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.
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.