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Ignore car fee critics, London mayor tells NYC

Michelle Nichols, Reuters
London Mayor Ken Livingstone backed New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to adopt the British capital’s traffic-fighting vehicle fee, urging him on Tuesday to ignore critics and any drop in approval ratings.

Speaking from his own experience of introducing a so-called congestion charge in central London in 2003, Livingstone said private traffic had dropped nearly 40 percent, cyclists had nearly doubled and bus passengers had increased 50 percent.

“Can I just give you one word of warning? There may be one or two people who will predict doom and gloom — ignore them,” he told a news conference at climate change summit C40, a group of leaders from some of the world’s 40 largest cities.

“There was this drip, drip, drip of negativity and it took a toll on my poll ratings,” said Livingstone. “But within a week of the congestion charge starting, my opinion poll rating had gone up 12 percent.”
(15 May 2007)

16 cities to go green under Clinton plan

Sara Kugler, Associated Press
Sixteen cities around the world will begin cutting carbon emissions by renovating city-owned buildings with green technology under a program spearheaded by former
President Clinton’s foundation.

Bill Clinton was to announce the partnership Wednesday, joined by mayors of several of the cities, as part of an international climate summit he is hosting this week in New York City.

Clinton’s foundation described details to The Associated Press ahead of the announcement. Major global banking institutions have committed $1 billion to finance the upgrades of municipal buildings in participating cities, which include New York, Chicago, Houston, Toronto, Mexico City, London, Berlin and Tokyo.

The makeovers will include replacing heating, cooling and lighting systems with energy-efficient networks; making roofs white or reflective to deflect more of the sun’s heat; sealing windows and installing new models that let more light in; and setting up sensors to control more efficient use of lights and air conditioning.
(16 May 2007)

Designing Cities for People Rather than Cars

Lester R. Brown, Celsias
…Now government planners everywhere are experimenting, seeking ways to design cities for people not cars. Cars promise mobility, and they provide it in a largely rural setting. But in an urbanizing world there is an inherent conflict between the automobile and the city. After a point, as their numbers multiply, automobiles provide not mobility but immobility. Congestion also takes a direct economic toll in rising costs in time and gasoline. And urban air pollution, often from automobiles, claims millions of lives.

Another cost of cities that are devoted to cars is a psychological one, a deprivation of contact with the natural world-an “asphalt complex.” There is a growing body of evidence that there is an innate human need for contact with nature. Both ecologists and psychologists have been aware of this for some time. Ecologists, led by Harvard University biologist E.O. Wilson, have formulated the “biophilia hypothesis,” which argues that those who are deprived of contact with nature suffer psychologically and that this deprivation leads to a measurable decline in well-being.

Throughout the modern era, budget allocations for transportation in most countries-and in the United States, in particular-have been heavily biased toward the construction and maintenance of highways and streets. Creating more livable cities and the mobility that people desire depends on reallocating budgets to emphasize the development of rail- or bus-based public transport and bicycle support facilities.

Lester Brown is President of the Earth Policy Institute and author of Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble.
(15 May 2007)

The world goes to town

The Economist
After this year the majority of people will live in cities. Human history will ever more emphatically become urban history, says John Grimond (interviewed here).

WHETHER you think the human story begins in a garden in Mesopotamia known as Eden, or more prosaically on the savannahs of present-day east Africa, it is clear that Homo sapiens did not start life as an urban creature. Man’s habitat at the outset was dominated by the need to find food, and hunting and foraging were rural pursuits. Not until the end of the last ice age, around 11,000 years ago, did he start building anything that might be called a village, and by that time man had been around for about 120,000 years. It took another six millennia, to the days of classical antiquity, for cities of more than 100,000 people to develop. Even in 1800 only 3% of the world’s population lived in cities. Sometime in the next few months, though, that proportion will pass the 50% mark, if it has not done so already. Wisely or not, Homo sapiens has become Homo urbanus.

In terms of human history this may seem a welcome development.

…Whatever the particular circumstances of a city, though, its vigour was likely to be affected by technological change. Just as it was improvements in farming that brought about the surpluses that made possible the first fixed settlements, so it was improvements in transport that made possible the development of trade on which the prosperity of so many cities depended. Other technological changes made it possible to survive in a city. The Romans, for instance, constructed aqueducts to bring fresh water to their towns and sewers to provide sanitation.

But only the rich benefited. Most Romans, and many city-dwellers throughout history, lived in squalor, and many died of it. Towns were crowded and insanitary; people were often malnourished; and disease spread fast. Though cities grew in size and number for long periods, they could decline and fall, too. Between 1000 and 1300 Europe’s urban population more than doubled, to about 70m (thanks partly to a new system of crop rotation, made possible by better tools). Then, with the Black Death, it fell by a quarter. Country people died too, but the city-dwellers were especially vulnerable. Their health depended above all on clean water and sanitation, which few had, and cheap soap and medicines, which had yet to be invented.

…Nearly all rich-country cities, whether prospering or declining, worry about transport, pollution, energy, pockets of poverty and so on. These offer troubles a-plenty. But they are of a different order to those faced by poor-country cities, whose problems are vastly greater and resources vastly smaller. While rich cities fret over a relatively modest ebb and flow of population, poor cities must cope with a tidal wave of migrants.

So the history of the city has come to a fork. This survey will explore the diverging paths of rich and poor, and the prospects for the city if the developing world can one day clamber out of poverty. First, though, it looks at the urban reality awaiting the Dick Whittingtons of the 21st century.
(3 May 2007)
Some other articles in the special report on cities. (The Economist frequently changes the viewing status of their articles):
The strange allure of the slums
A cul-de-sac of poverty