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A fan's review of John Whiteleg's book: Mobility

Debra Efroymson

27 aug. 2023

An essential read for those concerned about urban life: John Whitelegg’s Mobility

Do you know that moment when an issue you’ve read, thought, written and talked about endlessly suddenly takes on a new clarity? When you have that “aha!” moment and realize that this is the foundation of this whole, huge part of life, and this is how I should address it from now on.

For me, having worked on urban planning and transport policy for two decades, reading John Whitelegg’s book Mobility, A New Urban Design and Transport Planning Philosophy for a Sustainable Future was one such moment. I was of course familiar with the expression “access not mobility.” But I had been focused on how the problem with transport in cities is based on giving priority to the car. I had thought less about our focus on ever-increasing amounts of movement. How much did people travel last year? Let’s ensure that they can travel more this year!

That single-minded focus on mobility at—almost literally—all costs explains so much about how politicians and planners destroy our cities. The climate crisis, air pollution, noise pollution, congestion, road crashes, and so many other problems are not just because we place the car on a pedestal and punish those on foot or on bicycles, but because we are so obsessed with moving farther and faster, with no end in sight.

John Whitelegg makes his main point repeatedly, clearly, and strongly. He provides us with voluminous evidence in the form of stories and offers us mountains of data. He walks us through issues such as road crashes, air pollution, the money wasted, and the disastrous effect on the climate, our health, inequality and our communities. He offers suggestions for addressing freight and for dealing with the problem in countries like China and India, which have leaped wholeheartedly onto the mindless mobility maxim.

The book does contain numerous editing errors and perhaps too many numbers for some, but his argument is clear, powerful, and succinct. If we want to have decent lives in our cities and on this planet, we must overcome our infatuation with moving around so much. We must reorder our cities and our lives to allow and encourage people to travel less, not more. This would result in enormous savings of time and money, as well as dramatically reduced impacts in terms of road injuries and deaths, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. And it would mean the return of children’s independent mobility, safety, community cohesion, and so many other desirables.

But don’t take my word for it: read the book for yourself!

John Whitelegg’s book Mobility is available from the CCA website. Download it here.

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