What would the city streets look like without cars? On September 25th, two great cities on opposite sides of the globe - Seoul and Paris - will find out by handing over the streets to pedestrians. In both cities, the entire day will be designated "car-free," banning cars from the iconic Sejong-daero in Seoul and Champs Elysées in Paris.
For decades the car and the city have existed in symbiosis as mayors and city planners pursued growth at any cost. Automobiles appeared to offer higher travel speeds, and greater convenience for citizens which should have led to faster economic growth. Yet, as anyone who has ever sat in a traffic jam at rush hour knows, the reality is very different. Crucially, we now also know that private vehicles are one of the main contributors to any cites greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore a major cause of climate change. A person driving a car at 60km per hour emits as much as 1,500 times more greenhouse gases than the same person travelling on the subway. These emissions also cause air pollution that affects the health of our most vulnerable citizens. Everyday we are suffering the consequences of conceding the streets to cars rather than people.
In this respect, "Car-free Day," is a symbolic campaign that represents our determination as both mayors and citizens to proactively tackle climate change by shifting the transportation paradigm from cars to people.
Seoul introduced Car-free Day in 2007, so this year marks the tenth anniversary. Paris instituted its first Car-free Day on September 29, 2015, in the run-up to the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference. Since then, the Car-free Day has been repeated on the first Sunday of each month on the Champs Elysées. Last year, 45% of all roads in the east of the Seine was closed for Paris' Car-free day. This year, it will be expanded to 65%.
Seoul and Paris have long been leaders in the global fight against climate change, not least because they have seen the threat that it poses. This year, a catastrophic flood caused the Seine River to rise to its highest level in more than 34 years, forcing the Louvre and Orsay museums to close. In 2016 Seoul also suffered from a severe heatwave with the average August temperatures hitting 34.3 degrees Celsius.
Through leadership of powerful global city networks, ICLEI and C40 Cities we have personally committed to driving international progress on tackling climate change and building sustainable, resilient and liveable cities. This week will also see the launch of the C40 Mobility Management Network, led by the city of Paris, which will bring together cities to talk about their mobility challenges and transform the way people move around their cities.
The most successful cities of the future and those that will benefit from the greatest economic growth will be the cities that adapt to the threats and opportunities of a changing climate. The Car-free Day on the streets of Seoul and Paris will provide just a glimpse of what sustainable, accessible and healthy future cities look like.
As we join our fellow citizens to walk to the Arc de Triomphe and the Gwanghwamun, on Sept 25th taking advantage of the fresh air, we will show the world a glimpse of the cities of the future. As mayors, we encourage our fellow city leaders to launch car free days in their own cities.