Hamburg (Image: Flickr user LuxTonnerre, used under CC license)Enlarge Photo
Urban centers are very different in the U.S. to those in Europe, its more recent history and greater expanses of space allowing wide, open and sprawling spaces to develop--a far cry from the older and more tightly-packed cities of Europe.
It's this difference that makes cities free of cars a much more realistic prospect in Europe than it is in the U.S.
So realistic is it that the city of Hamburg in Germany is drawing up plans to eliminate cars from its center in just 20 years--joining together green spaces and public places with bicycle routes and pedestrian pathways.
According to Arch Daily, 40 percent of Germany's second-largest city is made up of green areas, cemeteries, sports facilities, gardens, parks and squares.
The city's 15-20 year plan aims to unite them with pedestrian and cycle routes, eliminating the need for vehicles in large areas of the city--from its center right to its outskirts. City spokeswoman Angelika Fritsch says that in 15 to 20 years, residents and visitors will "be able to explore the city exclusively on bike and foot."
Other parts of the 'Green Network Plan' involve expanding the existing green spaces further, partly as an effort to regulate the city's climate--in the last 60 years, the city's average temperature has risen by 9ºC 1.2ºC, to an average of 9ºC. It should also reduce the risk of flooding, with more natural spaces rather than urban development.
The plans will connect the green nuclei to the north and south of the city, and a core team of planners will work with people from each municipality in the city to ensure changes are best integrated with local needs.
Hamburg is just one of several cities considering car-free or zero-emission centers, and several others already have low-emission zones or congestion charging programs in place to minimize traffic and emissions.
The healthy public transportation systems in many European cities, already widely used by local residents, mean people have options to avoid the heavy traffic that Europe's tight city layouts can cause.
Essentially, cities that operated for hundreds of years with little more than horse-bound traffic are better suited to car-less streets than those in the U.S--which have enjoyed powered transportation for a greater proportion of their existence.
And if Hamburg's plans prove fruitful, it may not be long before other European cities follow suit.