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A right to have a car, a right to have a parking space, that's what people believe
Community Community Social Sustain.

Sun terraces and lawns: Dutch residents transform parking spaces

Project in The Hague (the Netherlands) has divided streets and revealed a deeply-held attachment to cars
Walter Dresscher sitting in the ‘Debatmobiel’ (debate-car) in The Hague         
Walter Dresscher sitting in the ‘Debatmobiel’ (debate-car) in The Hague. Photograph: Judith Jockel for the Guardian

It seems a straightforward offer: swap your resident’s parking permit for a bit of greenery in the freed-up space, a lawn, a sun terrace or somewhere for the children to play. However, if any further proof was needed of the west’s destructive love affair with the car, the furious reaction to a pilot project in one of the Netherlands’ biggest cities has been all too telling.

Streets have been divided, angry complaints made and Walter Dresscher, the organizer of the council-backed scheme in The Hague, given what he admits was a verbal going-over during a fiery public meeting. However, Dresscher’s determination remains undimmed: “We can’t go on like this. This has been a great success already because people are thinking.”

The drama was sparked by the Dutch municipality’s proposal to residents in six streets in Segbroek, a suburb in the west of the city, to voluntarily swap their parking permit for six months and replace it with something green and pleasant on their street.

Their vehicles would be stored in a car park for free, and those participating could choose between themselves how to use the vacant space. The long-term aim, beyond greening the city, is to encourage people to use car-sharing schemes, if they really need a vehicle, or switch to public transport and bicycles. Globally, most cars are said to be parked 95% of the time.
Eline Keus, an active member of De Natuurlijke Stad (‘the natural city’) in The Hague in her flower-filled parking spot
Eline Keus, an active member of De Natuurlijke Stad (‘the natural city’) in The Hague in her flower-filled parking spot. Photograph: Judith Jockel for the Guardian

Dresscher, an architect by training, said opposition from many residents in the selected areas illustrated how deeply people were attached to their cars, even in the Netherlands, which is often a pioneer in terms of green transportation. The idea of a parking space being lost from a street was too much for some to bear.

“I was a bit like a boxing guy, I took everything,” he said of the public meeting attended by 200 residents. “If I was to respond, like I would in a personal conversation, the meeting would not have finished very well ... Everybody took – and this in the Netherlands is more rare than in other countries – very opposite positions. Normally, we are a country where we have a dialogue, we talk to each other.

What is the Upside?

“The idea was to get people together but it didn’t. Why? If there is one that is very angry and starts mobilizing the whole street then you have a problem. “But if you don’t want to participate, don’t participate. But physically a car is getting out of the street. Nobody is losing anything.”
Dresscher insisted the initial hostility has abated but, as yet, only six householders have signed up to the scheme, with their cars due to be removed in June. Two residents have, however, pre-empted the scheme by putting flower-filled tow-carts in front of their homes, much to the irritation of some. Drivers have been known to shout abuse as they drive by.

Dresscher, who has €60,000 of funding from the council and charities, is still confident that more people will come round to his thinking, and is glad that a debate has been started. Rembrant Frerichs, 40, and, Wolfert Brederode, 44, both pianists, and neighbors on Newtonstreet, said they believed it was an important first step in changing the nature of their road, but were yet to decide how to use the space in front of their homes.
Brederode said: “I just don’t think I need the car outside my house all the time and I’m going to see if we need it at all. I don’t think there is any reason.

People have this belief that they have a right to have a car, a right to have a parking space. A car is like a second home to people but it isn’t rational.

Dresscher said the project had been inspired by the experience of being forced to push his baby’s pram on the road when living in Amsterdam because cars were blocking the pavement.
“I looked at these cars and there were actually plants growing under them. They hadn’t moved for three or four weeks. I started thinking: does anyone know how many cars are used or not?”

Street Seats, sustainable pop-up space in New York

By: Daniel Boffey in The Hague