For many years the United Nations Population Division has documented the extensive migration of rural populations to urban regions, as people everywhere strive for better jobs and lives. The result, especially in Asia over recent years, has been an accelerated growth of existing cities and, in many cases, the effective creation of new cities that are sprawling, congested, and dependent on the automobile. This raises an obvious question: If an additional two billion people live in and around cities by mid-century, can the urban and suburban landscape be designed or redesigned to have a more sustainable transportation system?
History offers no encouragement so far as improved urban designs are concerned. City planners, transportation planners, and policy analysts have struggled for decades to reconcile the frequently expressed desire for "livable cities" with the actual lifestyle choices made by individuals. By and large, they have failed, and car use around the world has grown unabated. As people's wealth increases, they buy cars and live in bigger homes further away from city centers. In an era of rapidly expanding personal mobility, cities have been constructed and reconstructed to accommodate fast, heavy motor vehicles. Nothing short of outright prohibition or economic catastrophe—not even high fuel prices, improved access to public transit, or better zoning—will stop this trend.
The result is a host of seemingly intractable problems: unacceptable congestion and fatalities on streets and highways, environmental degradation, ugly infrastructure, social fragmentation and insularity, and cultural impoverishment. Unable to stop the fundamental transportation and land use forces at work, people have tried to mitigate at least some of the undesirable consequences of the present system. There have been some notable successes: emissions of urban air pollutants from new, well-maintained cars are dramatically lower than emissions from cars thirty years ago, and in recent years the number of annual motor-vehicle-related deaths has stabilized, in large part due to tougher laws, greater use of seat belts, and improved vehicle design. However, there are still serious environmental concerns (such as global climate change), economic and environmental problems associated with oil use, appalling death and injury on the highways, rising traffi c congestion, undeniably ugly transportation infrastructure, and increasing social fragmentation, which many blame on automobile-driven suburban sprawl (Burchell et al. 2002).
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