Remember "Vanilla Sky"? A 2001 movie with the famous scene where Tom Cruise walks alone through the completely empty Times Square in New York? The Times Square is the heart of New York City. It is the place that never sleeps. There is no way to see this place so empty - with no cars and no people. Creators of "Vanilla Sky" showed us the impossible.
Tom Cruise running through the deserted Times Square in "Vanilla Sky" (Source: Google Images)
We are so used to seeing cars in city centers that we can't picture cities without them anymore. For decades our cities have been designed with cars in mind. Pedestrians and bicyclists have been pushed off the streets - out of cars' way. This is the reason our streets have zebra-striped crosswalks painted on them. You are simply not allowed to cross the street anywhere you want. This is the reason why we have designated bike lanes, often separated from car traffic. You must ride your bike on those narrow paths between the gutter and fast-moving cars.
If we want to see how a large city could look with no cars and a calm pedestrian traffic, we must search for those old pictures from 1890's and early 1900's. Cars basically didn't exist back then. When I look at these pictures I see wide, open streets, calm pedestrian and horse carriage traffic, people walking across the street in any place they find convenient. Essentially, the entire city was one large pedestrian-only zone.
Compared to XXI-century cities, the difference is striking. But it's not the buildings that have changed so much. It's the streets. It seems obvious that once cars entered the city, the change of its landscape was enormous.