This wonderful little film was made in 1908 by by Ricardo de Baños (1884-1939). The camera was mounted on top of the driver’s cabin as the tram traveled through 1908 Barcelona. It shows much of what we have lost over the years to the car. It shows that the streets are full of people, walking and living in a community, not driving around in their own personal isolation cells, AKA automobiles. What vehicles there are on the road, are more of an impediment to the pedestrian and the trams that are moving through the city.
As you can see in this film, the streets are narrow, crowded with people, and full of life. Not like most American cities, where the only reason why the sidewalks are crowded is that they are too narrow, so as to make room for more cars on the roads. Life then was slower, a bit more relaxed, so you didn’t need a trolley that could do 40mph, just one that moved at the speed of bicycle or a running man.
Of course I’m not painting it to be a utopia, it was far from that. Infant mortality, sickness, discrimination, the lack of rights for women, it was far, far, from a utopia. But in terms of community life, in terms of being a place to live, instead of a place to sleep between driving to and from work, it was and is far better than what we have today.
[Edit: Another film to contemplate]
I found this version of the above film and it intercuts shots of 2008 Barcelona along the same roads that the original film traveled along.
The contrast between pedestrian friendly, carfree Barcelona and modern day, car centric Barcelona is amazing. The first thing you’ll notice is that there are no people on the streets! The population of Barcelona has greatly increased in 100 years, from 533,000 in 1900 to 1,673,075 in 2006. Where are those extra 1,000,000 people? Not on the streets it seems.
If there is any better evidence for what our car culture has done to destroy community and civil living, I’d like to know what it is. In 1908 we had a vibrant, living city, and then 100 years later, a ghost town inhabited only by a handful of people and lot of cars.