The Safest Suburb In The World Did It By Ending The Culture Of Cars | FastCompany
The difference between this Dutch city and most North American commuter towns is that it actually makes good on its promise of safety, security, and good health.
What happens when you build mobility systems entirely around safety? I found out the morning I arrived in Houten, a design experiment set amid the soggy pastures of the Dutch lowlands.
I stepped off the train, eyes blurry with an Amsterdam-size hangover, and found a bustling downtown without a car in sight--just throngs of white-haired senior citizens wheeling past on bicycles, their baskets loaded with shopping. I was greeted at Houten’s city hall by the mild-mannered traffic director, Herbert Tiemens, who insisted that we go for a ride. He led me down Houten’s main road, which was not actually a road but a winding path through what looked like a golf course or a soft-edged set from Teletubbies: all lawns and ponds and manicured shrubs. Not a car in sight. We rolled past an elementary school and kindergarten just as the lunch bell rang. Children, some of whom seemed barely out of diapers, poured out, hopped on little pink and blue bicycles, and raced past us, homeward.
“We are quite proud of this,” Tiemens boasted. “In most of the Netherlands, children don’t bike alone to school until they are eight or nine years old. Here they start as young as six.”
“Their parents must be terrified,” I said.
“There’s nothing to fear. The little ones do not need to cross a single road on their way home.”
Once upon a time, Houten was a tiny village clustered around a fourteenth-century church. But in 1979 the Dutch government declared that Houten needed to do its part in absorbing the country’s exploding population. The hamlet of 5,000 needed to grow by 10 times in 24 years--an expansion similar to what many American suburbs would experience. Faced with such an overwhelming change, the local council adopted a plan that turned the traditional notion of the city inside out.
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