"Getting money right is the most important thing in
economics, and if anyone can dispel the anxiety and mystery
surrounding this crucial subject, it's Nathan Lewis. He
knows economics and money inside out. More importantly, he
writes about the subject lucidly and insightfully in a
soothing and reassuring way."
-- Steve Forbes (from the Introduction)
For five thousand years of human urban civilization, people
didn't have cars. Their cities reflected this: they were
made for walking, mostly, and some wagon traffic. Of course,
we don't need to use oxcarts today. We can move cargo with
motorized trucks. But, we can still design our cities to
walk around in, rather than to drive around in, as we have
in Suburban Hell for roughly a century.
In fact, many hundreds of millions of people are already
living like this today. I like to use the example of
Japanese cities, notably Tokyo. First, I am familiar with
it, having lived there for over five years. But also, it is
a modern and contemporary city, not some antique French
village supported by tourism. Also, Japan certainly
manufactures a lot of cars. They just don't use them, in
most urban environments. Walking is supplemented by trains
Many Japanese use bicycles, but most do not. These are
cities optimized for walking, not bicycling. As it turns
out, a city optimized for walking is also pretty good for
biking. But, a city optimized for biking might not at all be
good for walking. The walking+trains combo is the winner
here -- and in most other major metropolises worldwide,
including New York, Paris, London, Hong Kong et cetera.
Many people who live in places like London, Paris,
Barcelona, Mexico City, Shanghai, Frankfurt, and elsewhere
do not own automobiles. They often don't own bicycles, or at
least, don't use them regularly for daily transportation.
They walk and ride trains, especially subways.
The basic form we are looking at here is the form of
virtually all human cities worldwide, in Europe, Asia and
the Americas, until about 1780. Around that time, coinciding
with the Industrial Revolution, a new pattern of City Design
began to emerge, which I call 19th Century Hypertrophism.
This was particularly virulent in the United States, because
the U.S. was building all of its cities from scratch in
I call this form the Traditional City. It has certain basic
attributes, whether you are looking at the ruins of ancient
Rome, Venice, or modern Osaka. They are:
Really Narrow Streets. Or, you could call them
"pedestrian streets." These are streets about 8-25 feet
wide, from building to building. Typically there are no
sidewalks, or only a vestigal sidewalk. The entire street
width is shared by walkers and often with motorized
vehicles, which must travel quite slowly. Typically, there
is an "arterial street" nearby, with a central roadway for
wheeled vehicles. However, most of the streets are Really
Narrow pedestrian streets.
Buildings side-by-side. Buildings do not have side or
front setbacks, although they can often have yards in the
back, or courtyards on the sides or center. Building height
is typically no more than about six stories, the limit of
practical height without steel frame construction and
The result of this simple combination of ingredients is that
the street area becomes a beautiful place for people. This
is completely different than the common experience today, in
the 19th Century Hypertrophic City (for example, Queens or
Chicago), the 20th Century Hypertrophic City (Dubai or the
Las Vegas strip), or Suburban Hell (where you are living
now). In all of those cases, the area outside the house is
bleak, barren, and basically unpleasant. This leads people
to attempt to compensate for this failure by having their
own pleasant environment surrounding their house -- their
suburban yard. Of course, once you do this, you are locked
into a cycle of automobile dependency. The city becomes
overwhelmed by roadways, parking lots, and useless "green
space" to make all the pavement a little more tolerable. The
overall result is that the city becomes overwhelmingly
antagonistic to humans.
This is the Shinjuku district of Tokyo. It
is a little like Times Square in New York City, although
much bigger, much more interesting, and much more fun.
This video also enters Kabukicho, which is an "adult
What do you see here? Notice the Really Narrow Streets,
typically 12-25 feet wide. No sidewalks. People walking
right down the middle of the street. Automobiles aren't
banned from these streets, and indeed all the shops you
see here get deliveries and so forth from motorized
vehicles. Taxis make dropoffs. But, for the most part,
cars don't go there because it is hard to drive! They
stick to the nearby "arterial" steets (you will see them
sometimes in the videos) unless they have a destination on
a Really Narrow street.
This is the Shibuya district of Tokyo. It is about three
miles south of Shinjuku. Shibuya is a center for younger
people, particularly teenagers up to about age 25.
What do you see? Again the Really Narrow Streets, no cars,
and also not many bikes either. Most everyone here arrived
This is the Akihabara district of Tokyo. It is about five
miles east of Shibuya. The video starts on a large
"arterial" street, actually more like Grand Boulevard size.
You can have streets of this size, but not too many. I
generally suggest about 3% Grand Boulevards, 17% Arterials,
and 80% Really Narrow Streets, by street length. Akihabara
is known as "electronics town," and is also a center for
"otaku" culture. It is basically a 365-days-a-year comic
Venice is so beautiful, it is almost painful. That's why I
like to focus on Tokyo. It is not so classy, and thus seems
much more attainable than Venice. Actually, the buildings in
Tokyo are very simple, mostly plain concrete boxes, often
with some lights. Most buildings in Venice are not
complicated either, just plain boxes with a grid of windows.
The important thing is to notice that the basic formula in
Tokyo and Venice is the same. Really Narrow Streets and
buildings side-by-side with no setbacks. This emerged
independently in both places, and indeed in all places
Now let's go to Santorini, Greece. Like Venice, this place
is so beautiful it has become a major worldwide travel
destination. But why is it so desirable, that everybody goes
there, while nobody spends their vacation in your Suburban
Hell nightmare? Is it because it is in the Traditional City
Doesn't that all seem comfortable and familiar? You already
know how to do this. Hundreds of millions, perhaps billions,
of people are already living this way. Millions more pay
lots of money to spend a week there on their vacations.
Maybe you have too.
Notice how there are no cars in any of these examples. You
didn't miss them, did you? You easily became accustomed to a
no-car environment, didn't you? Actually, there might be
some cars here and there. They are usually not banned
completely. Certainly, there are commercial vehicles for
deliveries, trash pickup and so forth. It's not really a
There it is. Life Without Cars. It already exists.
Why don't we have this in the United States? It's because we
are extremely stupid. There is no other explanation.