Gearing up for a major assault on the car

What single thing would improve life in London? That’s what Spanish designer Javier Mariscal was asked last week after he delivered his Design and Art Direction President’s Lecture. His answer? To ban the car and improve public transport.

Not a new thought, but if it is shared by visitors from abroad shouldn’t we stop the talking and finally do something about it – especially when one of those visitors is a designer of international renown?

For London you could read any major city. Far Eastern countries have gone further than most in addressing the problem, though electronic tracking systems and taxes to deter drivers from entering the city are not necessarily the most desirable way. Manchester, among other British cities, is trying trams; and Mariscal’s native Barcelona is looking at ways of keeping out cars – with the man who gave his city its Olympic mascot Cobi helping to drive the message home.

Can the problem be resolved? The car lobby is fearsome to politicians, and public transport costs far more than its worth in votes, if that ill-conceived outburst by transport minister Steven Norris is anything to go by.

There is certainly no easy solution for such a complex thing. But if the no-smoking brigade can have the effect in Britain of reducing smokers to a bunch of hunted, furtive folk considered (wrongly in my view) pariahs by the rest of us, why can’t campaigners for better transport have greater success? Such things are more a question of winning public support through reason than enforcing laws.

Design’s place in this? As part of the campaign, of course – and we hope transport will be one of the issues addressed at this weekend’s Design Week/RIBA Architecture Centre workshop set up to look at urban ills.

If the proactive stance of former Michael Peters Group offshoot Brand New helped to put trams back on to the UK agenda in the late Eighties and Barcelona sees a role for Mariscal in popularising pedestrianisation, design can change minds.

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