Flipping perception

The impact of the intensification of land use and movement is dramatic. The distinction between the natural and built environment has eroded. The balance has tipped inexorably. From a feeling of settlements within nature, there are now interconnected, sprawling settlements within which there is parkland. The nature we have is manicured, contained and tamed. It is a variant of a park. The wolves, the bears and the snakes have long gone. Sad it may be, but better to start from an honest premise.

Even widening a road through the countryside from one lane to two so that cars can pass one another has startling effects. In the one-lane landscape the car is careful, contained and cagey. Trees and foliage dominate. But as road space spreads, the visual impact

Source: Charles Landry

Cityness sprawls into every crevice of what was once nature of asphalt grows disproportionately, making the natural landscape feel less significant. The dual carriageway finally changes the perceptual balance completely, and this is a pattern seen the world over. To talk of urban versus rural makes increasingly less sense. For instance, the Midlands in Britain and much of the south of the country are in truth series of built-up villages, towns and cities connected by roads; the green in between is incidental.

Transport is central to the equation and the need to think it through creatively is urgent. For example, the width of land surface taken up by a double railway line is only 12m, compared with 47m for a three-lane motorway. A typical freight train can move over 1000 tonnes of product, equivalent to 50 heavy goods vehicles. And around 30 per cent of the lorries are running empty at any one time. Moving a tonne of freight by rail produces 80 per cent less carbon dioxide than moving it by road. Light van traffic is projected to grow by 74 per cent by 2025. Articulated lorry traffic is expected to grow by 23 per cent by 2010 and 45 per cent by 2025.20 Rail freight accounts for 12 per cent of the British surface freight market and removes over 300 million lorry miles from the roads every year. Its external cost to the environment and community (excluding congestion) is eight times less than road freight in terms of carbon dioxide per tonne kilometre.21

Alternatives are possible. The Brazilian city of Curitiba has a 150km bike network linked to a bus network. There is one car for every three people (which some might consider underdevelopment) and two-thirds of trips are made by bus. There has been a 30 per cent decline in traffic since 1974, despite a doubling of the population. Freiburg in Germany shows similar figures.22 Since 1982 local public transport has increased from 11 per cent to 18 per cent of all journeys made, and bicycle use from 15 per cent to 26 per cent, while motor vehicle traffic decreased from 38 per cent to 32 per cent, despite an increase in the issue of motor vehicle licences.23

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