Cities around the world face the challenge of creating safe public spaces for women. In Brazil, sexual assault is a prevalent problem. Alarmingly, a survey by the Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada, a major Brazilian research institute, found that 65% of respondents agreed that “women who wear clothes that show off their body deserve to be attacked,” a finding that sparked considerable public response. Perceptions around sexual assault challenge cities to create safe environments for women, including safe public transport. In São Paulo, 33 men have already been arrested this year following sexual harassment claims from women passengers on the metro system. Cities around the world have responded in different ways to ensure women’s safety when using public transport. In the United States, cities have used successful awareness campaigns to discourage harassment and empower women to report improper conduct. Cities in India, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, Mexico and Brazil also use women-only passenger trains and buses to reduce assault.
The following article from our colleagues at TheCityFix Brasil sheds additional light on the challenges cities are facing as they try to create safe public transport for women and other marginalized communities.
Are you in favor of women-only metro cars in a metro system? Public opinion is divided on a law that passed the Legislative Assembly of São Paulo (Alesp) and requires the Paulista Metropolitan Trains Company (CPTM) to build cars exclusively for female passengers. The measure is not yet being enforced as it has not yet been approved by São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin. If signed into law by Alckmin, metro operators will have 90 days to comply with the law. Opponents of the law have protested by putting stickers on metro cars that read:
Deixe as mulheres livres, Não ao vagão rosa.” In English, “Let women be free, no to the pink train!”
A similar measure was passed in 2006 in Rio de Janeiro, and applies to the rail system and the Superhighway MetrôRio. The law, however, is not consistently enforced. In 2012, the Commission for Consumer Protection of the Legislative Assembly (Alerj) filed a class action lawsuit demanding that the two operators enforce the law, and would be subject to a penalty if they failed to comply. The lawsuit also demands that Agetransp, the agency that regulates transportation in the state of Rio de Janeiro, complies with its obligation to supervise the two operators.
This article was originally published in Portuguese at TheCityFix Brasil.
China’s capital city of Beijing is already home to 5.4 million cars, the most of any Chinese city. The country’s rising wealth means that this is a trend unlikely to stop. This rapid motorization has led to many city government “quick fixes” aimed at easing congestion problems in the short-term. In Beijing and other cities, these include creating numerous expressways, flyovers, and tunnels throughout the city. But this infrastructure that immediately “fixes” the problem never quite seems to keep up with the mounting number of vehicles on the road for long.
To provide better air quality and faster, safer mobility for its 11.5 million residents, on November 5, 2013, the Beijing launched its “Work Plan for Vehicle Emission Control 2013-2017”. This plan includes lowering car-licensing quotas from 240,000 to 150,000 cars per year, while increasing the annual quota for electric vehicles from 20,000 units in 2014 to 60,000 units by 2017, and creating the charging stations needed to support these vehicles.
Congestion pricing is one of the most contested components of the work plan, but is also one of the potentially transformational moves that will bring sustainable transport investment and equitable mobility to Beijing. The success of congestion pricing will rest on how this new charging scheme is perceived and how its revenue is reinvested in the community.Rising wealth and inequality create concern over the urban future
This hesitance to enact congestion pricing policies stems from the rapidly shifting economic climate and growing inequality of China’s cities. Any policy that treats a different sector of the population differently is viewed with suspicion, even if this policy is meant to create greater mobility for all populations.
Residents’ lack of trust in the government to combat inequality stems from China’s economic reforms of the late 1970s, which, while decreasing poverty rate from 87% in 1981 to approximately 13% in 2011, also widened the gap between the rich and poor. By the end of 2009, the total urban population in China was 621,860,000, among which 50,000,000 were urban poor. Some of the poor are laid-off workers that used to work in state-owned companies that failed in competition with private and foreign-funded firms. Many of these employees could not be re-employed due to physical limitations, or lack of necessary skills. Then there was the growing “floating population” of rural migrant workers that took on temporary, insecure jobs because they could offer cheap labor. How to address this class of urban poor has become one of the greatest challenges for Chinese cities. Creating more jobs has been one component of this debate. Finding how to incorporate these people into the social security and welfare system has been another component. So, too, has been developing mass transport in an equitable way to give these populations greater access to jobs, better education, and health care opportunities.
While some have argued that congestion pricing contributes to inequality, when done right, it can do just the opposite.Transport as key to stopping mobility divisions
The basic idea of congestion pricing is that there is a fee on cars driving on certain roadways, a fee that varies according to the time of day when cars travel. At peak hours the price is higher; at off-peak times when fewer people are driving, the cost is lower. Many urban residents are wary of congestion pricing because they believe it will benefit the rich who can afford to pay peak-hour tolls. And in some ways it will, or at least it will benefit those that do not need to think about the added money for their mobility. For others, they might shift their trips to lower-cost times, or decide to take mass transport. More middle class mass transport users will help to change entrenched notions that mass transport is for the poor. As well, during peak times there will be fewer cars on the road, and so buses can travel faster. This means those taking mass transport will get to their destinations quicker for a significantly lower price.
The success of congestion pricing will rest on whether it is a policy supported by the public. An important part of this support rests on how the money from car tolls is used. Revenue from congestion charging can enable many new transport initiatives, such as expanding bus routes, increasing the reliability of the subway system, and capping fares for low-income individuals. This revenue can go towards building biking and walking infrastructure for expanded pedestrian access to the city. This money can create parks where populations far from home can develop new social ties. If the tolls are used in the right way, congestion pricing has the ability to usher in a new era of investment for mass transport and equitable mobility for all of China’s residents.
Learn more about EMBARQ China’s role in helping Beijing develop a comprehensive congestion pricing plan that will increase social equity, clean the air, and curb congestion.
Movies have the power to shape our perceptions of love, of adventure, and of growing up. More subtly, movies also have the ability to shape our perceptions of small things, like how we interpret different cities, clothing brands, and even transport – who uses transport, how they use it, and why. All of these different social norms can be expressed in just a few scenes. Here are some of TheCityFix’s favorite movies that show the power of sustainable transport to help our heroes, whether its bikes that help Dave overcome social divides in Breaking Away, the train in Last Train Home that stands as the last link to family for the Zhangs, or Forrest’s run across the country in Forrest Gump that challenges the mobility limits doctors once set for him.Breaking Away (1979)
Dennis Christopher stars as Dave, a high-school graduate who grew up in a working-class community. Yet Dave idolizes the Italian racing team so much that he speaks and acts Italian even though he lives in the middle of Indiana. One day, as Dave is biking he encounters a girl named Katherine from the University of Indiana, the university on the other side of town. The two develop a connection, but only because Dave pretends to be Enrico Gismondi, an Italian exchange student. This is a movie that revolves around Dave’s personal self-growth, but it is also a movie that confronts class divisions – and the role of sustainable transport to cross the divide between them. Cycling plays a pivotal role in lending credence to Dave’s deception long enough to win Katherine’s heart, and prove to the world what he is capable of, no matter his past.
Cycling also has the ability to help bridge social divides outside of movies. Bikes can give all demographics the opportunity for low-cost, sustainable mobility and wider access to economic opportunities.
Mode of Transport: Bicycle
Setting: Bloomington, Indiana
Sustainability Index: ✭✭✭✭✭Last Train Home (2010)
The opening scene of this movie shows an astonishing mass of people squeezing onto a train at a Guangzhou, China train station. Though packed in tightly – some are hanging head or hands out the window – somehow a few more manage to still make it on. This film depicts the exodus of 130 million migrant workers from China’s cities that are often only able to afford to go home once a year for the New Year. The award-winning documentary focuses on the Zhang couple, who struggle to make a living in a factory while feeding their two children and parents they left in their rural hometown. The train is a symbol for the Zhangs of the thin connection between the world of family and their rural past, and their unknowable urban future. They might be able to bring their children a better life, or they might become one of the many millions of China’s “floating population” of rural migrants.
The film also looks outward from the Zhang family’s personal story to the wider phenomenon of how China might be able to develop its cities in a way that can give housing and jobs to these migrant populations. The movie ultimately raises far more questions than it answers of how the country can supply its poor with an affordable means to go home, or how to house their families in the city, so that the quest for economic opportunity does not need to result in millions of fractured families.
Mode of Transport: Train
Sustainability Index: ✭✭✭✭✫Forrest Gump (1994)
When Forrest Gump was young, he was diagnosed with a crooked spine and was told that he would never walk without unwieldy metal leg braces. Yet Forrest does learn to walk on his own. Even more than that, he runs – all the way across the United States. His run is a symbol of his personal perseverance over adversity. But Forrest’s journey slowly becomes more than a story of his own personal perseverance as he develops a following of other runners. Some people run with Forrest to rebel against the political system; others run to find themselves.
Even if you don’t have a logical reason for running, the simple act of sustained motion has it own benefits, from weight loss, to lower stress levels, to a healthier heart. If this isn’t enough to entice you to run from one ocean to the other, running can also be a sustainable, healthy way to commute to work.
Mode of Transport: Running
Sustainability Index: ✭✭✭✭✭
Whether you are watching a movie this weekend with a magic flying carpet, hover-car racing, or a daring fight-scene on top of a moving train, take a moment to think about how the mobility modes in movies influence what transport you take, and what you think about it!
Editor’s note: All of the movies mentioned above are available to watch on Netflix.
What does a sociological approach to safe cities reveal?: Findings from a national workshop in India
While concerns of violence against women are not new, women’s safety in public spaces has received significant attention in India in the past two years. Cities are seeing increased demands around making public spaces safer for women, ranging from better infrastructure, effective policing, more stringent punishment for perpetrators, creating “eyes on the street,” and more. Specifically, planning for safer public spaces goes beyond physical features and requires attention to how men and women express themselves in – and interact with – public space; analyzing who uses them, when, how, and for how long.
To understand men and women’s experiences of public spaces, EMBARQ India conducted a national workshop on Gender and Public Space at its CONNECTKaro 2014 conference. The 90-minute workshop was attended by around 50 participants – with 21 women and 28 men, predominantly upper middle class, aged 20-50 years. It consisted of professionals and students. The participants were asked to sketch their experience of an outdoor public open space, responding to seven questions. They were then divided into two groups – men and women – to collate their experiences, and regrouped to discuss their findings. The workshop revealed key factors like sense of security, caste, and social class that must be considered when planning for safer public spaces.The burden of security limits women’s enjoyment of the city
The workshop revealed the unexpected and alarming extent to which security bears heavily on how women negotiate their daily activities, both consciously and unconsciously. Both men and women listed many of the same the qualities that made pleasant public spaces – including vegetation, public toilets, and quiet. However, there seemed to be a difference in what constituted unpleasant spaces. Women bore the burden of security in addition to factors such as traffic safety and unmaintained public toilets that both groups reported. Crowds, absence of lighting, people, and the time of day were important parameters for women’s use of public spaces in light of this security concern.Eyes on the street encourage women’s presence in public spaces
While “eyes on the street” are generally considered natural surveillance systems, the people those eyes are attached to seemed important to the women at CONNECTKaro. In short, women’s presence made this group of women feel safe. Thus, it is important to understand what kind of activities bring and retain women in public spaces.
Contrastingly, the presence of men did not inherently make them feel unsafe. Rather, groups of men – particularly working class men – sparked general apprehension amongst this group of upper middle class women. When probed, the participants seemed to recall from a collective memory or perception, suggesting that class and caste perceptions influence which eyes on the street contributed to their sense of safety.Familiarity enables both risk and conformity
For the women at the workshop, familiarity with a specific space enabled them to take risks in environments otherwise perceived as unsafe. However, this could also be a double-edged sword, in which familiarity can also police the ways in which men and women feel they can behave. For instance, women’s feelings of safety and comfort could be conditional on conforming to the expected behavioral norms of that particular space or community.
Finally, there was also a striking difference in the mood between the men and women’s groups at the workshop. The men’s group laughed and joked throughout while there was a heavier, more intense mood in the women’s group during the process of sharing stories and experiences.
The table below details some of the compelling statements men and women made during the CONNECTKaro workshop:Re-thinking the approach to safe cities: From protection to inclusion
While urban planning and design measures often advocate for improved street lighting, mixed uses, and eyes on the street, there is also a need to understand how perceptions of safety are cognitively, sociologically, and spatially constructed.
As argued in Why Loiter: Women and Risk on Mumbai’s Streets, the demand for safer public spaces for women must not be met through the exclusion of other minority groups, be they migrants – especially working class men and lower castes and/or Muslim men in the context of Indian cities – or through a patriarchal surveillance of women’s bodies and actions. Similarly, instead of seeing the city as a place of threat that women need to be protected from – we need to see and design public spaces where women would like to spend time, or “loiter,” or “to not have a purpose to enjoy public spaces, use public infrastructure after dark, or indulge in consensual ﬂirtation and sexual encounters.”
Thus, a project for making a city safe for women is not only about physical improvements, but also about their right to loiter without excluding other minority identities. This requires further research on what makes women of different income groups, castes, religion and regions spend time in public spaces, and what kinds of eyes on the street encourage women’s presence in public spaces.
Yahoo Labs has recently created a mapping algorithm that helps pedestrians find not the shortest route to their destination, but the most attractive one. This is great for visitors who want to spend every second of their time sightseeing in a new city, or for residents who want to explore their surroundings in a new way. However, although the algorithm was meant to showcase the beauty of cities, we must not forget what is covered up in this data-centric quest for the most aesthetic path. While well intentioned, this algorithm allows city residents to systematically bypass areas of poverty and blight, and it raises more than a few ethical questions about how emerging digital applications are changing the way people interact within cities.The makings of a happy journey
The algorithm was created using data from a range of websites – including UrbanGems.org, which allows users to choose between two photos of different locations which they prefer, together with Google Street View, Geograph, tags of #happy or #pretty attached to photos posted on Twitter, and 3.7 million Flickr photos that people found “quiet,” “relaxing,” or “cheerful.” Although this algorithm has only been tested within London, Boston, and Barcelona, it is set to be released to application developers around the globe. This creates an almost limitless set of applications. On Halloween, pedestrians can take scarier routes; on Saturday nights, people can navigate through cities based on the highest concentration of pictures that use the words #fun or #party.
However, there are some immediate limitations to the application. The “happiness” of a place is easily influenced by the time of day people take a route, which the algorithm does not take into account. Some streets might have musicians playing and families leisurely walking on the weekend, but are packed with grumpy commuters during morning rush hour.
The formula for what the algorithm’s makers define as a happy place also influences the potential of this algorithm. The demographics of those who initially tested it were 60% male, between the ages of 20 and 50, and tech-savvy enough to actively volunteer for this project. Yet, women, minorities, and elderly populations often experience urban spaces differently, and have different mobility needs. Having an application that suggests the most scenic route for an able-bodied man might be an unpleasant, or even dangerous route, for other users. Furthermore, when the algorithm is developed into an application it might ultimately fail from its own initial success. If too many people are visiting a route marked as “peaceful” it can ruin the very feeling that made the place so treasured.Ethical issues with location-based technology
Aside from these initial limitations, there is also a much more unsettling issue that needs to be raised about the use of this technology. The places people inhabit the most are the places people care about the most. It’s no surprise, then, that the rapid rise of suburbanization in the 1950s led to disinvestment in cities in the United States at the same time, with many cities experiencing increased poverty and population loss. But what is surprising is that the number of people writing about poverty declined even as inequality was on the rise.
Disadvantaged communities – including those unlikely to live in a scenic (or #pretty) location – are already marginalized from economic and social opportunities in cities. To craft an algorithm to only see the beautiful parts of a metropolis would move poverty from something difficult to solve to an issue that disappears entirely from newspapers, books, and policy debates because it would be a phenomenon people would never be forced to see or think about.
This one ethical issue showcases a growing challenge that city planners are facing with how to address technology that is changing the interactions between people and cities in ways that urban policies are hard-pressed to keep up with. Other applications like Microsoft’s location-based ads text pedestrians with coupons to nearby stores drive traffic – for those stores that can pay for this service. Location-based survey services such as SurveySwipe can provide urban planners with important information about what services people want and what infrastructure they need improved – for those city residents that have smart-phones. Technology can be an incredibly powerful tool for public participation within cities, but it must be remembered that the true beauty of an application cannot be assessed at first glance – or even first walk – but should be assessed by the enduring good it has to make cities more equitable, sustainable, and beautiful for all.
I spent last weekend in Southend-on-Sea. My daughter and I went there for a short break at the sea-side. This was not a cycling holiday. We mainly walked around the town, and we enjoyed it. However I couldn't help but take photos and videos during our stay and to look up some facts and figures on our return. The result is below. Most of the points that I make could be made about many towns in theDavid Hembrowhttp://email@example.com://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2014/07/southend-on-sea-missed-opportunities-to.html
At the 2012 Rio+20 Summit, the United Nations member states began the ambitious process of defining the social and economic priorities for humanity over the next fifteen years. The open and participatory process and the initial negotiations amongst the world’s nations through the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has resulted in a draft document with 17 focus areas and 148 targets to address before 2030. The focus areas span from ending poverty everywhere to advancing rule of law across the world to working to combat climate change. It is a very impressive catalogue, and, if achieved, would truly change the face of our planet.Inclusive, safe, and sustainable: Goals for urban life in 2030
Nestled among these lofty goals in the current draft of the SDGs is a specific focus area on urban development:
“11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe and sustainable.”
The urban targets for 2030 include ambitious advances in housing, basic services, transport, planning and management, climate resilience, public spaces, integration with rural and peri-urban areas, and sustainable buildings. These global targets will be difficult to accomplish in 15 years, but not impossible if cities are committed and the international community advances adequate instruments, financing, and institutions.
This dedicated emphasis on cities as key to combatting many of the world’s challenges can largely be attributed to the Seventh World Urban Forum (WUF7). Organized by UN-HABITAT and held in Medellín, Colombia earlier this year, the event highlighted the importance of cities to a sustainable future, with a particular focus on equity in urban environments. In fact, the WUF7 declaration made a specific call for “the need to include key topics for sustainable cities and human settlements in the post-2015 Development Agenda.”
Now, the negotiators are working to make the SDGs more precise in order to give countries around the globe clear targets to be accountable for. The Open Working Group is now integrating repetitive themes, and cutting out some targets. Cities will still likely stand as a focus area after these revisions, as the United Nations recognizes the fact that now half of the world lives in cities – a proportion expected to greatly increase by 2030. Cities are the places where policies are turned into real, physical developments, and so city governments dedicated to a sustainable future have enormous potential to make inroads on issues like climate change and equitable communities. This emphasis on cities as a focus area in itself, instead of being a word spread throughout several different focus areas, is important because it influences the scale at which change is made and the magnitude of that change.A broader look at the international development agenda
The SDGs are a critical piece of the international development agenda, particularly for international development institutions, which base their portfolio on the United Nation’s agreements. The SDGs will guide bilateral government-to-government cooperation and connections between local and national governments. Similar to the 2000 – 2015 Millennium Development Goals, which advanced important issues related to extreme poverty and health, the new development agreement will be key in pushing countries and cities to build and manage a sustainable, vibrant future. The dedication of cities around the globe, combined with clear measurement and evaluation mechanisms, will be necessary to take these ideals from policy to reality and create a more inclusive, sustainable future for all.
The full text of the draft Sustainable Development Goals is available from the United Nations here, with sustainable cities and human settlements highlighted as focus area 11.
The BRTData.org global database of bus rapid transit (BRT) data has recently been updated, and the increased number of BRT lines, as well as the length of those lines, reflects the commitment of cities around the world to provide high-capacity mass transport to their citizens. Now, 180 municipalities have dedicated bus routes, 12 more than BRTdata.org reported in April 2014. This means there is a total of 4,668 kilometers (2,900 miles) of BRT corridors benefitting 31 million people worldwide. The growth of BRT worldwide also shows that city leaders are increasingly realizing the potential benefits of BRT for expanding sustainable urban mobility.
Over the past three decades, BRT has grown from a local phenomenon to a global one. Originally pioneered in Curitiba, Brazil, BRT is the brainchild of architect, urban planner, and former Curitiba mayor Jaime Lerner. From Curitiba, BRT has expanded to 180 cities, with 363 dedicated lanes. Brazil accounts for 114 of these routes, including those built for the World Cup. Asia is emerging as the next big market for BRT, with rapidly growing cities in China and India also opting for BRT.
BRT has grown due its relatively low barriers to implementation and the quality of service it provides. It is a highly flexible system that combines planning, operations, communication, and technology to create a user-friendly experience. BRT is for people. Dedicated lanes allow riders to avoid congestion, gaining back to to live – not commute. Reducing the amount of time buses stay on the road also reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and increases traffic safety, while the brief walk to the stations helps users build physical activity into their days.
Cities currently building or expanding BRT systems include: Belém, Brazil; Belfort, Cannes, Chalon-sur-Saône, Evry and Metz, France; Chiayi, Taiwan; Fareham-Gosport, Runcorn, United Kingdom; and Guadalupe, Nezahualcoyotl, and Tijuana, Mexico.
BRTData.org launched nearly two years in an effort to disseminate information on the widespread use of BRT and to help cities improve, expand, or pioneer BRT systems. BRTData.org is managed in partnership by the BRT Centre of Excellence – Across Latitudes and Cultures (ALC-BRT CoE) and EMBARQ, the producer of TheCityFix, in collaboration with the Association of Latin American Integrated Systems and BRT (SIBRT) and the International Energy Agency (IEA).
This post was originally published in Portuguese at TheCityFix Brasil.
We’ve come to the convergence of two parallel stories in technology: it is now cheaper to get energy from solar power than from coal-fired power plants in the United States, and everyday citizens are increasingly able to prototype and cheaply manufacture hi-tech goods. These two trends are responsible making the once-fantastical idea of a solar-powered roadway – one that can harness the sun’s energy to power cars, communicate weather conditions, and alert drivers to traffic delays and accidents – possible.
Scott Brusaw and his wife Julie have created the Solar Roadways project, which would charge electric vehicles as they drive and interact with road users and pedestrians to create safer and smarter roads. Through its indiegogo campaign, Solar Roadways has garnered 2.2 million dollars from public funding along with world-wide attention through the viral video, “Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways!”A twister! A twister! The looming threat of energy scarcity
The EPA reports that electricity production and transportation together contributed to 60% of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States in 2012. By the year 2040, the production level of oil reserves will fall to 15 million barrels per day, 20% of current daily consumption. At the current rate, by Hubbert’s Peak Theory, the world will run out of oil at the turn of mid-21st century.
Even if scarcity is not a core issue in this shift towards sustainable energy production and mobility, the increasing impacts of how energy is produced has created demand for innovative ideas. The burning of coal is a leading cause for smog (Nitrogen oxides) and acid rain (Sulfur dioxides). In a 2011 analysis conducted by Greenpeace for China, where coal is a major source of energy, coal emissions contributed to a quarter of a million premature deaths. According to the report, Toxic Air: The Case for Cleaning Up Coal-fired Power Plants, published by the American Lung Association, coal-fired power plants produce more hazardous air pollutants than any other pollution sources.
If these solar roadways are successful, they help to solve many of these different issues. They decrease dependence on oil for people’s mobility needs. They decrease the impact of energy production on air quality. They solve a current weakness in electric motor vehicles of short driving distances and long charging times. They can serve as a renewable, clean power source for the LED lights that light lane markings, road markings, and other road features. With any excess power produced, these roads can power homes in nearby neighborhoods.The wonderful wizard of technology
These solar roadways could also have big impacts on traffic safety. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 22% of the 1.24 million yearly road traffic fatalities are pedestrians. Speeding, driving under the influence, and driver distractions are the major causes of these fatalities. Through wireless communications between the solar panels, drivers will receive advance warning of obstacles that might be present in the roadway such as animals or fallen trees. Crosswalk microprocessors signal to other panels to warn drivers that pedestrians are on the crosswalk. At the same time, pedestrians will become more aware of an incoming car because the LED lights will flash as the vehicle approaches the pedestrian. This new infrastructure can go a long way in combatting this rising tide of road fatalities, and even more so if they can be produced cheaply enough to deploy in low- and middle-income countries.Reaching the Emerald City
The next step the Brusaw family has laid out is to create solar parking lots and recreation facilities to test the durability and sustainability of the panels. There are many possible pitfalls: the loss of traction at higher speeds, materials and construction cost, as well as the durability of the solar panels. If the project receives the go-ahead signal for implementation on the roadways, the fear of fossil fuel depletion in the upcoming decades will slowly fade away, while road fatalities might be drastically reduced. Then perhaps, we can truly create a sustainable, green – or perhaps even an emerald – city.
Today TheCityFix has something big to celebrate. We are ranked as one of the Top Blogs for Urban Planners, now for the third year in a row. Since our launch in 2007, we have been working to provide our readers with analysis on important urban issues, a platform for innovative thinkers to share their ideas, and best practices for sustainable development. Our readers come to our blog from around the world, and include engineers, entrepreneurs, urban planners, and researchers. They are people who are deeply interested in learning socially and environmentally responsible ways to make cities better places to live, and how to turn this learning into action.
This is a great compliment to our global network of contributors, for which we are incredibly proud. Over the past year, we’ve launched series on people-oriented cities – exploring how transport-oriented development (TOD) and human-centered design can create healthier more vibrant cities – and emerging mobility trends in cities around the world. We have begun and look to continue a discussion on how women experience transport, and how cities can use policy and design to help women access education and job opportunities safely. We have also written about how members of the informal economy play an important and often invisible role in city life and how institutions are finding new ways to increase the voice of these populations in the planning process. Along the way, we’ve also shared a few laughs with some of our more light-hearted entries, from Harry Potter to sci-fi cities to skateboarding and social change.
We’re delighted to cover such a wide range of topics in sustainable urban development for our knowledgeable and engaged readership. We are proud, too, to be a voice dedicated to urban development trends, challenges, and solutions in the developing world. We also share this recognition with our sister blogs TheCityFix Türkiye and TheCityFix Brasil, the latter the recipient of Brazil’s TopBlog award.
Yet, even though this is a time of celebration, it is also a time to reflect on how we can push ourselves further to be an even better resource for our readers. We want to learn more from you on which topics you want covered, and want to keep you engaged by inviting you to contribute or comment, so that we stay at the forefront of how to make cities across the globe healthy, safe, inclusive, prosperous, and sustainable.
Raahgiri Day, the weekly event that closes city streets to cars to celebrate walking, biking, music-making, and socializing, has expanded beyond Gurgaon, India. The New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) together with the New Delhi Police Department has decided to stage the first Raahgiri Day in New Delhi this weekend. Beginning July 13, 2014, the inner circle of New Delhi’s Connaught Place and its various radial roads will be converted into pedestrian and cycling zones each Sunday.
This is a pivotal moment for sustainable, active transport in India’s cities. Moving from the city of Gurgaon, population 800,000 people, to New Delhi, population 22 million, is a huge leap, one that reminds us that reorienting cities around people – not cars – is achievable. This starts New Delhi on an important path towards combatting air pollution and improving public health, and all of India one step closer towards being an exemplar of sustainable urban development for other emerging economies.Raahgiri Gurgaon a test-bed for a brighter urban future for India
New Delhi already houses 22 million people within its metropolitan region, and this number is growing annually at a rate of 4.6%. This rapid population increase, combined with shifting consumption patterns and increasing infrastructure development, have created more congested roads and compromised public spaces. Delhi is fighting air pollution that is worse than Beijing’s while simultaneously finding that less than 5% of women feel safe in the city’s public spaces. Leaders have been actively searching for innovative ways to show its residents that it is possible, with public support, to make the megacity more livable. With Raahgiri Day, it seems to have found an answer.
Raahgiri Gurgaon, which began in November 2013, has proved that even in an increasingly motorized city, sustainable mobility is possible. Its success has sparked a shift in mindset and lifestyle among city residents, many of whom have now become proponents of active transport. A recent survey conducted by EMBARQ India in Gurgaon found that Raahgiri Day has had a positive impact on everything from non-motorized transport usage to road safety, greater engagement between local businesses and the community, and increased levels of physical activity. Furthermore, average particulate matter readings on Raahgiri Sundays in Gurgaon were 95 parts per million (ppm) less than the typical weekday in the city (99 ppm compared to 194 ppm). With Delhi’s mortality rate doubling in the past two decades due to air pollution, the potential for Raahgiri Delhi to improve public health and clean the air cannot be ignored.Raahgiri’s success and expansion enabled by collaboration
Expanding Raahgiri to Delhi required collaboration between government and civil society. For example, the Delhi Police and NDMC conducted route reviews to evaluate potential sites in the heart of the city, while the initiative in Gurgaon was originally spearheaded by a founding group of NGOs, namely EMBARQ India, Pedal Yatri, India Cycle Service, I am Gurgaon, and Road Safety Officers. Moreover, EMBARQ India and NDMC plan on expanding Raahgiri Delhi even further, expanding routes within the city and gradually increasing attendance.
In order to help Raahgiri Day gain traction in Delhi and other Indian cities, EMBARQ India’s Amit Bhatt hosted a webinar on The Hub to share lessons learned in implementing this event in Gurgaon to inspire and instruct other cities. Experts in the fields of sustainable transport and urban development joined representatives from India and around the world – including Delhi, Gurgaon, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Pune in India as well as cities in the Netherlands, Australia, Germany and Canada – to explore what active transport and streets for people could do for their cities.Spreading sustainable mobility internationally
Raahgiri Day is slowly moving from a Gurgaon phenomenon to a country-wide practice. As Bhatt has stated:
“This movement has sparked a ray of hope in many cities in India, which now realize that non-motorized and public transport will be the chosen modes of transport in the future. We have been hearing from passionate citizens and public agencies from different cities in the country, who have shown interest in replicating this initiative.”
The cities of Ludhiana and Navi Mumbai have already followed Gurgaon and Delhi’s lead to begin Raahgiri Days of their own. It is no longer a question of whether Raahgiri day has been a successful sustainability initiative, but simply a question of which city will join in next.
China currently has enough roads and infrastructure to accommodate 300 million vehicles. With car ownership reaching 137 million at the end of 2013, and 74 Chinese cities already reporting pollution surging above the level deemed safe by the World Health Organization (WHO) for over two thirds of the year, adding another 170 million cars to the country’s roads will be an economic, environmental, and health disaster.
Statistics from the Beijing Environmental Bureau show that vehicle exhaust contributes to over 30%of the haze in Beijing, drastically decreasing life span and quality of life for millions. But even as the country grows a collective understanding of the impact of vehicle emissions, as China’s growing middle class assumes the consumption patterns of developed countries, people individually still want cars. Increasing strict vehicle emissions controls and stemming the growing culture of car ownership will both be necessary first steps towards advancing sustainable urbanization and improve air quality for China’s growing urban population.Policy and economic growth slow sustainable progress
Even with the understanding that uncontrolled motorization is a detriment to both people and the environment, it is incredibly hard for China to make meaningful reforms. In Shangai, license plates can be sold for up to 90,000 Yuan (14,500 USD) in the city, which should mean that fewer people are buying cars. But instead of helping, Shanghai’s restriction has generated a surge in car sales in cities where restrictive policies are not in place. At an auto exhibition in Nanjing this May, consumers rushed to buy cars because they feared that a car-purchase limit was on the way. Approximately 300,000 people attended the exhibition, and one car was sold every three minutes.
China is a site of both production and consumption for major carmakers, and much of the country’s economic growth can be attributed to the auto industry. Any policy attempt to discourage car sales or car usage has been tactfully watered down so as not to damage economic growth.Belated Vehicle Emissions Control
There are some steps being taken to turn this trend around, but these are steps often plagued by misperception. According to iCET’s 2014 China Green Car report on small and multi-purpose vehicles, traditionally perceived as greener than large and luxury cars, these vehicles often perform poorly in terms of emissions control due to weak enforcement of vehicle emissions. To make any measurable improvements, China needs to use the same emissions control technologies that the United States and Europe have been using in their cars for decades, but at prices that consumers in developing cities can afford.
Beginning next year, China will adopt the long-delayed national stage 4 emission standard (China 4) – the equivalent of Euro 4 standards – on diesel vehicles. This means trucks and lorries that produce high levels of harmful substances will be taken off the road, and may signal that the country will implement regulations aimed at decreasing fuel consumption by passenger vehicles. However, much room for implementation capacity-building still exists.Challenging the car as a status symbol
Despite all efforts made by the government to curtail the car use and exhaust, it is the symbolism of the car in modern China that presents as large a barrier to improvement as weak policies. The car in China has evolved as a symbol of success. It is seen as a key to social mobility, serving individuals in their pursuit for both personal and business goals. There is much for urban planners to do in convincing people that cars are far more of an impediment to urban mobility – especially in megacities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou – than they are worth as a symbol.
This shift is underway, as China’s city leaders take actions to help residents transition to active transport. Once called the Kingdom of Bicycles, China is trying to re-establish its cycling culture through bike-sharing. Hangzhou is home to the world’s largest bike-share program, offering more than 60,000 bikes to its residents with their first hour’s use free of charge. The program is integrated with bus, bus rapid transit (BRT), and metro, creating a sustainable and integrated transport system. China also leads global electric-bike production, creating many opportunities for the country to be a leader in global urban mobility.A road to people-oriented transport
China is taking important steps towards challenging the ascendency of the car as a symbol of social success, strengthening vehicle emissions controls, limiting licenses, and expanding its bike-share systems. Both city planners and residents need to move the country further on the path to sustainable, people-oriented development and go past regulating cars – a strong first step – to look further at what sustainable transport and urban development can do to make cities safe, livable, and accessible.
According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global status report on road safety 2013, only 7% of the world’s population is governed by comprehensive road safety laws. In a world that already sees 1.24 million deaths from traffic crashes each year and increasing motor vehicle usage, this is a frightening prospect and limits our thinking on traffic safety to driver behavior.
Countries like Sweden, however, have taken ambitious, holistic steps to improve traffic safety and save lives through an initiative called Vision Zero, a road safety framework that asserts that “no loss of life is morally acceptable.” The concept has spread to places such as New York City, where newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned and has adopted the approach. Both Sweden and New York City’s strategies are advanced for two reasons, the first being that they set clear targets. Research has revealed that setting ambitious road safety targets can help motivate stakeholders to improve road safety. Secondly, these policies shift the responsibility for road safety from only personal actions like wearing seat belts and helmets to a shared responsibility between road users and designers, which means also creating safer pedestrian infrastructure, automated enforcement, and reducing driving speeds. Together, these ideas can drastically change how countries and cities around the globe approach traffic safety.The birth of Vision Zero
The Vision Zero Initiative is perhaps the most ambitious road safety framework ever implemented. Created in 1994 and adopted by the Swedish Parliament in 1997, Vision Zero sets the ambitious target of zero road fatalities or serious injuries on Swedish roads. The broader approach of shared responsibility resulted in design changes on inter-city highways and intra-city streets. According to The Economist, building 1,500 kilometers of “2+1″ roads (a road design in which each lane of traffic takes turns using a middle lane for passing) has saved around 145 lives over the first decade of Vision Zero. In addition, 12,600 crossings made safer with clear marking and traffic calming are estimated to have halved the number of pedestrian deaths over the past five years. This new attitude has helped Sweden come closer to its goal, with 3 of every 100,000 people dying in traffic-related crashes each year. This is in contrast to 5.5 people per 100,000 in the European Union and 11.4 per 100,000 in the United States.
Learning from Sweden, New York City has adopted the Vision Zero policy framework in an ambitious effort to rethink road safety and save lives. An analysis of the past five years of the city’s traffic fatalities have shown that 70% of pedestrian fatalities stem from causes outside of the pedestrian’s control. This means that the roots of the problem lay in systemic flaws like vehicle speeds, street design, and infrastructure. This new legislation grants New York City the authority to control speed limits, enhance traffic data collection, strengthen penalties for dangerous drivers, and increase usage of speed and red light cameras. The city reports that red light camera intersections alone have seen a 20% decrease in all injuries and a 31% decrease in pedestrian injuries. The city also plans to make safety improvements at 50 intersections, building on its success with street design improvements in recent years that resulted in a reduction of fatalities of 34% where implemented.Combining vision with strategy: The Safe System Approach
Vision Zero is part of a larger Safe System approach to road safety, which has different names in different places. In the Netherlands, there’s sustainable safety. In Minnesota and Washington in the United States, the effort is called Towards Zero Deaths, and in New Zealand Safer Journeys. These share a mostly common methodology that recognizes that humans are fallible, and road designers must take this into account. The Safe System approach looks at more broadly at the physical forces in play, including enforcement, data collection, infrastructure, speed limits, technology, and driver behavior. In the United States, this is sometimes called the four E’s – engineering, enforcement, education, and emergency response/medical elements of traffic safety.
The growing problem of traffic fatalities globally is most present in low- and middle-income countries. In India, there are roughly 134,000 reported traffic fatalities each year and growing. In Brazil, nearly 40,000 are reported dead from crashes, with over 50% of those pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists. In these high-fatality countries and cities within them, there are many opportunities for improving policies and practices in a more comprehensive way that is embodied in Vision Zero and safe systems programs and policies. With the success spreading from Sweden to New York City and down to New Zealand, city leaders must consider this comprehensive approach, particularly where its implementation can have the most impact.
While the idea of ‘free time’ is by nature associated with individual choice and being momentarily ‘free’ from the demands of everyday life, the amount and quality of this time we have at our disposal is closely linked to city-wide forces. When traffic congestion increases, the amount and quality of city residents’ free time decreases. Congestion degrades the opportunity for people to build friendships across the city, decreases the energy people have for hobbies outside of work, and depletes the time people have to live, not commute. With rising car ownership rates contributing to increased traffic congestion in cities across the developing world, city leaders are taking steps to reverse this trend – both for the impacts on residents’ quality of life and the economic cost of sitting in traffic.
The Brazilian cities of São Paulo and Belo Horizonte show how that it will take both citywide policy and changes at the individual level to turn the tide of car-centric mobility and move Brazil towards a future of sustainable mobility and high quality of life for urban residents.Two possible futures, one city
40% of São Paulo residents own a motor vehicle. While this is lower than cities in the United States, it is still higher than most other Latin American cities and São Paulo’s infrastructure was not built to accommodate such a large number of private vehicles. Currently, the city is weighing two options. It can begin to create more highways, or widen existing roads, temporarily solving the congestion problem but quite literally paving the way to further increases in car ownership and congestion. Furthermore, as urban infrastructure typically lasts for decades, this pattern reinforces car culture and auto-centric development, making it harder for the city to build in sustainable transport options to its urban fabric. As The Urban Mobility Research Network of São Paulo found, some São Paulo residents spend one month per year in traffic, or 2.4 hours per day. As car ownership increases, and with it further congestion, this time spent in traffic will only grow.
Prioritizing mass transport creates a way out of this dilemma. Creating dedicated bus lanes, which have the capacity to carry ten times more people on roadways than cars, is a strong first step, which the city is already pursuing with its 374 km (280 miles) of bus rapid transit (BRT) lanes.
But top down leadership is not enough to complete the shift to sustainable mobility; public support and buy-in is vital to creating a truly sustainable city. While 93% of Brazilians consider using public transport such as walking and cycling, 47% still believe that owning a car is vital. Many are so used to long commute times – with 52 minutes in Curitiba considered “fast” – that they are content with the status quo.Change demands policy and people
São Paulo’s Urban Mobility study reflects both recent progress and documents the enormity of the tasks still ahead. These challenges are also present in nearby Belo Horizonte, which recently inaugurated its MOVE BRT system, with two corridors already in operation. It integrates a network of four corridors whose length totals 23 km (18 miles), and has brought sustainable, affordable mobility to many neighborhoods and increases residents’ ability to access greater economic opportunities and services outside of their single community.
Despite this, Belo Horizonte commuters still lose one day per month in traffic. This trend is increasing, for within the past five years, 33% of respondents to the Urban Mobility survey say that they have changed their travel habits. Yet, of these, 67% migrated from public transport to private cars, while only 24% took the opposite approach.
Brazil’s city leaders can begin implementing policies that promote transit-oriented development (TOD), which intensifies the development of housing, trade, and services around transport hubs. But there also needs to be a push from the Brazilian citizens to remember a time when travelling to and from work did not consume all of their free time. Together, sustainable transport decisions on a personal and on a policy level can help all of Brazil’s residents get back to enjoying the family dinners, the late-night parties, the yoga classes, the romantic dates, all that make life beautiful and rich … instead of simply trying to get to them.
A version of this article was originally published in Portuguese on TheCityFix Brasil.
World Cup fans may be focused on the games, but critics are paying attention to another aspect of the event—its price tag. Brazil spent billions of dollars on World Cup infrastructure, and many are understandably questioning the long-term benefits these investments will bring to local communities.
While many of these criticisms are justified, if one looks beyond the shiny new stadiums—namely, to the city streets—a more positive story emerges. World Cup-related investments helped finance sustainable transport systems that will benefit Brazilians long after the final whistle blows.The World Cup and bus rapid transit
Brazil’s Growth Acceleration Program (PAC), a multi-year plan to improve the country’s infrastructure, included a dedicated World Cup investment package. A certain percentage of this money was earmarked for supporting new urban mobility options, with federal, state, and local governments providing roughly R$8 billion to support better public transit.
One such transport solution is new bus rapid transit (BRT) systems, which are moving fans to directly or to other modes of transportation to access the stadiums like Maracanã (Rio) and Mineirão (Belo Horizonte). For example, in Belo Horizonte, getting to the World Cup via BRT takes approximately 20 minutes, whereas getting to a game via car takes approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.
World Cup-related investments helped finance BRTs projects like in Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, and Recife, three of Brazil’s biggest cities. These systems are expected to improve quality-of-life for Brazilians long after the World Cup concludes—and could help inspire greater uptake of sustainable transport options throughout the country.
In Rio, for example, two BRT corridors are already up-and-running, and more two are forthcoming to the 2016 Olympic Games, encircling the entire city and moving 1.6 million passengers per day through approximately 160 km of BRT. The TransCarioca corridor, recently launched before the World Cup, is expected to serve about 450,000 residents daily. It was also created to move visitors quickly to and from the international airport. Rio’s TransOeste BRT corridor— which connects the Barra da Tijuca and Santa Cruz districts —is already benefiting more than 135,000 riders daily, cutting their commuting times in half. And both corridors provide affordable transport to some neighborhoods that never had it before and allow residents better access to services and facilities.
“Before the BRT, I had to wait for a bus that used to take up to an hour to get to my home in Vargem Grande,” said 17-year-old Igor dos Santos when the TransOeste corridor opened. “With the time saved, I can do my computer course.”
Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil, spoke about the very profound impact that the BRT would have on the residents of Rio: “When we talk about urban mass transportation, we’re talking about something extremely precious to the life of each of us—that is time. It’s time to live. And TransCarioca will make us gain life time.”
Residents of Belo Horizonte are seeing similar improvements, thanks to their new BRT system, MOVE, which was developed with support from EMBARQ Brazil. Launched four months ago, MOVE already proved its benefits moving people three times faster than commuting by car during rush hour. When fully operational, the system will transport more than 700,000 passengers each day. The new high quality system is also improving surrounding areas of its corridors and is helping to reshape the downgraded downtown area to a more people oriented environment.The movement continues: Brazil’s National Mobility Law
The encouraging news is that Brazil’s movement towards sustainable mobility will stretch beyond the confines of a few cities and the World Cup. The country is currently moving forward on its National Policy on Urban Mobility. The policy, established in 2012, requires that all cities with more than 20,000 inhabitants and those with significant tourism and trade industries create an urban mobility plan by April 2015 if they wish to secure national funding for transport. The plans must prioritize non-motorized transport—such as cycling and walking —as well as public transit systems.
Around 3,000 cities will be impacted by this legislation, a move that will inevitably expand Brazilians’ access to affordable, reliable transportation. As these cities develop their mobility plans, it’s important that they learn from leaders like Rio and Belo Horizonte, which are already acting as powerful examples of the benefits sustainable transport systems can provide.
SMART at the University of Michigan is honoring enterprises along with cities and states supporting enterprises that are making the world a better place through innovative sustainable transport. The deadline for entrepreneurs to apply is July 7, 2014.
We live in a time in which city leaders are realizing the transformative force of entrepreneurial innovation and of next generation transport. The new mobility space is exploding with opportunities for innovation through new information technologies, new shared service models, and new attitudes, particularly among youth. These solutions are not only advancing the livability and sustainability of communities worldwide, but also growing local and global economies.New Enterprising City/State MobiPrize
While the MobiPrize has existed since 2012, this year Mobi has launched a new prize for city and state government governments, agencies, and other public enterprises – even mayors and governors – that encourage New Mobility entrepreneurship. This award is in partnership with ICLEI Ecomobility.
In addition to the city and state prize, there are two awards for entrepreneurs in sustainable transport, the Grand MobiPrize ($15,000 cash + mentorship) and the Michigan MobiPrize ($5,000 cash+ mentorship), that are also up for grabs. The deadline to apply for all three awards is July 07, 2014.
2014 MobiPrize winners will be recognized at the 21st World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems,taking place between September 7 – 11, 2014, in Detroit, Michigan. The event brings together more than 10,000 transport and business professionals, innovators, investors, researchers, elected officials, and public agency representatives from the United States and beyond.But wait, there’s more!: The MobiPlatform
The MobiPlatform helps promote, connect, and support entrepreneurs, investors, and accelerators in the New Mobility space. It was created to advance New Mobility enterprise as a mainspring of the New Mobility industry that will supply the future of transport. The MobiPlatform helps entrepreneurs, investors, city leaders, policy makers, business, academics, and interested citizens learn about the latest in the New Mobility entrepreneurial space, connect with partners and investors, and find opportunities for training and capacity building programs.
To apply for MobiPrize (very easy application form): http://mobiprize.com/?page_id=5121
To Join M.O.D.E. and receive regular updates from the Mobi Platform: http://mobi-platform.com/2014-mobinet/
To learn more about SMART: www.um-smart.org/blogAbout SMART
SMART’s mission is to catalyze and undertake collaborative research, on-the-ground projects (living labs), education, and global learning exchange in a range of areas related to the sustainable future of transportation systems in an urbanizing world, and to the emerging industry and economy that will supply them. SMART is cross-university, multi-stakeholder, global project of University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute and Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.
Right this minute, right here in Copenhagen, what might be the greatest urban transport experiment in the world is well underway. It wasn't planned but it's working handsomely.Above is our simple traffic planning guide for liveable cities. Make cycling, walking and public transport the fastest way from A to B and make driving a pain in the ass and you have basically the most effective way to change the mobility paradigm for the better. It's that simple. All the campaigns for "ride a bike - it's good for you/it's green/it's healthy" are a complete waste of money if you don't follow the guide. This presupposes protected infrastructure for cycling, of course. Right now in the City of Copenhagen, a new Metro Ring is under construction. We're not fans of the Metro Ring. A city this size doesn't need a metro - it needs tramways like so many other cities in Europe. We don't advocate shoving citizens underground. We want them on street level on foot, on bicycle and in trams. The Metro expansion is a fantastic waste of money. It is projected that cycling levels will fall by around 3% when it's done. Our colleagues around Europe - especially the Dutch - basically point and laugh when I tell them that we have bus routes with 50,000 passengers a day and the City is building a Metro instead of tramways.The Metro is already falsely advertising the travel times. Advertising station to station, but not the first and last mile to and from the station. We did our own travel time survey using real world scenarios and the bike usually beats the Metro in Copenhagen.Fine. We don't like the Metro but damn, right now, we love the Metro construction. The City is following the traffic planning guide for liveable cities to the letter. Copenhagen has 17 Metro stations under construction and this is having a massive effect on mobility patterns in the city. Driving is a pain in the ass.What has happened?Cycling levels have stagnated for years in Copenhagen. Hovering between 35% and 38%. Falling from 37% to 35% after intense helmet promotion.Now there are new numbers from the Danish Technical University's Travel Survey. Between 2012 and 2013, the modal share for bicycles (people arriving at work or education in the City of Copenhagen) exploded from 36% to 41%.Forty-one percent. A leap of 5%.The car's modal share fell from 27% to 24%. But wait, there's more. The average trip length in Copenhagen rose 35% from 3.2 km to 4.2 km between 2012 and 2013. That means that the oft-quoted statistic about how Copenhageners cycle 1.2 million km a day need to be upgraded to 2,006,313 km per day.Since 1990, by the way, the number of cyclists has risen 70% in Copenhagen. The number of car trips into the city centre has fallen from 350,000 to 260,000.Okay, okay. But what does it all MEAN? When the results of the travel survey came out, journalists were scrambling for answers. Two researchers at DTU were "surprised". They were quoted in the Danish press as saying things like, "uh... the City's new bridges and traffic calming on certain streets seem to have worked. Giving cyclists carrots encourage cycling."The detail they forgot was that the new cycling bridges aren't finished yet, nor is the traffic calming on Amagerbrogade. The Nørrebrogade stretch is from 2008. Cycling rose on that street by 15% but that was BEFORE 2012. Duh. Bascially, there hasn't been much carrot dangling in this city for a few years. So forget about THAT hastily thunk up theory. Things are happening NOW, in 2013 and 2014, sure, but that has nothing to do with the data from 2012 to 2013. Double Duh.What HAS happened is that 17 huge construction sites fell out of the sky all at once. Not something that happens every day. In addition, most of central Copenhagen - between 2012 and 2013 - was under further construction because of the upgrading of district heating pipes under many streets that had to be ripped up.Look at the guide at the top again. THAT is what has happened. Driving was rendered incredibly difficult. Copenhageners, being rational homo sapiens, chose other transport forms. Public transport has increased, too, but the bicycle is clearly the chariot of choice. It's no surprise at all why cycling is booming. What is happening right now is a fantastic urban experiement. So much data and experience is and will become available. Mark my words, however. When the Metro construction is finished in 2018... probably 2019... we will see a sharp drop in cycling levels, back to the standard levels we plateaued with for the past few years. You read it here first.Unless, of course, the City of Copenhagen has the cajones to embrace this experiment and use it to finally make The Leap - as described by author Chris Turner - into the future of our city. Expanding and widening the cycle tracks. Reallocating space from falling car traffic to bicycles and public transport. The new BRT route in Copenhagen is a good step. Let's see how much farther we can go. Designing cities instead of engineering them. The citizens have shown us that they will be on our side if we do the right thing.Otherwise, this rich petri dish experiment will just rot and be forgotten.Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
This article reports on presentations made by Philip Yang, President, URBEM (Urbanism and Urban Studies Institute for the city of Sao Paulo), Jianming Cai, Professor at the Institute of Geographic Sciences & Natural Resources Research (IGSNRR), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and Alexandros Washburn Founding Director, Center for Coastal Resilience and Urban eXcellence (CRUX) at Stevens Institute of Technology at a panel organized by the Wilson Center.
We live in a world where cars can fold into themselves and may soon be levitating. However, this rapid pace of innovation in the automotive sector is not yet crossing over to cities at large. Cities are traditionally slow and resistant to change. They are complex, interconnected systems, whereas technology is best at solving discrete problems. While smart cities might be covered in sensors that give city leaders a lot of data, ultimately it is people that make decisions, and ultimately ineffective governance structures and human judgment that needs to improve.
Or so says Philip Yang, the President of the Urbanism and Urban Studies Institute (URBEM) in São Paulo, Brazil, as he explores the myriad factors making it increasingly difficult to confront the challenges facing today’s cities. Cities are growing ever larger and more spread out, changing faster than regulation can handle, and are increasingly unequal. But the picture Yang, together with his colleagues Prof. Jianming Cai, and Alexandros Washburn described at a recent panel on the “Dawn of the Smart City” is one that is urgent but not unhopeful.
The key to building wisdom into these so-called smart cities entails tackling problems at scale, asking tough questions about the services cities need to provide residents, and concentrating on fixing the difficult, human dimension of metropolises.Bigger, wider, faster, further apart: Defining the problem
As cities grow, challenges that were once swept under the rug are becoming magnified. With the global urban population hitting 6 people billion by 2050, and 10 billion by 2100, this means that changing the way we build cities will become that much harder. Poor planning practices will become more widespread and more engrained into urban development as more land will be urbanized in the first three decades of the 21st century that in all of mankind’s past.
Economic trends are also shifting faster than cities can plan for, as cities are rapidly de-industrializing and re-industrializing faster than zoning codes are updated. This means cities are being built that don’t meet the need of their residents. Added to this, cities are aggregation mechanisms: they aggregate wealth as well as poverty, which means that it is harder than ever for city leaders to work together towards solutions as people’s interests move further apart.Problems and solutions at scale
All of these different challenges can only be solved if planners define these problems at the right scale. Today’s cities influence the region around them, meaning that policy divides between city and suburb are likely to have far-reaching impacts. As Yang noted, one municipality within São Paulo houses 10% of Brazil’s GDP. Changes things like transport options, urban development densities, and carbon emissions policies will all have repercussions that will ripple throughout the entire region.
As Yang delved into how to define the problems facing cities, his colleague Prof. Jianming Cai, from the Institute of Geographic Sciences & Natural Resources Research (IGSNRR), spoke about the necessity of knowing the solution. This means consciously defining that a city should be economically productive – both for its inhabitants and the nation – inclusive, well-governed, and healthy for inhabitants and the planet. Without defining success, achieving it is impossible.
Finally, Alexandros Washburn from the Center for Coastal Resilience and Urban eXcellence (CRUX), highlighted that a successful smart city will owe far more of its success to good governance than to new gadgetry. This good governance will not focus on putting lots of sensors on roads or lampposts, but on using technology to integrate public participation into decision making in ways that in the past would have been prohibitively slow.
This participant-based decision process will be increasingly helpful for cities to successfully react to escalating challenges, from the size of parks and buildings to the size of tsunamis and tornados. In such crisis situations – growing more common with the rise of extreme weather due to climate change – it is great to have residents with phones that can track wind speed. It is even better to have an online portal to share this information. But really, in these situations, the smartest cities will have leaders with a solid plan that they can successfully execute to get their residents to safety.
This year marks the seventh anniversary of the “Muévete en bici” (Bike Move) program in Mexico City. Every Sunday for the past seven years, the city has closed many of its streets to cars, and opened them up to pedestrians ready to dance, to jog, to bike, and connect to their community in new ways. This phenomenon has rapidly grown to become the fifth largest car-free day in Latin America, with 4.2 million users and 48 kilometers (30 miles) of streets closed.
But this car-free day has gone beyond a Sunday morning pastime. Muévete en bici has radically altered the culture of the city, run by the Non-Motorized Mobility Strategy Office which has in turn created the ECOBICI bike-share program and dedicated bike lanes network. No one knows how far this sustainable mobility revolution will go, but now the world is watching Mexico City for best practices in promoting active transport.A day for sustainable mobility emerges
In April 2007, Sundays in Mexico were irrevocably changed as 10 km (6 miles) were closed to cars along the crowded Paseo de la Reforma avenue. Over this year, 220,000 citizens would spend their Sundays relaxing along the avenue, and later, the car-free circuit of the Ciclotón. Over the years, the car-free day has expanded from activities such as biking and walking to salsa lessons, urban theater and music, healthcare and social services, political campaigns, specialized stores, and cycling mechanics, who set up their separate stalls to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Now in its seventh year, the Paseo de la Reforma and surrounding streets has seen its millionth visitor.Expanding sustainable mobility outside of the avenue
2008 saw the expansion of human-centered mobility outside of one corridor of the city. The Ministry of Environment using the results of the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s (UNAM) study “Strategy for Non-Motorized Mobility for Mexico City” helped convince city leaders that there needed to be one office to coordinate the many emerging sustainable mobility initiatives across the city, turned into the Non-Motorized Mobility Strategy Office which was tasked with building better bike infrastructure, integrating cycling into the wider transport system, creating a cycling culture, and increasing access for all the city’s residents to cycling.
Along Muévete en bici, this new office created “bike schools” to teach young students how to bike to promote sustainable mobility and an active lifestyle from an early age. In 2009, the Non-Motorized Mobility Strategy Office started the ECOBICI public bike-share program which built on the momentum of the Muévete en bici program, with 42% of the bike-share users having had their interest in biking sparked by the car-free day. The ECOBICI expanded sustainable mobility to the whole of the central city with 275 stations and 3,700 bikes for rent. Finally, hoping to widen the demographic of cyclists and make biking safe for all, the office created a dedicated 48.6km (30 mile) bike lane network throughout the city and bike parking at transit centers.Engraining sustainable mobility into the entire week
The change that Muévete en bici catalyzed, and which the Non Motorized Mobility Strategy Office expanded, created a massive change in the mobility patterns of the city. According to the ECOBICI GEI Emission Reduction Survey conducted by EMBARQ Mexico in 2012, 40.3% of ECOBICI users stopped using motorized transport for short distance trips. This change represents 2,065 days saved from sitting in traffic and 232 tons of CO2 emissions avoided. But the city is pushing its sustainable mobility efforts even further. At the end of 2014, ECOBICI will reach 34 square kilometers (21 miles) covered, with 444 stations and 6,200 public bikes in use, and some 20 million riders.
Even in a city very much in flux, sitting at the edge of innovation and chaos, a new generation of public officers are showing that people can take back the public realm from cars and that residents have both the passion and perseverance to make sustainable mobility a reality. With the seventh anniversary of the Muévete en bici the Non-Motorized Mobility Strategy Office, having grown to 25 employees, has become an even more integral component of the city. To mark its importance to the city’s future urban development, it is now the Culture, Design, and Bike Infrastructure Department of the Ministry of the Environment. This team is tasked with turning an important paradigm shift into concrete policies and sustainable infrastructure. The city, and the world, is watching.
Special thanks to Ivan de la Lanza, Director the Culture, Design and Bike Infrastructure Department and his team for the global inspiration and for leading the change in Mexico, and to Tanya Müller head of the Ministry of Environment, former leader of the first 7-person group that formed the Strategy.
Many planning regulations and multilateral funding bodies demand that developers include a Heritage Impact Assessment as part of their Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before approving infrastructure projects. Good developers go beyond simply completing the impact assessment and think like anthropologists, considering the cultural factors that influence their projects in the long-term. Thinking with cultural awareness often means that developers need to plan around such important cultural sites as churches and burial grounds.
Few developers, however, have ever needed to alter their development plans because of elves.Longstanding heritage creates shared history
As odd as this may sound, Iceland — ranked in the top quintile of multiple human development indices and with the eleventh highest math literacy rate – is where these elves are influencing development projects. Yet, even though Iceland is incredibly socially progressive, it is simultaneously a culture saturated in folklore, literature, history and other old traditions. A survey conducted by the University of Iceland in 2007 found that 62% of the 1,000 respondents thought it was at least conceivable that elves do exist.
Iceland’s elves, then, serve as a shining example of the strength that cultural places have in keeping alive a history with explanations of the universe far older than indices or mathematical comprehension exams, even if the location’s value cannot be quantified or understood by the outside world.Iceland’s geography influences cultural perceptions
Understanding the country of Iceland sheds light on how and why elves continue to persist in its modern imagination.
Iceland is a country of volcanic terrains, peppered with vast lava fields of black rocks, desert-red geothermal hot spots, geysers, and bubbling pools of sulphuric water. It is a place of cone-shaped mountains, thundering waterfalls, glaciers, crystalline lakes, lush green fields, and a coastline of windswept beaches. This reactive landscape creates the sense of a nature very much alive, and in turn a community dependent on forces far more unknowable and powerful than themselves.
Out of these meteoric phenomena, it is little surprise to folklorist Valdimar Tr. Hafstein that Icelanders fashioned the Huldufólk – or ‘Hidden People’ – which appear like human beings, yet are one with the elements of rock, hill, and pond. Huldufólk were recorded in Icelandic literature as early as the 16th century. As Terry Gunnell, professor of Folkloristics at the University of Iceland puts it, “… everyone is aware that the land is alive, and one can say that the stories of hidden people and the need to work carefully with them reflects an understanding that the land demands respect.”
Yet, sometimes this respect for the land comes in direct conflict with cities’ need to expand.Compromise between culture and urban expansion
Over the years, construction projects – from housing developments to new roads to factory extensions – encroaching on elf habitations were often halted or abandoned due to the reoccurrence of dream warnings, accidents, equipment failures, and ill fortunes suffered by construction workers. This has been a serious planning issue that Iceland’s communities have faced since the 1970s.
The most recent case of the conflict between elves and urban development is the road project that would link the Álftanes peninsula to Garðabær, a suburb of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik. The project was halted by a campaign group self-named Hraunavinir (Lava friends), which believed the project would disturb the elves that lived in the lava field near the road. At the disputed site, there was also a 12-foot-high rock, an Elf Chapel, and another spot, an Elf Church, that the group did not want to see disturbed. The group teamed up with environmentalists to persuade the Icelandic Road and Coastal Commission and local authorities to abandon the project.
In December 2013, the project was brought before the Supreme Court of Iceland, which temporarily halted the project. Finally the problem was resolved in part when an Icelandic mediator communicated with the elves and negotiated an agreement, on the condition that the Elf Chapel rock was carefully moved elsewhere. The Highways authority is planning to hire a crane to move the 70-ton slab to a safer location.Heritage and history creates more vibrant communities
To some, this negotiation with mythical creatures seems silly, but the curious case of Iceland’s elves highlights a very real need for new urban developments, and the developers that spearhead them, to understand and respect the cultural heritage of places for communities. These places stand as tangible components of a much wider, intangible tradition that links ancestors with present lives, and links the awe of a mysterious universe with a rapidly urbanizing future. These linkages between past and present, between people and place, create stronger, closer communities that are their own form of magic.
This article was originally written in London, April 2014.