Although the definition of paradise is quite personal, I guess many agree that an island is closer to paradise than a crowded city. Or at least, most people can imagine a paradise island with sun and long beaches with white sand.
If I was asked to describe my paradise island, I wouldn’t add any cars into the picture. Preferably not a lot of concrete buildings either, but nice, nature-friendly housing instead. It would also have good weather, some palm trees and wildlife. My paradise island would be, without intentionally thinking of it, quite environmentally friendly. People would walk, run, and maybe bike, but there won’t be any need to add buses, cars or trains.
The good news is that this picture is not necessarily a dream. I am sure that from all the islands contained in our planet, some of them must be close to this description. At least I can mention one. Morro Do Sao Paulo in Brazil is an island home to around 5,000 people and thousands of tourists every year. You will be surprised to see that there are no cars on this island. Instead, the “Taxis” are carts driven by locals that use them to carry your luggage or the supplies to the supermarkets. The only method of motorized transportation on the island are tractors which carry passengers to other distant beaches, to pousadas and to the airport.
Is this Feasible in Bigger Places?
It is a valid argument to say that this could not be possible in a place with a population exceeding hundred thousands or even millions of people. As distances get bigger, the need for motorized transport increases. However, there are examples that show that cars can be replaced by other means of transportation that are more environmentally friendly. My point (and the problem) is that cars and motorized transportation have been set as a commodity and are now taken for granted, but it is time to rethink this situation and ask ourselves if it is really necessary to drive so much.
Fortunately, as environmental awareness expands, car dependence is slowly being reduced. Very different to Morro Do Sao Paulo, but still quite (and increasingly) eco-friendly is Copenhagen, or the city of cyclists. With over 500,000 inhabitants, Copenhagen is a great example of environmental awareness. Bikes are a lot more popular than cars and there is infrastructure specially designed to make it more convenient to bike than to use the car or public transport. There are, in fact, 390 kilometers of designated bike lanes including a brand new bridge exclusively for bikes.
As a consequence, while in many countries it is not at all common to bike 8 kilometers to work each day, in Denmark it would be strange not to. This is the result of a combination of government incentives and projects, safe streets, and a different mentality. The Danish government made energy efficiency a top priority, and both incentives and education go in line with this objective. Wind power accounts for almost 30% of the electricity generation in Denmark and the water in the canals in the capital city is so clean that one can even swim in them.
Cities Becoming Greener
Going back to our paradise island, we agree that smog and pollution would be left out of the picture. Although this is easy in a small scale islands, it is not so easy in larger cities. However, renewable sources of energy have proved to be efficient and affordable. Their implementation is spreading fast in most continents.
Countries like the USA and China, popular for their high levels of carbon emissions are examples of large scale renewable energy projects. Moreover, there are surprising facts like the UK switching to solar energy, despite its grey weather. Government incentives and financial help have been designed to attract more people to invest in renewables, making the UK greener and more sustainable.
Although we are still very far from living in paradise cities, we are on the right track if we stick to renewable energy and healthier lifestyles that rely less on cars and motorized transportation. Houses and businesses will slowly be less dependant on energy suppliers and will be able to produce their own, clean energy. Governments and education systems are essential partners on the project to create more sustainable and greener cities.