If someone asked you what can boost gender equality in rural and indigenous communities in Latin America, a road would probably not be your first answer.
Well, think again!
During a recent trip to northern Argentina, we visited one of the main attractions in the area: the Qom Culture Route (QCR), a corridor of seven cultural centers led by artisan Qom women - 10% of the indigenous population in the country belongs to this ethnic group - spread along the recently paved Route 3 in the province of Chaco, as part of the Ministry of Federal Planning, Infrastructure and Services’ Norte Grande Road Infrastructure Project, with support from The World Bank. The project has helped build these women’s community centers and trained them in entrepreneurial, associative and commercial skills.
Increasing numbers of citizens all over the world are demanding that urban planners and political authorities in their cities “get it right” when designing public urban spaces. People living in cities, both in developed and developing countries are reclaiming streets as public spaces, demanding urban planners to re-design streets to ensure a more equitable distribution of these public spaces, and prioritizing the allocation of streets for people to walk, cycle and socialize. This was the central topic discussed last week at the “Future of Places” conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
How do we contribute to a more equitable society by building more equitable cities? In an increasingly urbanized world, urban mobility is central to citizens’ social and economic wellbeing. However, current urban transportation systems – based primarily on the movement of private motorized vehicles – have prioritized road space and operational design of streets for automobiles over other modes of transport, which has caused many social, environmental and economic consequences, therefore reducing urban livability and equitable access.
The values of urbanity and mobility are being rethought all over the world, and Latin American cities are no exception to this questioning of how cities are to be developed today. One of the answers to sustainability issues lies in the concept of proximity, which combines different dimensions of the urban proposals that the 21st century requires. These dimensions include public health – particularly the fight against sedentary habits – as well as density, compactness, closeness, resilience, and livability of the public space. These all point to a new urban paradigm that all creative cities wish to adopt in order to attract the knowledge economy and guarantee social cohesion.
Photo: Sam Kittner / Capital Bikeshare
Recently, I was invited to join a panel on the sharing economy moderated by Prof. Susan Shaheen at UC Berkeley, focusing more specifically on shared mobility.
The panel acknowledged that shared mobility is already transforming the mobility landscape globally, but could go a lot further in increasing the sustainability of urban mobility systems. The panel identified a number of key research gaps that we need to pay close attention to if we want to create a policy environment that is conducive to mobility innovations. Three that I want to highlight are:
- Supporting open data and open-source ecosystems is critical considering the tremendous potential of open-source software and data-sharing for improving transport planning, facilitating management and providing a better experience for transport users (for more detail, please see my previous blog on how the transport sector in Mexico is being transformed by open data)
- Looking into shared-economy solutions for those at the bottom of the pyramid – solutions that don’t require credit cards and smartphones as prerequisites (see this blog on the bike-share system in Buenos Aires for a good example)
- The world of driverless cars is coming – which, depending on how policy responds to it, could spell really good or really bad news for the environment: if such technology is used primarily in shared mobility scenarios, it could greatly reduce the environmental cost of motorized transport; on the other hand, the possibility of “empty trips” with zero-occupancy cars could exacerbate the worst elements of automobility (see Robin Chase’s blog in The Atlantic Cities for a great discussion on this). That is why it is critical to create a policy environment that appropriately prices the ‘bads’ of congestion, accidents and emissions while steering the world of driverless cars towards sharing and resource conservation.
Here is a quiz question for you: "You are driving on a highway and you suddenly realize that you just missed the intended exit ramp. What would you do?" Most people would hopefully say “Go to the next exit ramp.” However, as we recently found out, 12% of truck drivers in China said: “Back up or turn-around to the missed exit ramp.”