Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Abstract

It is clear that the continued expansion of car usage in European cities is environmentally unsustainable. If this is so, it is important to discover to what extent and in what way the car has become essential to life in European cities, and to develop policies for reducing such 'car dependency'.
The project took four European cities as case studies. Two are car dominated and 'bad practice' cities: Athens and Dublin. Two have restrained car travel and are 'best practice' cities: Bologna and Helsinki. Within each of these four cities three local areas were selected for detailed study: an inner city 'yuppified' area, a low income or working class suburban area, a middle class suburban area.
The research began by using aggregate statistics to compare the case study cities with other cities in Europe and the world. This showed a substantial variation in car usage between cities. Within Europe rich cities have lower levels of car usage.
The first fieldwork stage of the research explained how Athens and Dublin have become car dependent, and conversely how Bologna and Helsinki have become cities that constrain car dependency. This involved a historical analysis of the 'technological trajectory' of the car system in each city, and a political sociology of contemporary decision-making. This showed that a necessary (but hardly sufficient) condition for tackling car dependency is an effective city level government.
Fieldwork in each locality involved three separate methods: ethnographic research, a questionnaire based sample survey, and focus groups. This research showed that car usage is doubly contextualised by the immediate locality and by the city itself.
Thus the study of working class peripheral housing areas showed that in car dependent cities those without access to car transport are often socially isolated and lack access to employment and facilities. This is not the case in cities which have controlled car dependency.

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