Our GPS had us about a mile from Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, when Wynne seemed to be prematurely looking for parking. “Why do we have to park so far from our AirBnB?” I asked again in disbelief.
“I told you”, Wynne reminded us, “our AirBnB host said there is no parking near the unit.”
This seemed crazy to me and a huge inconvenience. Why did we book a room where you have to lug three week’s worth of luggage some impossible distance?
But there we were, staring at a fairly long cobblestone street that disappeared into the city center. We stacked our small bags on top of our roller suitcases, slung our backpacks over our shoulders, and began trudging our stuff toward our unit.
Noting our struggles and awkwardness, I couldn’t help feeling like we had to be providing amusement to the locals.
Then the realization hit. Aliza noticed it first and shouted out, “I think I’m going to love this city.” And boy was she right.
What had she noticed? There were no cars anywhere. None. No traffic, no noise, no vehicles zooming past pedestrians. It was like going back 200 years into the past…and perhaps a look into our near future?
In 2007 the forward-thinking city planners of Ljubljana wanted to go 100% Green. This included creating a car free zone. As you can imagine, the car free idea was met with a lot of opposition.
The next day, our tour guide told us that when the city council proposed a car free zone that many people, including herself, were against it. “Where would we park, what about deliveries, how could this possibly work?”
The city planners argued that when you don’t have cars you do not need roads and parking lots. This frees up space to create walkable, tree-covered boulevards, public squares with fountains, storefronts that beckon you in as you stroll by and cafes that spill onto the streets.
Ljubljana got it right. Their car free zone fosters a city dynamic that feels magical. Instead of engine noise you hear conversation and laughter. Fast moving vehicles are replaced with strolling pedestrians. Vehicle emissions are now replaced with the aroma of fresh bread and tasty foods.
Going 100% Green makes for an incredibly holistic environment. Things slow down, you notice more, conversations seem better, and life feels more in balance. Ljubljana quickly became our favorite destination of the trip.
I think what is interesting here is the hidden subtext. Many people living in Ljubljana had a strong opposition to change. The change was made, the logistics worked themselves out, and now those that were initially opposed to it, love it.
Maclom Gladwell points that the ability to change your mind is a kind of superpower – that once one admits that there are other options and other possibilities – new opportunities and solutions have the space to present themselves. With an open mind, good things happen..
Going car free is a radical change from the way we think about cities here in the U.S., but we already see little hints of this taking place. In the DC area – a street cut off to cars here, and expanded sidewalk for restaurants there – but nothing like on the scale of how Ljubljana did it.
It makes me think… Imagine no cars in downtown Bethesda or Georgetown?