Memo: Regional Transport 6

What can we learn from transportation planning in the Global South? That investments need to support both mobility and place-making.

This is part of a series of “reading memos” that offer a brief summary of interesting academic content along with my personal reflections. This one covers Chapter 9 (The Global South) of Cervero, Guerra, and Al’s Beyond Mobility.

Summary

40% of the world’s population live in cities within the set of less developed countries known as the Global South. These cities can be categorized as Transit Cities (dense cities heavily reliant on often informal public transit/paratransit), Nonmotorized Cities (compact cities with walkable cores but poor pedestrian infrastructure), and/or Motorcycle Cities (cities with narrow streets and poor transit service).

Suburbs of these cities are also growing quickly, but they generally concentrate poverty and lack basic infrastructure or high-quality transit. Yet they are still densely populated – quite different than the typical American suburb. Ways to improve suburban conditions include upgrading of existing slums / informal settlements (e.g., World Bank investment to provide basic infrastructure), proactively providing title/infrastructure/services before settlement occurs (e.g., United Nations Development Program), or enabling mortgage markets so the private sector can provide new housing/infrastructure in fast-growing areas. Unfortunately, these approaches have historically failed to improve access to employment, scale sufficiently with growth, or produce sustainable / well-designed neighborhoods respectively.

Excessive emphasis on mobility over place-making has resulted in many high-capacity transit investments that fail to integrate well with metropolitan form or shape urban growth. Examples of these outcomes include the car-oriented large-block suburbs in China, the lack of secondary feeder systems to the Janmarg in Ahmedabad (India), and the low ridership/competitiveness of the TransJakarta system in Indonesia. While extending transit to already dense suburban neighborhoods is difficult, it remains essential to avoid poor design/growth patterns that encourage shifts to private cars and motorcycles over time.

Reflections

Being aware that the for-profit real estate industry is a significant source of problems related to housing affordability worldwide, I had mixed feelings about how it also seems to be the most efficient/effective way to get housing and infrastructure built in the suburbs of the Global South. For the foreseeable future, it appears that planners will need to leverage the private sector for housing production while proactively shaping development patterns to ensure proper integration with existing urban fabric, place-making, etc. My concern is that enabling mortgage markets and aiming to improve property values serves to proliferate the notion of real estate as an investment, but I could also see how this could be addressed through additional government policy/incentives.

Another potentially harmful export from the Global North to the Global South is the glorification of automobiles as symbols of affluence (i.e., car culture). This has already been shown to contribute to a persistent/increasing rate of traffic injuries/fatalities in the United States, which would be terrible to replicate on a global scale – especially in the far denser cities of the Global South.

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