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Green challenges

Thinking global and acting local, Julie Grundy takes on any challenge we throw at her.

New thinking for our capital cities

Rush hour traffic in Brisbane

Credit: iStockphoto

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I've been reading a lot lately about cars and transport. Our cars are one of Australia's major sources of carbon-dioxide emissions, but it's not so easy to just get rid of them with a snap of our fingers.

Our transport G Challenge last year was a good start: we all committed to reducing our reliance on our cars. But better designed cities of the future will make it easier for everyone to do the right thing!

Australia has one of the highest rates of car ownership in the world, and a lot of that is due to the sprawling layout of our capital cities. Back in the 50s, we had a more compact "core and spoke" design that allowed an efficient use of transport. Now our suburbs sprawl all over the place, full of cul-de-sacs that prevent public transport and emergency services (like ambulances and firetrucks) from operating efficiently.

Our cities are designed with cars and more cars in mind. Ross Gittins points out in his article The city is choking thanks to our idea of transport nirvana that Sydney keeps adding freeways and widening roads, but that just makes more people think that driving will be nicer. Which just leads to more congestion, which leads to people thinking that we need more roads, and it becomes a vicious cycle. We need to break this pattern by realising that the kind of thinking that got us into this mess is not going to get us out of it!

What we need is smarter urban planning: fewer cul-de-sacs, more transport corridors and hubs, safer and better-lit streets. Only then will we be able to ditch our cars and say hello to less-carbon-intensive ways of getting around like bikes, trains, and buses.

If that sounds a bit out there, you might be surprised to learn that lots of places are working on this already: check out this article on 4 places which removed highways and some European car-free towns. I'd love to see Australian cities try out some of these ideas.