I found this picture on Google Maps today. It was taken by a woman named Stacey Chen. It’s of a bridge in Basel Switzerland. There’s no way to attribute it properly, so if I’m using it incorrectly I apologize to Ms. Chen and Google. I’m using it anyway because it’s an incredible picture. Look at it closely (sorry for the quality, it’s a screen grab). There are more pedestrians and cyclists on the bridge than there are cars. That’s awesome.
Basel is a mid-sized city of close to 200,000 residents. It’s in a part of the world where quality of life is valued higher than quantity of life. In its annual survey of cities with the highest quality of life, human resource capital IQ firm Mercer (Louisville KY) gave six of the top ten spots on the list to cities in Switzerland and nearby Austria and Germany. No wonder.
This is what our cities can be. This is what our cities should be. If we want to, we can choose to build our public places in a way that allows us to get around without a car and give up absolutely nothing in terms of mobility. If we do, quality of life improves dramatically.
So why haven’t we? Probably because we don’t understand how it benefits us. Maybe because nobody has bothered to help us visualize how life without a car is not only possible but, in many ways, preferable to life with a car. Far too many of us don’t see it.
I think this picture helps. In some ways it’s just an old bridge over a river, but think about a similar stretch of road where you live.
- Is it traffic choked?
- Is it buried in litter?
- Is crossing it dangerous?
- Is it stressful to navigate?
- Is it crumbling?
This bridge is none of that. Basel is over 2,000 years old and yet somehow the Swiss have managed to keep it beautiful, viable, vibrant and dare I say preferable to where most of us are now. It is so safe, in fact, that more people choose to cross by bike or on foot than in cars, at least if this picture is representative. I suspect it is.
Not long ago, I came to the realization that I want to live in a city like this. I don’t want to have to move to Switzerland to do so. Writing a blog like this can be a pretty thankless task, but I know of no other way that someone like me can change things except to plant seeds and hope that people smarter than I am take the baton and run with it. We need to start thinking about our cities in this manner. They don’t have to be dense with people living packed like sardines one on top of the other, but they don’t have to be so spread out that we can’t get anywhere without our own personal cars either. Something in between is just fine…something like Basel.
We can do this if we want to. It is a choice. It is our choice. It’s time to choose wisely. This is the right choice…no question about it. Instead of reinventing the wheel, all moving forward really requires is opening our eyes, seeing what works elsewhere and then making it ours. We can start in Basel, with one simple picture of a bridge crossing a river.