Ultra Low Emission Zones, congestions zones, zero emission zones, 15 minute cities… the push to eliminate carbon emissions from city streets across the globe has resulted in an evolving process of re-urbanising city centres in a way that changes priorities and behaviours.

But how is this manifesting itself in reality, and is it killing cities, or saving them? There are arguments for both sides, weighing up financial costs, erosion on the freedom of movement, and the impact on local businesses against potential results over a period of time.

Increasing the preponderance of pedestrian spaces 

The aim of so much urban architecture these days is to push any vehicle to the furthest extremities and prioritise pedestrians over cars. While ULEZ compliant electric vehicles still have a degree of free rein within city boundaries, an increasing number of streets are being converted into pedestrian-only zones or semi-pedestrianized areas with limited vehicle access, cordoned off with Ramco bollards or similar.

Large plazas and open spaces are created, encouraging people to walk, gather, and enjoy outdoor activities without the noise and pollution of cars. While this sounds idyllic, in practice it has had a staggeringly negative effect on many small local businesses. As well as the loss of passing traffic leading to a reduction in the number of visitors, many individuals and small companies who have older cars and cannot afford to replace them are now liable for daily punitive costs.

For such an approach to work long term, there needs to be a better understanding of how existing residents and businesses can incorporate such far reaching changes in a way that is sustainable and minimises damage to their livelihoods.

Establishment of public transportation hubs

If you are taking private transportation away from people, you need to be able to replace it with a viable alternative. Urban architecture often focuses on creating efficient public transportation hubs, where electric buses, the reincarnation of trams, and cleaning up and modernising subway systems. For people to use these hubs willingly they need to be cheap, accessible, clean and safe. They need to be able to connect every possible corner of the city to ensure that isolated corners are not forgotten and left to rot. 

Safety is, and always will be, of paramount importance. While keeping cars out, urban planners want to make sure that they encourage people into city centres to fuel economic growth. 

Alongside a mixed use transportation hub, is an infrastructure which is bike friendly, incorporating dedicated bike lanes, bike-sharing programs, and secure bike parking facilities. Urban architecture incorporates these elements by designing wider streets with separate lanes for cyclists, creating bike racks, and integrating bike paths into parks and green spaces.

Green public spaces

The collaboration of integrating nature into the urban landscape is crucial to the re-oxidisation of urban environments, creating a cleaner, fresher environment in which families, and particularly children, can work and play without fear of illness or damage to health.  

Weaved into this new, greener approach to urban design is the regeneration of buildings into car free housing developments. Car ownership is strongly discouraged, incorporating an often punitive approach to those who wish to maintain a car within the city centre. However, priority is given to those who create a car free life, eschewing private vehicles for pubic transportation and local urban living convenience.

Accordingly, many communities and neighbourhoods encourage walking, cycling, and public transportation over car ownership. Buildings are designed with amenities such as bike storage, electric vehicle charging stations, and convenient access to public transport.

Old warehouses, factories, and office buildings are transformed into mixed-use developments, community centers, or cultural spaces. This reduces the need for demolition and new construction, minimizing the environmental impact and congestion caused by construction vehicles.


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