Transport and the age of mega cities (Part 1 of 4)
Yurts at Poncha Pass - Colorado Yurt Rentals and Sustainable Building Workshops - Photo of Chris in ground of Earthship

Written by Chris

July 31, 2016

In the last couple of years, I have been traveling up and down the west coast of Latin America for work, living in places from Lima to Santiago. Moving every few months and participating in communities big and small has afforded a unique awareness of daily transport. Our commutes are fundamentally tied to our daily lives. Some entail bike rides through pastures and along dykes, or walks down small cobble stone streets (Netherlands). For most however, it probably consists of time in the metro, bus, or behind the wheel of a car. With transit closely linked to mobility, cost of living, emissions, and mental health, I have become fascinated by the concept of urban planning and public transit as of late. Like blood cells in the human body moving about to deliver oxygen, clots can be deadly for the survival of a person, as I believe to be the case for mobility in a city. If we also look at where changes need to take place to secure the future viability of this planet, mega cities lay front and center.

One of the starkest contrasts I have observed regarding transit lies between Lima and Santiago and the “access” that differentiates between the two cities that are otherwise very similar in size, economy, and geography. I would argue Santiago’s high access public transit system has created a city with a shared state of health that is reflected in homogeneous crime rates, social mobility, and livability, whereas Lima’s relatively low access public transit system generates strong disparities between districts when considering these city health indicators.

Both centralized countries, populations and commerce in Chile and Perú revolve around their respective capitals. Although Lima is larger, it has only one light rail and a central bus line to serve the sprawling city. On the other hand, Santiago has a fairly well established metro with 5 lines and a 6th planned to come online later this year. This excludes the combis, taxis, or other small transit connectors present within both cities. While spending time in Santiago, I stayed in different districts and would commute to meetings across the city. I found it interesting that most places were within 45 minutes using the metro. There also seemed to be a relatively even sense of security across the city as districts all over the city showed pockets of gentrification, commerce, and activity. I still have yet to see most of Lima* despite spending more time here, and find myself sticking to a few districts, often trying to stay in places where I can commute relatively short distances so that transit times do not reach upwards of an hour and a half or two. I am not alone in this of course, and one will quickly see a disparity of districts regarding activity with many becoming isolated pockets cut off from the city.

Lima metro

Lima Line 1 w/ planned expansion

Santiago Metro

Santiago Metro w/ planned line 6

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond the loss of time from people’s daily lives and more fundamental, without proper access to certain areas, people begin to avoid districts in every manner of interaction. They avoid them for shopping, for eating, and spending time. Those districts then lose value and become more prone to criminal activities and housing downturns. As many districts of cities around the world depend on local taxation to pay for school systems, security, parks, and services, isolation of any district turns into a death-blow where a negative feedback loop takes hold and problems become compounded.

When a city has integrated transport, a small business can pop up next to a metro stop in a multitude of districts and be attractive to people from across the city. With good access, area can suddenly become desired for affordability, space, and cultural heritage and the inertia to transform the district breaks. This is what I continue to observe between Lima and Santiago and farther afield. If one considers even more connected cities such as Paris and Amsterdam, the “system health” in those cities becomes ever more apparent.

In the age of mega cities and developing economies, cities like Lima, Calcutta, and Mexico City (among many), should take note that in developing sustainable mass transit, they are not only addressing the movement of people, but the fundamental health and well-being of an entire city.

In the coming weeks, I am excited to discuss a small, medium, and large conceptual idea of solutions I have been developing over the past few years. They are only ideas; some I’ve observed in practice, some I believe novel, but all I hope might provide that spark to break the inertia for citizens alike to dream big and take back the heart of their city.

 

*A note on Lima vs. Chile: The two cities mentioned above have a rich history and often one bathed in competitive flavors regarding two countries. When speaking about them, I specify a discourse regarding systems of transit and not culture. Having spent most my time in Lima, I have found a cultural unique to the world, cuisine to like no other, and a place forever worth a visit and in my heart.

 

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