A City’s Quest for a “Green Boulevard”

flying bus

Just yesterday I was looking through the Green American Fall newsletter, and read an article about Hasselt, Belgium (4th largest city in Belgium) reclaiming its streets from traffic nightmare roads.  In the mid-1990s this city was very similar to many US cities, with a massive suburban sprawl and urban businesses experiencing great deterioration.  There was an increase in traffic congestion, thus a plan to ease this by building another road around the city (already two known as “ring roads”).  By the advice of a green consulting group, the then mayor of Hasselt—Steve Stevaert—halted construction of the new road (saving billions of dollars) and decided to turn half of the inner ring road into a pedestrian friendly thoroughfare by being car-free.  This is now known as the Green Boulevard.  Additionally, he created a more accessible bus system by increasing the number of busses (40 total) and letting residents ride them for free.

bike

Band on tandem bike riding through Hasselt.

These efforts revitalized the city, with “more people relocating to the city center; while the local economy has been boosted as more people shop or enjoy leisure time in a pleasant environment.”  With the success of the Green Boulevard, Hasselt now offers free guarded bike racks and luggage guard services; as well as free rentals of bikes, tandems, scooters, wheelchairs, and even strollers. Wouldn’t it be great if Boston did an initiative similar to Hasselt’s?  Could you imagine, being able to ride to work or school without the increased anxiety of all the traffic? Or an efficient and reliable mass transportation system? Granted, Hasselt’s population is around 70,000, while Boston’s is around 600,000.  So this kind of “green” initiative would be a greater task for Boston; but one can dream about how pleasant it would be.  However, Hasselt shows the world that making a city more environmentally friendly is sustainable over time with the perks of positive spillovers for the city—e.g. less accidents on the road, revitalize of businesses in the city, equal opportunities for transportation, etc.  As Nicholas Stern has openly declared a great need for global transformation in order to reduce climate change, this city seems to be paving the way on how to physically begin that path.

I want to thank Tracy Fernandez Rysavy, Editor of Green American, for bringing this quest of revitalizing a city, while being environmentally sustainable, to our attention.

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One Response

  1. The New York TImes recently published an article about a company in Paris, France that started a business similar to Zipcar but with bikes. The article reminded me of your post in the sense that the main goal of the rent a bike business is to “green” the city while creating a sustaining socially conscious for profit business with linkages extended to other areas of the city. Unfortunately, they have not had the wild success that other green companies have had. In fact, they have hit several brick walls such as losing a majority of their bikes to thieves.

    The reason find this article so interesting is that it shows that just because a company wants to be green does not necessarily mean that it will be automatically successful. There are still poor business proposals that cannot succeed even if they are well intentioned. I think sometimes we get lost in the green revolution and sometime forget that all businesses face strong adversity when they first begin, and this is even more true for environmentally friendly, green companies.

    In my opinion, business and social awareness can mix to make a strong company worthy of the title of a socially conscious for profit business. This is exactly what people like Mohammed Yunus have proven. My hope is that a failure like this one in Paris does not discourage companies from proposing green companies. Rather, I think it provides an incentive for green companies to be extra vigilant to ensure that they have a solid business proposal before starting out as a company.

    Here is the article if anyone is interested: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/31/world/europe/31bikes.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=france%20bike&st=cse

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