Feasibility vs. Imagination: Proposals for the Future of Transport

Living in New York City gives you the possibility to enjoy many forms of transportation; such as public transit, vehicles or your feet. But as anyone who has traveled within the city knows, the system is far from perfect.  The subway trains change schedules at random, cars often find themselves stalled at red lights, bikes lanes are far and few and sometimes walking simply isn’t an option when you’re on Lower East Side and need to go the Bronx.  As part of our learning experience as CISC interns, we took a field trip to visit the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy’s, “Our Cities, Ourselves” exhibit at the American Institute for Architecture (AIA). The program created this exhibit with hopes that cities will become safer and more efficient in the future.  This primary focus is to propose redesigned transport systems for 10 of the world’s urban centers.  Cities in developing countries made up a majority of the ten cities chosen for the project: Ahmedabad, India; Budapest, Hungary; Buenos Aires, Agentina; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Guangzhou, China; Jakarta, Indonesia; Johannesburg, South Africa; Mexico City, Mexico; New York City, New York, and Rio De Janiero, Brazil. These proposals were created with the hope that cities within developing nations won’t make the same transportation system errors that developed nations have, such as dependence on automobiles.  

This general mission is even more imperative when one takes into account that in 2030, 60% of the global population will live in an urban environment, most of them from developing countries.  With this in mind, “Our Cities, Ourselves” proposed a ten point criteria called “The 10 Principles for Transport in Urban Life”, to act as baseline targets future transportation systems.  With these principles in mind, ten architects were tasked with redesigning the transportation systems of the ten cities, mainly focusing on how to increase pedestrian walkways, create biking amenities, develop rapid bus transit systems, and encourage intensification and diversification of urban centers.  While urban planners could’ve also been tasked for these proposals, architects were asked with the thought that their creativity and imagination would provide deeper inspiration than the practicality and realism of planners.

The “Our Cities, Ourselves” exhibit opened our eyes to the incredible advances being made by 21st century technology for sustainable transport. The New York City proposal made a huge push for people-powered transport. This alternative allows for the convenience of door-to-door travel while using less space and resources. People powered transport also has public health benefits and lessens the amount of cars on the road emitting pollution into the environment. The “Our Cities, Ourselves” exhibit not only looks at the small differences we can make in our lives but the big differences countries can make for their cities. Changes such as making walkways and bike paths more pleasant and attractive for more people to enjoy, increases the vitality of city life and promotes better health. Sustainable transit, will not be warmly welcomed unless there are attractive and lively places that encourages people to utilize them. This goes to show that rethinking the way we move in cities can create a more livable space and create a symbiotic relationship between the built environment and the natural one.

The exhibit presents various projects that have a range of feasibility: from the low impact plans, such as making a pedestrian plaza in Mexico City, to high impact plans, such as creating a long, elevated pedestrian walkway through parts of Guangzhou, China.  As the largest city in Argentina, Buenos Aires has a well-developed public transit system. However with a .8% population growth rate, the use of cars and the traffic that comes with it is on the rise. The Buenos Aires proposal developed by PALO Arquitectura Urbana focuses on the remnants of an industrial port in La Boca. The port, now abandoned, has become an eyesore, occupied by squatters and housing an 8 story highway viaduct. The proposed plan would transform the port into a waterfront promenade that includes bike and pedestrian lanes and enjoyable greenways leading to existing cafes and bars. Public spaces on each sides of the Rio de La Plata would link to a BRT and water taxis. The old freight line would be transformed into a pedestrian walkway and filled with housing and retail shops.

The Ahmedabad region is the largest inland industrial center in Western India. It has seen tremendous economic growth in the last decade, which has meant that the middle class has expanded, and the cities number of automobiles has exploded. Traditionally the streets were mixed use with bicycles and rickshaws dominating the narrow streets of Ahmedabad. The influx of cars has made the roads in the Jamalpur district of the city particularly dangerous as they lack the infrastructure to accommodate the car traffic, which has resulted in unsafe streets for pedestrians. Noise and exhaust pollution have become a serious problem for residents.

The HCP Design and Project Management Pvt. Ltd. (HCPDPM) plan for Ahmedabad is one of the strongest and most practical of the architectural renderings presented in the Our Cities Our Selves exhibition at AIA. Utilizing a vacant lot in Jamalpur, and reconfiguring the bus transportation with a Bus Rapid Transit system, their vision to create a more pedestrian friendly streetscape emulates planning techniques that have proven successful in Copenhagen and New York City. By creating pedestrian islands to increase green space and pedestrian safety, and making a mixed use civic space in the underutilized vacant lot, the plan accommodates the needs of cyclists and pedestrians and increase the quality of life for the fast growing population of Ahmedabad.
Changing an underused and blighted area of the city into a vibrant public waterfront space will be an asset to the community and the city at large. The Buenos Aires plan was one of the more realistic ones of the exhibit. While several of the other plans, would require destroying and rebuilding, this one, renews an antique infrastructure and transforms it. Ultimately, many of the projects may not be realized in the near future.  For example, the Jakarta proposal is visionary in terms of the way it plans to maximize use of every available area around Manggarai, the bus transit station which the proposal targets.  However, one look at the future renders of the project suggests that the amount of money and resources needed may not be available.  Despite this, these proposals provide desirable goals that get us thinking about how an increasingly urban world can also be increasingly sustainable.  And while they may not all be realistic,  these proposals stimulate discussion as to what we can do to improve our transit system so that they are more efficient and let us lead more sustainable and better lives.



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