A City Of The Future

What might happen in a city without cars or private land

One of the articles in Designing A Sustainable Future (IC#35)
Originally published in Spring 1993 on page 55
Copyright (c)1993, 1996 by Context Institute

Anthropolis: A Tale of Two Cities, by Daniel Fischer, is a utopian vision of a city based on the notion that people, nature, and a recognition of the interconnectedness of all life are paramount.

The founders of this fictional city made two key decisions that set the stage for much else that followed: automobiles and private land ownership were eliminated.

In the following excerpts, long-time resident Caleb Smith explains the Anthropolis approach to two visitors, John and Nancy Jones. This excerpt begins as the three walk to Caleb’s home.

Caleb knew everyone they passed. There was much pedestrian activity, interspersed with adults and children on bicycles and roller skates. John and Nancy were struck by the absence of harsh mechanical noises and the omnipresence of banter and laughter. Birds, squirrels, and an occasional dog made their presence known. No horns. No drone of tires. It was eerie and pleasant – a distinctly different aural experience. Too calm and quiet for the city, more "human" noise than the country. And clean, fresh air.

Caleb: "Our walkways are our primary transportation network. They aren’t as wide as conventional streets as they needn’t accommodate six-foot wide cars. They carry plenty of traffic: pedestrians, bicyclists, skaters, carts, and an occasional skateboard.

"In conventional urban design, automobiles provide a high degree of access, mobility, and anonymity; people are used to ‘foreign’ traffic traversing their neighborhoods, making the potential thief relatively inconspicuous.

"In a more compact city, higher densities mean the public streets are rarely deserted. When everyone travels by foot or bike, the traffic is also more ‘personal.’ Add to this the ownership individuals experience in their city, their neighborhood, their ‘space,’ and you have thousands of policemen guarding every way. The opportunity for crime is significantly curtailed.

"The ability to get anywhere conveniently without the expense and hassle of a car is a psychological benefit as well as a financial one. You feel safe. And everyone can get around, including kids, the elderly and the infirm. We wouldn’t be in near as good physical shape without all the walking and biking.

"When electric vehicles reached a level of technical maturity and popularity, there was some pressure to accommodate them. The advocates of a non-auto environment won out; it was obvious that the automobile’s mode of propulsion was incidental to its impact on the structure and nature of the community."

In this excerpt, Caleb responds to John’s question about why city founders chose to hold the land in common.

"Our decision to limit private ownership was not driven by ideology. It was never an end in itself, but rather the only effective method for achieving other critical objectives. We were determined to control the cost of housing for the second, third and fourth owner, not just the initial buyer. This required measures to limit speculation.

"We also wanted to afford all residents the opportunity to own their home and their place of business; this meant precluding a few members of the community from gaining control over an inordinate share of land.

"We seriously explored alternatives to the community land trust. We looked at community buy-back options, covenants, and other legal instruments more consistent with conventional private ownership. Unfortunately, legal precedent makes those alternatives weak and undependable tools.

"We also considered the possibility of maintaining a surplus of houses to control the supply side of the equation, to moderate the price of resale homes by being the supplier of last resort.

"That could work if the community realized moderate growth – if in fact it wasn’t too appealing or too successful. The thought seemed rather self-defeating! We would at some point reach natural or desirable limits to growth; expanding supply would no longer be an option.

"Community ownership of land with long-term, low-cost leases proved the only realistic and dependable option. It provides all the good elements of private ownership while precluding the counterproductive results."

These excerpts are reprinted with permission by Mercer University Press, Macon, GA 31207, 800/637-2378, ext. 2880.

Dan Fischer is working on a second book on the steps needed to move to a future such as he envisioned in Anthropolis. He welcomes correspondence at the above address.

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