Sunday, February 5, 2012

A car-free world

Not long ago, if you were walking down the street and you heard “gardez loo!” (a misspelling of the French gardez l'eau: beware, water!), you should better run –otherwise you would be watered with the toilet waste (pee or even worse) hurled by residents through their windows on to the streets. In some Spanish villages and neighbourhoods, “gardez loo!” could be heard even at the end of the 50s (our sewer system is rather recent). Needless to say, if the toilet waste did not reach any passer-by, it would be left there, on the street, together with dog and horse pooh, until it got dry and someone would pick it up to be used as fertilizer or fuel or until rainfall would drag it down the streets. By that time, streets would literally stink. However, historical novels would often describe old towns in terms of the smell of species, markets, flowers in the balconies… Let’s face facts: old towns stank of shit, pee, stagnant water and animal excrements. It is not very romantic, but it is more realistic than novels.
Therefore, and apparently, we are lucky to be living this present time because we have spared such smelling and stuffy atmosphere. Apparently! Nothing could be further from the truth: in fact, we are breathing the dirtiest air ever since we live in towns, and it is mainly due to the flood of cars flowing along the streets. We replaced floods of mud and shit for floods of smoke, noise and cars in our streets, which only leave a narrow sidewalk for pedestrians. We have given up our streets to cars, without being fully aware of it.
My mistake: some people are aware of it. Some years ago the Carfree Movement was launched by a bunch of people and organisations who consider that cars are too dominant in our towns, advocating for a reduction or even suppression of car use, so that streets and squares can be left to people. They publish a magazine, organise conferences and talks, promote the use of public transport and bicycles, defend pedestrians, offer alternatives to architects and town planners… In short, they try to image a world without the invasion of cars.
It may be an overreaction, but let’s take a look at some figures. In some cities, 60% of the surface is meant for cars. In OECD countries, transport stands for 60% of fuel consumption (up to 68% in the US). In 1950, there were 70 million cars, in 1994 there were 630 million cars and, at this rate, in 2025 there will be more than one thousand million cars.
Perhaps, in the not too distant future, Earth inhabitants may pull a face when thinking that, at the beginning of the 21st century, streets were crowded with cars releasing smoke, passers-by could barely breathe, cars invaded streets, squares and sidewalks, and people had to cope with it without complaint. Maybe our future descendants will pull the same face as we do when we think of “gardez loo!” and maybe they will not understand how we could live in such a dirty world and do nothing about it.


  1. About air pollution:
  2. World Carfree Network website:
  3., the magazine of the carfree movement:
  4. About the OECD:


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