Giving cities back to people

Issue 

Giving cities back to people

Winning back the cities
By Peter Newman and Jeff Kenworthy
Pluto Press and the Australian Consumers' Association, 1992
Reviewed by Tracy Sorensen

With colour photographs on almost every page and information presented in bite-size chunks, this is a very "user friendly" presentation of the case for taking cities away from cars and giving them back to people.

This 48-page project focuses on three key solutions to more livable cities: traffic calming, light rail and urban villages. While current policy is running in the opposite direction — the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority's mania for freeways and tunnels, for example — the authors write with the calm authority of people who know that, one day soon, the transformation will begin to take place.

Because their suggestions are so practical, and always backed up by examples of where the thing is actually being done somewhere else in the world, Newman and Kenworthy have become favourites with residents' action groups around the country and overseas.

Key to the authors' vision, like that of the grassroots movements their work assists, is the notion of defending public space. This is "the precursor to the process of winning back the city".

The privatisation of public space, say the authors, is an "anti-city" trend, cutting across the very features of city life which can make it attractive and enriching. Economic rationalism takes resources from public transport and gives them to private transport, erodes housing in accessible locations and encourages urban sprawl.

The social desolation in all this is illustrated by the comment from a young resident in an outer Sydney suburb: "There's nothing out here except houses and cars".

"Pro-city" forces working against the trend to privatisation, say the authors, include the revitalisation of Fremantle by the Italian community which lives and works there. Once again, the streets can become places where people enjoy spending their time. "A strong commitment to public space can easily generate support and momentum in any Australian city", the authors argue.

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