20/09/2016 11:21 BST | Updated 21/09/2017 06:12 BST

Why Car-Free Days Can Transport Us Towards A Brighter Future

On 22 September, towns and cities around the globe will take part in World Carfree Day. First launched in 2000, this event has tapped into a growing trend of people choosing other modes of transport over the car - for example, 12 per cent more Americans born since 1980 prefer walking to driving - a wider margin than any other generation.

While our cities fall foul of pollution, climate change, traffic jams, ill health and social isolation; governments and design engineers around the world are thinking more about how to make cities walkable, vibrant places to live and work in. You can catch a glimpse of this rapid change in Cities Alive: Towards a walking world, recently published by built environment specialist Arup:

"A walkable city is a better city and the more we walk the better the city in every respect." (Cities Alive, 2016)

Last year, Madrid, Chengdu, Paris and Helsinki, to name a few, went car-free for a day in September. Jakarta and Bogota both hold weekly events throughout the year, turning streets into places for people where fun activities and street entertainment enliven and intrigue those walking through.

This year Cardiff is going to experiment with a car-free street in the city centre while Edinburgh, Brighton, Bristol and Stoke (to name a few) continue to trial the idea. These places are finding that their inhabitants and visitors enjoy their surroundings more and their economies thrive when vehicles are taken out of the equation. From Times Square in New York to the Place de la Republique in Paris, citizens are rowing back the tide of traffic and rediscovering the benefits of walkable cities.

At Living Streets, we want to create a walking nation, free from congestion and pollution, helping to prevent illness and social isolation. To progress towards this, we want to see cities become more walkable - and events such as car-free days really help to generate the right atmosphere in which to test whether this can work in each location. Perhaps more importantly, they encourage people to give their cars up for a day so they can see how easy and enjoyable walking to get around can be. School road closures work in a similar way - Edinburgh ran an 18 month trial and has seen an uptake in those walking to school.

In the 20th century too much of our public realm was focussed around the car, there is a definite movement towards smarter towns and cities, designing places around people. Vehicles need no longer define our social status.

Every journey begins and ends with walking. It's something we all do and is the cheapest, easiest and most accessible form of transport. Making somewhere 'walkable' encompasses a spectrum of factors, ranging from how safe an area is (well-lit, with enough crossings and spacious pavements) to how friendly and attractive it is to walk along. Going car-free, not only makes streets safer, it can also help make them more economically vibrant and accommodating for the community using them.

For years Regent Street in London has held vehicle-free Sundays and Christmas has seen Oxford Street open itself to people only. But just this summer, London's Mayor Sadiq Khan went a step further and committed to pedestrianising Oxford Street by 2020. While this is exciting news, there are still challenges to overcome, so we can - in the words of the Mayor - 'Turn one of the world's most polluted streets into one of the world's finest public spaces - a tree-lined avenue from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch'.

As our populations increase in our world's biggest and smallest cities, we must think about how to solve the issue of transport for our health and our economies. To get around effectively and ensure we're all being active, car-free days can help cities and towns experiment with ways to get their citizens on their feet.