Reporter: Anne Grimshaw
February’s Sudbury Society meeting was scheduled as a talk by Dr Dennis Brogan with the title Is there a doctor in the house? We were probably expecting reminiscences and anecdotes from the life of a Sudbury GP but Dr Brogan said he would not be talking about health and medicine. Instead, it would be a comparison of Sudbury and Venice!
The essence of his talk was that a totally fresh outlook and attitude to motor transport (commercial and private) is needed if we are to reclaim our town centres – not just Sudbury. Radical ideas need radical solutions and less of the “We can’t do that because…” type of thinking in favour of “How about…?”
Dennis was not offering solutions to many of his ideas which were often linked to what he had seen elsewhere, particularly Venice which does actually have pavements and pedestrian areas as well as canals. But how, for instance, do they cope with cars? Simple: they ban them to parking areas on the northern outskirts and from there drivers become pedestrians or passengers (on boats). This public transport is frequent, cheap, reliable and comfortable – and encourages social interaction in the way that cars do not. And this is one of the most important benefits to a car-less place.
But it requires a mindset that accepts the need for waiting and walking: times to ‘slow down’, speak to people, look at the scenery, admire the buildings – anything except pointless, self-inflicted rushing around. Small shops in a pleasant environment should be part of the fabric of living, encouraging civic togetherness and civic pride.
We have all seen pre-World War I photos of Market Hill – a wonderful open space uncluttered with motor vehicles – a bit like the Piazza San Marco – who would suggest putting a car park in the middle of that?
On a practical note though, Venetian household rubbish/recycling is put out in small quantities and collected every day by hand then loaded onto a boat and taken for disposal. Deliveries are also done by boat and handcart. But, it has to be said, that bridges over canals and steps are not ideal for mobility scooters and buggies.
Of course, no one could have foreseen that the motor car would change our towns and our lives for better and worse. It crept up on us and solutions had to be found as we went along. However, it would take a brave local authority to ban or restrict motor transport (and bicycles) from Sudbury town centre. Probably Venice City Council has more clout…
But things are changing gradually with pedestrianised areas in many towns and cities (five underground car parks in Ostend), out-of-centre car parks and enforced traffic management in Bruges, the Venice of the North. Nearer home, there are carfree places: Shrewsbury, Canterbury, Cambridge, Lincoln, Tenby and others.
Will Sudbury follow their example and join the Great Slow Down as an escape from the tyranny of the motor car?
Piazza San Pietro, Sudbury?
Piazza San Marco, Venice – good place for a car park?