Towards Carfree Cities X: What happened in Guadalajara from 3 to 10 September 2011?

From the Editor’s Desk:

This year’s World Carfree Network Conference was organized by the dynamic and fast growing city of Guadalajara, under the title Towards Carfree Cities (Hacia ciudades libres de autos), and with the support and management of two local activist groups, Ciudad Para Todos and GDL en Bici. I was invited to provide the opening keynote address on the topic of “Better Cities with a Lot Fewer Cars”, to kick off a weeklong festival of events, discussions, and presentations in the context of their program. My chosen themes were (a) deep democracy and (b) the need for immediate action. I was wonderfully received and learned a lot during my busy week with them.

From the organisers:

The annual WCN Conference is a gathering that brings people from all over the world, who come along to share ideas, work and examples of what they have been developing in their countries to make our cities a better place to live in. This year it took place for the second occasion in Latin America. While the annual conferences are supported by the World Carfree Network, it is the sponsoring local organizations who take the lead in making them happen.

The theme this year: It’s time for action.

The time to move towards carfree cities has come. We must depart from cities that neglect us towards cities that belong to us. Step by step moving onto the right direction. We need to collectively realise that in order to have a better future we need not to build more roads, but to transform our mindsets. It’s time to move on.

You can see the full conference program, including information on follow-up projects, events and media, at

Guadalajara as a leading example (The medium is the message)

To me, the most exciting thing about the conference was the city itself. reminiscent of Marshall McLuhan’s reminder that the medium is the message. In this case it truly was.

Guadalajara is an absolutely picture book example of the dilemma of sustainable transportation in all its ugly varieties. Unrelenting, cascading growth in car ownership and car use as the main transport mode to and around the center, impossible and increasing burdens on the citizens of the city in terms of lost time, rotten air, dangerous streets, unnecessary high transport costs for all – the usual, I might say — , with government at all levels stubbornly sticking to the old mobility agenda of mindlessly building yet more capacity, more roads, wider streets, more bridges, more tunnels and more parking facilities, and on the part of the responsible authorities over the last fifteen years little understanding — no check that, NO understanding — of the all too often proved fact that there is no way in the world in which they or anyone else can deal with the mounting problems of cars, traffic and all that goes with them, without a major course change.

To put this into context, one of the most knowledgeable people with whom I met during my week there looked me in the eye and said, “Eric, I am ashamed of my city. And I ashamed of us for letting it get to this point.” (To which I could only say, and said, that being ashamed is the important first step in the process of turning the situation around. The important thing is the next step, and that is what we spent the week talking about and planning.)

Guadalajara is in its own way a perfect case, and if as a result of the energy and ideas that were set out and vigorously discussed during the course of the meeting by many participants looking at this from a wide variety of angles and experience, I am prudently optimistic that some kind of new policy can be achieved. This will provide a powerful example for cities across Mexico, Latin America, and the developing countries more generally. A bit like New York and the song “if you could do it there you can do it anywhere”, and indeed I am optimistic that there is every chance that the fast-growing new consensus will be able to make a difference in Guadalajara in the two or three years directly ahead. And if I can lend a hand in this process in any way, be sure that I will do it.

Looking back on our busy week together from Paris, I can honestly say that it was one of the most successful international conferences I have ever had the pleasure to attend. The organizers combined ideas, enthusiasm, originality, a taste for complexity and contradiction, openness of mind, critical thinking and a chaotic style of organization and adaptation in which every single time at the last minute they ended up pulling the rabbit out of the hat.

It was a great event: it created a strong sense of family and sharing among all who came to Guadalajara, and not only did we all enjoy it greatly, but I also think that discussions and different points of view that were expressed really did help all present to take a couple of good steps in the right direction of better understanding what at least some parts of public policy can and should be.

The variety of people and views was great, as it should be. There were many young people who showed themselves to be very active, creative and thoughtful — and anyone who says that our young people around the world today are not going to be up to the future challenges of sustainable cities, sustainable transportation and sustainable lives, all I can tell you is that they are a lot better than my generation and probably yours.


Here the organizers and their team were consistently, unstoppably creative. To give an idea As an example of the quality of their work and their contribution, let me point you to a series of very short videos which they prepared and which you can find at . . .

Announcing the conference:

Making important points about sustainable transport and sustainable cities in 15 seconds or less:

Two quick bits of me on sustainable transport, Guadalajara and beautiful cities:

The Master Classes/Stress Test:

In the wings of the conference I was invited to give a weeklong series of early morning Master Classes, which on this occasion brought together a group of close to thirty people working in local government or in public agencies who met with me from 8 to 10 o’clock every morning of the week, in order to explore together the concepts of sustainable development and sustainable transportation from a practical perspective.

What we were trying to do was to work together to get a much more specific feel for the working end of the concepts of sustainability and development, as a necessary step in order to come up with what I call a “stress test “, of a sort which we can apply to review, class and finally decide on transportation projects from a consistent perspective, which of course is today notably not the case in most countries, Mexico and Guadalajara included.

If you are interested, we will be following up on this in considerable detail in the weeks and months ahead, so please let me know so we can keep you in the loop.

# # #

Here in case you wish to follow, is a short on-street, in-transit interview with a media team from the host group, TESO, Universidad Jesuita de Guadalajara.

Let me close with a word of deep appreciation to all those who organized this great event and who participated, and for the terrific support that we received over the course of our busy week in Guadalajara.

Let’s see what happens next. It was only a beginning. Let’s keep our eyes on Guadalajara.


One thought on “Towards Carfree Cities X: What happened in Guadalajara from 3 to 10 September 2011?

  1. Le sens de la famille: Un atout Mexicain.

    – France Benainous, Paris, le 4 octobre 11

    (An English language translation follow.)

    Après avoir lu cet article et avoir participé au Congrès International Carfree du 5 au 9 septembre 2011 à Guadalajara, il m’est venu quelques réflexions que je vous livre très simplement.

    1 Un curieux patchwork.

    Arrivant de notre vieille Europe, j’ai été frappée à Guadalajara par l’hospitalité spontanée et la gaieté des habitants, par leur sens de la famille mais aussi par la densité de la vie urbaine avec ses nuisances inévitables qui, ici, atteignent des niveaux saisissants en terme d’embouteillages et de bruit. La majorité des Mexicains semblent accepter fatalement ce fléau comme étant le revers inévitable d’une certaine modernité.

    Comment ne pas voir le lien entre l’accueil chaleureux et généreux que l’on reçoit ici et l’attachement aux valeurs familiales. Quelle richesse pour une société, ce sens toujours vivace de la famille ! Héritage culturel lié à l’histoire et certainement aux racines catholiques fortement ancrées, encore aujourd’hui, dans les habitudes de vie. Le Mexique comme d’autres pays latino américains, possède un taux très élevé de catholiques (88%) pour la plupart pratiquants qui influent pour le meilleur et pour le pire, mais dans ce cas pour le meilleur, sur la pérennité des traditions familiales.

    Ces liens permettent de mieux surmonter les épreuves et d’accepter les efforts que celles-ci demandent. Sans me faire l’apôtre inconditionnel de la famille, je crois que celle-ci peut souvent servir de bouclier et protéger d’une folie destructrice.

    2 Faire de ce socle un élément moteur d’une nouvelle mobilité.

    Si ce patrimoine est toujours présent dans la vie quotidienne, il est curieusement annihilé par l’automobile. L’emprise de celle-ci est telle qu’elle génère, là comme partout, égoïsme et dangerosité.

    L’automobile a insidieusement écarté les valeurs traditionnelles et s’est installée comme la propriétaire de la rue et des routes grignotant puis avalant les espaces publics au détriment de toute convivialité et sécurité. Cette politique a créé les conditions de nuisances que nous ne connaissons que trop : embouteillages, pollution, individualisme et isolement. Fi du partage et de la convivialité lorsqu’on est au volant, là comme ailleurs.

    Alors pourquoi ne pas suggérer aux habitants de Guadalajara de s’appuyer sur leur patrimoine culturel dont la famille est un élément important, pour faire de leur ville un lieu où il fait bon vivre et où le partage, l’échange, le plaisir de vivre ensemble sont les garants d’une société durable. C’est le défi que Guadalajara peut relever car elle en a le potentiel.

    3 Conclusion .

    Sans clouer au pilori l’automobile, sans évoquer les jours anciens avec nostalgie, utilisons notre bon sens, appuyons-nous sur nos valeurs fondamentales, mettons la technologie au service d’une société équitable afin que les plus vulnérables, enfants, vieillards, handicapés, démunis, puissent trouver leur place dans la cité.

    Vous avez ce merveilleux sens de la famille. Ne pas le laisser aller. Il est un élément clé d’un avenir meilleur. Votre avenir meilleur!

    The sense of family: An advantage for Mexico

    – France Benainous, Paris, October 4, 2011

    (Translation from the French via Google and lightly edited.)

    After reading this article and taking part in the International Carfree Congress in Guadalajara, I came up a few thoughts that I thought to share with you.

    1. A curious patchwork.

    Coming from old Europe, I was immediately struck by the hospitality in Guadalajara and the spontaneous joy of the people, by their sense of family but also by the density of urban life with its inevitable nuisances, reaching levels striking in terms of traffic and noise. Most Mexicans seem to accept the inevitable scourge as the inevitable cost of a certain modernity.

    How can we not see the connection between the warm and generous welcome that we receive here and the commitment to family values. What wealth for society, the sense of the family still alive! Cultural heritage linked to the history and certainly the Catholic roots deeply embedded even today in the lifestyle. Mexico like other Latin American countries, has a very high rate of Catholics (88%) for most practitioners that affect for better or for worse, but in this case for the best, the sustainability of family traditions.

    These links to better overcome the challenges and accepting the effort that they require. Without getting the apostle unconditional family, I think it can often be a shield and protect a destructive madness.

    2 To make this base a driving force of a new mobility.

    If this heritage is still present in everyday life, it is curiously undone by the automobile. The influence of the latter is such that it generates, here as everywhere, selfish and dangerous.

    The car has insidiously spread the traditional values and was installed as the owner of the streets and roads and swallowing traditional public spaces at the expense of a friendly and secure. This policy has created nuisance conditions that we know too: traffic jams, pollution, individualism and isolation. To bad for sharing and friendliness when you are driving, here as elsewhere.

    So why not suggest to the people of Guadalajara to build on their cultural heritage whose family is important, to make their city a better place to live and where the sharing, exchange, the pleasure of living all are guarantors of a sustainable society. Guadalajara is the challenge that may take up because it has the potential.

    3. Conclusion

    The idea is not to pillory the hapless cars, not to recalling the old days with nostalgia. Let’s use our common sense, we support our core values, say the technology for an equitable society, so that the most vulnerable children, the elderly, disabled , need, can find their place in the city.

    You have this wonderful sense of family. Do not let it go. It is a key building block for a better future.


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