own city.
This is culture change.
How do we get more people cycling and walking? Not the ‘nag factor’ but by opening the gateway to a car-free London, so they experience for themselves the freedom to roam and play.