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Carfree Cities Conference

by Brian Smith

Portland, arguably America’s greenest city, will host the 2008 conference Towards Carfree Cities VIII: Rethinking Mobility, Rediscovering Proximity, from June 16-20, 2008. The conference will bring together activists and professionals from around the world to share strategies for building sustainable transportation systems and the transforming cities into human-scaled environments rich in public space and community life.

This year is the first time carfree activists, planners, and thinkers will gather in North America. The conference will showcase recent strides made in Portland’s urban landscape and teach participants about the city’s approach to sustainable living. Previous conference sites have included: Lyon, France; Timisoara, Romania; Prague, Czech Republic; Berlin, Germany; Budapest, Hungary; Bogotá, Colombia; and Istanbul, Turkey. Now America gets a chance to show our stuff.

The conference is the annual gathering of the World Carfree Network, a Prague-based organization formed in 1997 as an offshoot of the venerable Carbusters magazine. For the visionaries of the international green and transportation movement, Towards Carfree Cities conferences held around the world have become THE must-attend event where serious urban planners meet with advocates of all stripes working to get the message out.

In Portland, local host organization SHIFT aims to focus on strategy, collaboration and exchange, assisting the people actually already engaged in building the green urban transportation systems of the future, whether as activists, advocates, planners, or architects and engineers.

Elly Blue, a big wheel in the conference organizing collective says the conference program will include "case studies of streets turned into 'bicycle boulevards,' a panel highlighting how neighborhoods are reinventing themselves and thriving after the removal of inner city freeways, and workshops on using internet and media to build the carfree movement.”

Blue continues, “Portland is the most sustainable, bicycle-friendly major city in this country. We have world class public transportation, thoughtful, engaged citizens, and cohesive, walkable neighborhoods. People are striving for values of sustainability, community, and innovation, so the moment is right for the carfree movement to really take off. Successes and challenges we are facing in Portland will be a focal point of much of the programming, and we are excited about the chance to learn from similar efforts all over the world.”

Beyond three days of workshops, activities, and sight visits, highlights of the conference include:

Monday, June 16 will be Depaving Day, in which a parking lot in North Portland will be removed and turned into a green community space. Monday also includes an address by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). Blumenauer recently introduced the National Bike Bill, which would bring cycling to the forefront of national policy discourse about transportation and livability.

On Tuesday June 17th, Gil Penalosa, the former head of parks in Bogotá, Colombia will give a keynote speech about the ciclovia movement which he helped found. Ciclovia is the name of the regular carfree days now common throughout South America, where millions of people ride bikes, skate, walk, and do aerobics on major streets that are ordinarily dominated by car traffic. Penalosa is now executive director of the Canadian organization Walk and Bike for Life based in Ontario.

Thursday, June 19: Conference participants will enjoy a square dance held in the middle of a blocked-off, carfree street in downtown Portland.

Throughout the week a carfree art show will take place at Portland City Hall. Art with themes of sustainable transportation, human powered vehicles, and joyous use of public space will infuse the entire city at many locations during the week, creative expressions of transportation justice and cities free of automobile tyranny.

And for those who stick around, on Sunday, June 22 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. the City of Portland will introduce Sunday Parkways, the City of Portland's inaugural ciclovia street liberation. The city will close six miles of streets for Portlanders to walk, bike, run, stroll, and roller blade.

Pedalpalooza the biggest free bike fun festival in the world is happening at the same time as the conference.

Register is now underway.

- Brian Smith edits the Carfree USA blog

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