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The Man Who Wanted to Ban Cars from Manhattan (in 1961)

A new documentary focuses on a largely-forgotten writer and urbanist whose ideas were ahead of his time. (Plus a contest.)


There's a lot of talk today about how to limit the number of cars in high-density urban areas, from closing streets to leveling congestion charges to limiting the number of available parking spaces. But 50 years ago, in the golden age of the automobile, anything that had to do with banning cars from big cities—you know, "progress"—was frowned upon. One man (actually two) bucked the trend: the writer Paul Goodman and his brother Percival, an architect, wrote an essay in 1961 outlining how and why New York should ban the car from Manhattan.

The essay, "Banning Cars from Manhattan" [PDF] is perhaps more poignant than it was 50 years ago, as cities are scrambling to find alternative transportation solutions for their increasingly crowded streets. But Goodman, an essayist and critic, who published plenty of works about cities, is all but forgotten. A new film by Jonathan Lee, Paul Goodman Changed My Life, is hoping to change that by bringing the voice of this spirited—sometimes quite radical—writer back into the conversation, and at just the right moment.

To promote the film, a new contest is asking for suggestions that build upon Goodman's ideas, and help keep his legacy alive. All you have to do is write a letter to your local government with five ideas for your city that would help to promote forms of transportation that reduce global warming. A North American winner gets a bike from Breezer Bikes, someone from Europe wins a bike from Biomega. The Paul Goodman Changed My Life contest is accepting submissions through November 30.

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