The many social and psychological benefits of low-car cities
A podcast discussion with Melissa and Chris Bruntlett about living in Delft, Netherlands.
In 2010, Chris and Melissa Bruntlett sold their cars and began transporting their family of four around Vancouver, BC, by bike. They noticed that bicyclists’ stories were not being told, so they started blogging about their carless lifestyle at the website of what would become their creative agency, Modacity.
Through cycling circles, they heard stories and saw pictures of cycling in Dutch cities, so they went to the Netherlands to check it out, visiting five cities to study cycling infrastructure, talk with local leaders, and share pictures, videos, and articles.
They ended up gathering enough material for a book, which was released in August 2018: Building the Cycling City: The Dutch Blueprint for Urban Vitality. (I interviewed them about the book for Vox.)
The success of the book led to a global speaking tour. That tour led to job offers for both of them — for him, at the Dutch Cycling Embassy; for her, at a consultancy called Mobycon — both with offices located in Delft, a small city in the southwest of the Netherlands.
So in 2019, they uprooted from Vancouver yet again, to move to Delft. Their experiences there over the following months were so intense and eye-opening that they launched into another book, this one an attempt to explain why low-car cities like Delft produce such a wide range of social and health benefits.
Why did they find it so much easier to meet their neighbors? Why did their kids enjoy so much more autonomy and safety? Why did they feel so much more connected and calm?
In their new book, Curbing Traffic: The Human Case for Fewer Cars in Our Lives, they walk through each of these feelings and experiences in turn, explaining why low-car cities facilitate them, and how other cities can reform their streets to capture some of these benefits. They review the research on why low-car cities are so much better for women, children, the elderly, the disabled, and ultimately, everyone else.
Reading the book was a joy for me, since it gathered research in support of theories that I have had about cars and human behavior for ages. I'm excited to talk to Melissa and Chris about how to design streets for people, the connection between urban infrastructure and social trust, the flourishing that Dutch children enjoy, and the myriad evils of cars.