One day my little brother was showing me the Lego Town Centre set he had just completed during a video chat, while I was working on a design program focusing on “people-first street”. Only then did I notice that LEGO City, which is accessible to a worldwide new generation, is such a car-centric city. It even takes the small drains into account but not the bike lanes and spacious pedestrian paths.
Marcel Steeman, a regional councilor in the Netherlands and a LEGO enthusiast, was also aware of this issue. He proposed to LEGO several times but was refused. By studying the history of LEGO, Steeman et al. found that LEGO did produce a bike lane board in the 80s and 90s.1 But it eventually disappeared. In the years that followed, the roads became wider and the cars got bigger.1
The evolution of LEGO City also reflected the direction of urban development over a long period of time. In the decades following the war, private car ownership expanded rapidly as the economy recovered. People can choose to live in the suburbs and work in the city. A lot of farmland and forests have been replaced by loose residential districts. While the cars and the associated urban motorway system have contributed significantly to urban renewal and GDP growth, 2 car-oriented streets put pedestrians and cyclists at risk. In addition, worsening air pollution, increasing traffic congestion and escalating frustration among residents caused by the explosive growth in the number of cars has turned it all into a nightmare. Nowadays almost all cities in the world are plagued by traffic congestion, noise and air pollution from vehicles.3
In many cities, governments have tried to mitigate traffic congestion by constructing more and wider streets. For example, in China, eight-lane roads can be found in most cities. But apparently it does not work. People still have to spend two to three hours on their daily commute. Peter Calthorpe, founder of ‘new urbanism’, believes that simply widening roads will not solve traffic congestion and that car-based urban design model will only add to the economic and environmental burden.4
As a result of these negative impacts, more cities are exploring sustainable directions: reducing urban motorized traffic; increasing the proportion of walking and cycling; and transforming streets into ‘liveable’ public spaces.5 Covid-19 pandemic changed everyone’s lives. More people were choosing to work from home. People moved around in smaller circles. Walking or cycling became a more popular choice.6 Some new planning proposals, such as the ’20-minute city’7 and Sweden’s ‘one-minute city’8, emerged.
At the end of 2020, Lego finally launched a redesigned street set – Shopping street 60306. It includes a narrow blue bike lane and a cargo bike.1 This surprising change is the epitome of today’s city movement. But we still have a long way to go to build a truly people-oriented city. Just as the two-studs-wide bike lane in the LEGO Shopping Street set is too narrow to accommodate the cargo bike.1 In response, Steeman uploaded a new proposal for a wider, more comfortable bike lane to LEGO ‘IDEA’ website9 and received an overwhelming response that exceeded expectations. As of today, he has got 7,867 supporters. Just 2,133 more supporters in the next two years will make it possible to turn this proposal into a real production kit.
Everyone can leave their support for a safer, healthier and more sustainable city, whether it’s a LEGO city or the city they live in.
1 Hawkins, Andrew J. “The People Wanted Lego Bike Lanes, And Lego Is Finally Listening.” The Verge. The Verge, January 31, 2021. https://www.theverge.com/2021/1/31/22252640/lego-bike-lane-cities-cars-ideas-street.
2 Gunn, Simon. “Ring Road: Birmingham and the Collapse Of The Motor City Ideal In 1970s Britain.” The Historical Journal 61, no. 1 (2018): 227–48. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0018246X16000613.
3 Brown, Lester R. “Chapter 9. Redesigning Cities For People: Car-Centered Urban Sprawl.” Bookstore – Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth | Chapter 9. Redesigning Cities for People: Car-Centered Urban Sprawl | EPI, 2001. http://www.earth-policy.org/books/eco/eech9_ss3.
4 Qin, Liu. “China Must Stop Building Car-Centred Cities.” China Dialogue, May 14, 2020. https://chinadialogue.net/en/cities/7366-china-must-stop-building-car-centred-cities/.
5 Levels, Annika. 2019. “Rethinking the Street: Politics, Processes, and Space of Pedestrian- and Bicycle-Friendly Street Transformations in New York and Berlin.” Order No. 27610118, Technische Universitaet Berlin (Germany). doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.14279/depositonce-8094. https://search.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/rethinking-street-politics-processes-space/docview/2328357812/se-2?accountid=14681.
6 Yoxall, KYLAN. “Come on Perth, It’s Time to Lead or at Least Follow.” Local Code, May 8, 2020. http://localcode.org/2020/05/come-on-perth-its-time-to-lead-or-at-least-follow/.
7 TODresources. “How to Become a ‘20-Minute City.’” National Resources & Technical Assistance for Transit-Oriented Development, June 29, 2018. https://todresources.org/blog/become-20-minute-city/.
8 Peters, Adele. “How to Transform Your Street into a 1-Minute City.” Fast Company. Fast Company, January 11, 2021. https://www.fastcompany.com/90593014/how-to-transform-your-street-into-a-1-minute-city.
9 Steeman, Marcel. “Bike Lanes.” LEGO IDEAS, January 25, 2021. https://ideas.lego.com/projects/acdc6e0c-d635-43d4-8292-76510aa54f02.