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Low Traffic Neighbourhoods -- the wrong place to start

Updated: Feb 26, 2022

I'm against Low Traffic Neighbourhoods.

I'm not against the concept but the name, and an execution all too often driven by the 'problem' of traffic, an approach that creates an 'us versus them' narrative all too readily exploited by politics and the media – and I speak as someone who previously studied the former and worked in the latter.

Start with what's strong -- not what's wrong

'Asset Based Community Development (ABCD)' is a fancy word created by academics for an approach that starts not from a neighbourhood's problems but from its strengths – and seeks to build on those strengths.

I live on the edge of Oxford's newly approved Florence Park Low Traffic Neighbourhood, so lets use that as an example. Within, or on the border of Florence Park there is a park, a nature reserve, a city farm, allotments, several schools and nurseries, community centres, a nursing home and a pub – not to mention all the efforts and skills of the organisations that use them and the individuals that enhance them – like the woman who used chalk to create a 'fun school' in the park.

Looking at these 'assets', these strengths, the question that comes to mind is 'how can we make the most of them?' How might we make it easier for a child to get between their school, the park and their home? How might we make it easier for an older resident to attend coffee mornings at the community centre, to tend their allotments or just pop down the pub?

As the BMW that nearly drove through my back at 50mph down the 20mph signposted Rymers Lane – next to the park, nursery and community centre in Florence Park that saw another person crash their car over an often busy pavement and through a cast-iron fence just the other week – can tell you Florence Park is not as child-friendly or walkable as it might be.

Let us not look at Low Traffic Neighbourhood as the introduction of 'barriers' or 'filters' to impede motorized traffic but ask how might we connect the places in our neighbourhood in a way that puts people-power not horse-power first. How might we make Florence Park more walkable, friendlier for children, friendlier for ageing communities?

When my daughter is old enough to walk to school, I'd like to be confident enough – as we once were – in her safety to see her and her friends walk off from my door, rather than keep her on a leash of 100 yards.

And that's why I'm against Low Traffic Neighbourhoods – or at least the way they are being thought of as the ultimate solution to a problem. Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are a step – I believe a necessary one – to improve road safety, reduce pollution and encourage physical activity, but to create healthier, happier, Child-Friendly Neighbourhoods, it is only a first step.

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