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Curbing Traffic - The Human Case for Fewer Cars in Our Lives

Boekrecensie door Rutger de Graaf

In recent years, a trend is taking place in online spaces like Youtube and Twitter: more and more urbanist speakers are gaining traction and large amounts of followers. Examples include Not Just Bikes, RM transit and City Beautiful (not to be confused with the similar named city beautiful movement). These speakers have a lot of things in common: most of them are either from The United States or Canada, most of them have major objections to how planning is done in the North American setting and, interestingly for me as a Dutch citizen and spatial planning student, are often full of praise of how Dutch space is designed. When browsing through their feeds and watching their videos, a lot of these previously mentioned speakers also started to reference Curbing Traffic, a book written by Chris Bruntlett and Melissa Bruntlett. This peeked my attention, and after reading that their book was the inspiration for the content that many of these speakers produced, I wanted to read the book.

Curbing traffic gives an overview of the experiences that Chris and Melissa Bruntlett had when moving from Vancouver to the Dutch city of Delft. Their move to Delft was inspired by a trip to Rotterdam a few years prior. During this trip, they got inspired to write blogposts, which transformed into a book, which then resulted in them being sucked into the world of cycling advocacy. This gave them the opportunity to move to Delft, a city that was part of the region that inspired their first book. When they arrived, there were countless differences between Delft and their previous hometown. Vancouver is often seen as an example of good urban planning, but according to the Bruntletts, Delft fairs better. In the book, they give 10 examples that made them greatly appreciate the urban fabric of Delft and how other cities compare. Each example is given a chapter and explored in depth, with the use of statistics, personal stories, and interviews with academic figures in the spatial planning space.

Some of these examples include how Delft gives children independence, how the low levels of noise create an environment that is more comfortable to be in and how the different transportation options give people of all abilities a way to move around. The Bruntletts do this in very clear and concise language, smartly weaving in personal stories to not make the subject matter too dry. Reading this book is therefore highly enjoyable and gives the reading a good reason to go ahead and turn the page. One of the stories told for example talks about how Melissa created a social network within the streetscape where their house is located. When she locked herself out of her house in the first few weeks of living there, she asks her neighbors for help. This resulted in a network of neighbors helping her out with her lock problem, which quickly gets fixed. This story is then used to help the reader understand the importance of street design and how good use of street design can help create social interactions and how bad street design can completely isolate people living alongside it.

Not all of it is positive though. The chapter about the feminist city reads more as an activist piece and stains an otherwise great book. The focus on social justice in my opinion dilutes the arguments against cars and draws it into a space of conflict and disagreement. Handling such issues in a spatial planning context is a delicate balance since the build environment is a direct consequence of political decisions. These political decisions were often the result of many different factors, with different values, beliefs, and knowledge that may have changed over time. It’s hard to know which of these decisions were made by biases, malice, or simply ignorance. The book does provide some good insights in the chapter though.

All in all, the book is an excellent look into the differences between American and Dutch spatial planning from a fresh and new perspective. It also gives good suggestions and provides clear data in a very digestible form for the average reader. I would recommend it to everybody who at least has a minor interest in spatial planning or how the space around us affect our daily lives.

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