Life without cars: Can we make it happen here?

The New York Times today tells the inspiring tale of a town on the German-Swiss-French borders that has more or less done away with cars. Vauban was completed just three years ago, and its radical, exhaust-free lifestyle was accomplished by telling home owners that if they owned a car, they'd have to park it in one of two garages on the outskirts of the development. Those spaces, purchased along with homes as a package, cost $40,000. Where garages or driveways should be, houses have bigger yards or more rooms. The result: 70% of locals don't own a car, and 57% of new arrivals sold their car before they moved in.

You could call it a novel way of looking at a urban planning. Except that's the way towns used to be, before cars took over.

The Vaubanese aren't isolated by their lack of personal vehicles. Rather, homes were arranged so that a tram to the nearby town of Freiburg would be easy for everyone to reach. Stores and banks were placed within walking distance of all homes, not zoned to remain in a cluster miles from home. For longer trips, residents use jointly owned cars or they belong to "car clubs" and book wheels for the day. That's a lot of bills people don't have to pay each month: no car payment, no insurance, no registrations, no fuel. And, as one local father points out, he's not afraid to let his kids play in the street now.