In response to the increase in car congestion and global warming, many countries have been trying to reduce car usage in various ways. In February 2003, London introduced a toll for motorists driving within central city limits between the hours of 7 am and 6 pm, with additional fines for motorists who neglect to pay the toll. In the hectic traffic of Dubai, leaders are looking to find alternatives that would help reduce the car overcrowding throughout the city. One option is to delegate who can own a car, contingent on income—a harsh approach in a desperate attempt to ease Dubai’s congestion. In Europe, three cities have decided to take a less harsh—but rather drastic—approach to car usage. One city undertaking this new initiative is Hamburg, Germany’s second-largest city.

Hamburg, a port city on the Elbe River, is threatened by the effects of climate change, namely, a 20 centimeter sea level increase. The winner of the 2011 European Green Capital Award, Hamburg is planning to make its city even greener. Within the next two decades, Hamburg will be car-free in 40 percent of the urban area. It will do so by adding more pathways for cyclists and pedestrians to navigate the city—a so-called “Grünes Netz.” The pathways will connect “all major parks, playgrounds, community gardens, and cemeteries in Hamburg.”

Critics have voiced concerns that a plan like this could only work in a smaller city. Currently, the northern area of Venice, Italy, is car-free, but it is without major pedestrian pathways or connections to the city’s many islands. Northern Venice has been a car-free zone for centuries; visitors can access the city by boat or foot. Mimicking Italy, Copenhagen, a city only 88 square kilometers in size, closed the Strøget, a one-kilometer long central pedestrian and shopping street, to cars in 1962. Over time, Copenhagen has changed many of its parking lots to pedestrian facilities. Hamburg is almost 350 square kilometers larger than Venice (414 sq km), and Copenhagen even smaller. Yet, there is a strong hope that Hamburg will succeed in its plan as it tries to improve the health of its citizens while lowering its contribution to climate change. The economic benefits are also apparent: more shops enjoy additional foot traffic and new businesses can open and thrive. By making a city more pedestrian-friendly, the city profits. Even where cars travel in certain areas of these “green cities,” pedestrians and cyclists tend to have the right-of-way.

Either way one sees it, a city as large as Hamburg decreasing its car use will have a large impact on its environment and quality of life—for the better.