This book’s three authors are professors of city planning and urban design at the Universities of California and Pennsylvania, and have produced a very useful snapshot of how to recalibrate the way we plan, design and build cities, in order to shift the focus from cars to people and places. They concede that the ideas advanced in the book are not new, but hope that their reflections on contemporary challenges, such as information technology and developing cities, will help to move beyond mobility. By this they mean that the approaches, metrics and standards used to design cities are in need of recalibration by downsizing the role of mobility and upgrading other factors. Vancouver, the only major North American city without a gradeseparated freeway, is ranked by TomTom (the producer of navigation aids) as the continent’s most congested city, while also being ranked as the most liveable city in the world by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
As with cholesterol, apparently, there is good and bad congestion; the good type creates a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly city that has not wasted money on excessive road construction. Walking, cycling and mixed use activities are quoted as means of recalibrating cities, with chapters devoted to transforming suburbs through retrofitting office parks and reinventing shopping malls as mixed use destinations, as well as more light rail and metro lines combined with transit oriented development. Increasing parkland can be achieved by reducing roadspace through ‘road dieting’, a new term that I hope does not catch on. The authors argue for constraining the growth of car usage in the Global South, with an 8 per cent annual increase seen in Asia and Latin America, where air quality and traffic collisions create disproportionately greater harm. A chapter on encouraging better economies makes a convincing link between creating more sustainable cities and improved economic performance, while the last two chapters on emerging technologies and moving towards a sustainable future are the most interesting for urban designers. Other factors affecting planning for transport are increasingly ageing societies in the West and the trend among Millennials not to buy cars. These groups are avid users of Ubertype on-demand services, and the authors devote a chapter to emerging technologies and the expanding options that may be available through self-driving vehicles, from cars to trains. These new transport modes have many potential implications for city planning that are still to be explored, but the rapid pace of technological change can only be usefully captured in journals and online articles making this book possibly the last on the subject.