UCL News


Driving for fun could be good for the environment - UCL academic

5 February 2008


Driving ucl.ac.uk/lhl/" target="_self">UCL Lunch Hour Lectures
  • UCL Bartlett School of Architecture
  • It may be anathema to green campaigners the world over, but a UCL academic has advocated driving for pleasure as a means of protecting the environment.

    Professor Iain Borden, UCL Bartlett School of Architecture, said in Tuesday's lunch hour lecture that if environmentalists were to campaign for people only to drive for fun, rather than for shorter functional journeys, they might be more effective in encouraging people to use more public transport.

    While the idea of encouraging driving may seem to go against many environmentalists' arguments for reducing our use of cars, Professor Borden argued that we need to understand the psychology of driving. His conclusion was reached after examining the changing nature of our relationship with the car over the past few decades.

    He said: "Today, it is very much in people's everyday lives that the city car operates, offering them freedom, pride, independence, self-expression, and allowing them to negotiate the conflicts within their lives. For example, the SUV (sports utility vehicle) helps young parents reconcile the 'uncool' drudgery of childcare and family life with the 'cool' and exciting ideas of leisure and outdoor adventure."

    Professor Borden, who has published work on many areas, including the history of skateboarding as an urban practice, architectural modernism and modernity, film and architecture, gender and architecture, body spaces and the experience of space, is currently working on a history of driving as a spatial experience of cities and architecture.

    In his lecture he discussed current trends for cities and how they deal with cars and congestion, citing examples from around the world of 'signless' road junctions. He said: "Traffic lights, stop signs, road lines and other instructions have been removed from traffic intersections to create 'psychological traffic calming', slowing traffic by removing instructions to drivers, allowing eye contact to occur, and hence getting drivers and pedestrians to self-regulate their speeds and trajectories. Although obviously not suitable for all roads, this vision implies a new kind of city, one more aesthetically pleasing and which generates more responsible and sociable road users - no longer sign-watching zombies but instead alert, attentive, people-aware citizens."

    To find out more about the UCL Bartlett or the UCL Lunch Hour Lecture series, use the links at the top of the article. You can also download and watch previous Lunch Hour Lectures at the link above.

    Context: Cars and UCL

    As a multi-faculty university, UCL's involvement in automotive engineering and the environment stretches across a wide range of academic departments. Professor Borden's lecture has explored the process of driving and how it has changed over the decades, but elsewhere at UCL work is underway to develop more fuel-efficient cars, and to explore important future transport and energy technologies. Much of the work of UCL Engineering was showcased at a unique event in the main quad (pictured) in honour of the late Lotus founder and UCL alumnus Colin Chapman. For related stories about UCL, cars and the environment, follow the links below.