Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Towards Carfree Cities X: What happened in Guadalajara from 3 to 10 September 2011?

From the Editor's Desk:
This year's World Carfree Network Conference was organized by the dynamic and fast growing city of Guadalajara, under the title Towards Carfree Cities (Hacia ciudades libres de autos), and with the support and management of two local activist groups, Ciudad Para Todos and GDL en Bici. I was invited to provide the opening keynote address on the topic of "Better Cities with a Lot Fewer Cars", to kick off a weeklong festival of events, discussions, and presentations in the context of their program.  My chosen themes were (a) deep democracy and (b) the need for immediate action.  I was wonderfully received and learned a lot during my busy week with them.

From the organisers:
The annual WCN Conference is a gathering that brings people from all over the world, who come along to share ideas, work and examples of what they have been developing in their countries to make our cities a better place to live in. This year it took place for the second occasion in Latin America. While the annual conferences are  supported by the World Carfree Network, it is the sponsoring local organizations who take the lead in making them happen.

The theme this year: It’s time for action.

The time to move towards carfree cities has come. We must depart from cities that neglect us towards cities that belong to us. Step by step moving onto the right direction. We need to collectively realise that in order to have a better future we need not to build more roads, but to transform our mindsets. It’s time to move on.

You can see the full conference program, including information on follow-up projects, events and media, at

Guadalajara as a leading example (The medium is the message)

To me, the most exciting thing about the conference was the city itself.  reminiscent of Marshall McLuhan's reminder that the medium is the message. In this case it truly was.

Guadalajara is an absolutely picture book example of the dilemma of sustainable transportation in all its ugly varieties. Unrelenting, cascading growth in car ownership and car use as the main transport mode to and around the center, impossible and increasing burdens on the citizens of the city in terms of lost time, rotten air, dangerous streets, unnecessary high transport costs for all – the usual, I might say -- , with government at all levels stubbornly sticking to the old mobility agenda of mindlessly building yet more capacity, more roads, wider streets, more bridges, more tunnels and more parking facilities, and on the part of the responsible authorities over the last fifteen years little understanding -- no check that, NO understanding -- of the all too often proved fact that there is no way in the world in which they or anyone else can deal with the mounting problems of cars, traffic and all that goes with them, without a major course change.

To put this into context, one of the most knowledgeable people with whom I met during my week there looked me in the eye and said, "Eric, I am ashamed of my city. And I ashamed of us for letting it get to this point." (To which I could only say, and said, that being ashamed is the important first step in the process of turning the situation around. The important thing is the next step, and that is what we spent the week talking about and planning.)

Guadalajara is in its own way a perfect case, and if as a result of the energy and ideas that were set out and vigorously discussed during the course of the meeting by many participants looking at this from a wide variety of angles and experience, I am prudently optimistic that some kind of new policy can be achieved. This will provide a powerful example for cities across Mexico, Latin America, and the developing countries more generally. A bit like New York and the song "if you could do it there you can do it anywhere", and indeed I am optimistic that there is every chance that the fast-growing new consensus will be able to make a difference in Guadalajara in the two or three years directly ahead. And if I can lend a hand in this process in any way, be sure that I will do it.

Looking back on our busy week together from Paris, I can honestly say that it was one of the most successful international conferences I have ever had the pleasure to attend. The organizers combined ideas, enthusiasm, originality, a taste for complexity and contradiction, openness of mind, critical thinking and a chaotic style of organization and adaptation in which every single time at the last minute they ended up pulling the rabbit out of the hat.

It was a great event: it created a strong sense of family and sharing among all who came to Guadalajara, and not only did we all enjoy it greatly, but I also think that discussions and different points of view that were expressed really did help all present to take a couple of good steps in the right direction of better understanding what at least some parts of public policy can and should be.

The variety of people and views was great, as it should be. There were many young people who showed themselves to be very active, creative and thoughtful -- and anyone who says that our young people around the world today are not going to be up to the future challenges of sustainable cities, sustainable transportation and sustainable lives, all I can tell you is that they are a lot better than my generation and probably yours.


Here the organizers and their team were consistently, unstoppably creative.  To give an idea As an example of the quality of their work and their contribution, let me point you to a series of very short videos which they prepared and which you can find at . . .

Announcing the conference:

Making important points about sustainable transport and sustainable cities in 15 seconds or less:

Two quick bits of me on sustainable transport, Guadalajara and beautiful cities:

The Master Classes/Stress Test:

In the wings of the conference I was invited to give a weeklong series of early morning Master Classes, which on this occasion brought together a group of close to thirty people working in local government or in public agencies who met with me from 8 to 10 o'clock every morning of the week, in order to explore together the concepts of sustainable development and sustainable transportation from a practical perspective.

What we were trying to do was to work together to get a much more specific feel for the working end of the concepts of sustainability and development, as a necessary step in order to come up with what I call a "stress test ", of a sort which we can apply to review, class and finally decide on transportation projects from a consistent perspective, which of course is today notably not the case in most countries, Mexico and Guadalajara included.

If you are interested, we will be following up on this in considerable detail in the weeks and months ahead, so please let me know so we can keep you in the loop.

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Here in case you wish to follow, is a short on-street, in-transit interview with a media team from the host group, TESO, Universidad Jesuita de Guadalajara.

Let me close with a word of deep appreciation to all those who organized this great event and who participated, and for the terrific support that we received over the course of our busy week in Guadalajara.

Let's see what happens next. It was only a beginning.  Let's keep our eyes on Guadalajara.

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