Peter Lipman thought small to go large. Having built a first career as a lawyer, he joined UK sustainable transport charity Sustrans in 2001 but, by his own admission, was ‘more interested in what goes on outside your own front door’ than the national cycle network it was developing.
Instead, he began working on Home Zones, a Dutch-inspired plan to tear up and physically redesign suburban roads to encourage cars to slow down and more people out into the communal space between their houses. It was a great idea, Lipman thought, but too expensive, in terms of both financial cost and the energy consumed in all the building work.
‘I was worried that they [the Home Zones] weren’t going to be replicated,’ he says. ‘There are a hell of a lot of streets in Britain – I want to see all of them changed. We were trying to work out some idea where you can achieve the same, but on a viral basis.’
His answer was to scale down, and work with local communities themselves to develop low-cost ways of achieving the same goal: planting trees, altering pavements and painting roads – anything to slow down the cars. As a result, the road is reclaimed for the local community, Lipman says, it is no longer somewhere traffic is simply passively endured. This solution was christened DIY Streets and, with funding from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, 11 roads across England and Wales were selected to form a pilot study.
Now, just over halfway through that study, the results can be measured in reduced pollution and increased physical activity, particularly among children, who can now play outside more safely. Anecdotally, people have also seen more subtle changes. ‘It’s been good for bringing the street together,’ says Lisa Grubb, a mother of two who lives in one of the 38 homes on Iden Road in Coventry says. ‘I have always said hello to the woman next door, but now we talk about the street and what we want to see there.
‘Other neighbours, too, I would have just carried on walking past before, but now I’ll say hello.’
Lipman hopes DIY Streets will also encourage others nationwide, which is where thinking small could mean going large. Because it’s cheaper – capital costs of as much as £100,000 compared with as much as £1 million for a Home Zone – those who like what they see are more able to follow suit. This allows the idea of physically changing the road outside your home to spread, like a virus, across the country, and with it a change in the dominance of car travel on our daily lives. By empowering people to do it themselves, one measure of the scheme’s success will be if Lipman, now Sustrans’ policy director, and the charity he works for become irrelevant to the future success of the DIY Streets.
‘One of the things I’ve always hoped would come out of this is that once people work together to change something in their lives… maybe they will start to think about other things,’ he says. ‘There’s a latent power in people that we don’t use and we can harness by working with each other.’
To read more about the other nine visionaries click on their link below: