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Promoting carfree cities in Bangladesh

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Carfree cities may sound like an impossible dream, but then again, car-choked cities are a nightmare. In order to inspire people to see the potential beyond the present misery, we invited J.H. Crawford, author of Carfree Cities and Carfree Design Manual, to give two seminars recently in Dhaka. The first was mostly for activists, the second for professional planners. Both seminars were well attended by a mix of VIPs, NGO officials, professors, students, planners, and young organizers. I admit I was surprised both by the turnout and by the level of interest of the participants. Rather than scoff at the idea or question its feasibility, most showed great interest in working towards a carfree Dhaka, or at least towards significant carfree districts. Apparently people have begun to realize that there must be a better practicality than that of our existing cities, where children cannot walk to school, people take their lives into their hands to cross the street, and it is dangerous to breathe the air. Or as J.H. Crawford eloquently reminded us, we have two choices: knock down most of the existing city to make way for cars, or reclaim the city for the people. It should not be a difficult choice.