Transport networks are the pulse of the city, defining livability and urban space. In Mexico City, Mumbai, and Sao Paulo these networks have the most eccentric pulses, but their networks are indefinitely clogged. This article from the NY Times articulates a traffic scene in Mexico City, one that hit very close to home - as I witnessed many similar events in Mumbai.
Being back in New York, and experiencing the original ‘city that never sleeps’ is exciting and exhausting, but congestion, traffic, and noise - it is surely lacking in comparison. Spend but one day in Mumbai and you’ll never complain about getting cross town on 34th street during the holiday season at rush hour. Don’t get me wrong, there are very few places I love more than New York; but the pulse of the city, while most likely much more ‘livable’ perhaps, is not as exhilarating as you would find on the streets on Mumbai. But, you have to be up for it.
As the middle class grows in Mumbai, and other developing cities, the desire for people to live in their own middle class bubbles renders itself on the street in the form of the private car and the private driver. Now, in the defense of the booming middle class, at least in Mumbai, the public transportation options are not ideal. Effective, perhaps - but dangerously crowded, and not really suited for carrying laptop, ipads, or whatever else you may need for your work day. Believe me, I know…
So the status of the middle class, marked by the ability to use one’s commute to answer all emails, make calls, and find some god damn peace and quiet, is both self serving and a means to be able to achieve more in the work day, to be able to function within a somewhat dysfunctional society.
While the middle class continues to clog the streets as a mode to escape the ‘insufferable’ moments of society, they are in fact only conducing the exact behavior that they are escaping from. Traffic encourages hawkers to quickly fill in any space there may be in between rickshaws, cars, animals, and people - real estate has never been at such a capital gain, and where better then next to people that are bored and impatient? Here a girl is selling Republic Day pins to me while inside a cab…
The poor and homeless beg for money from foreigners and the wealthy - easily tagged in their Audis; and occasionally a young thief may seize the opportunity of a woman, distracted and stuck, loosely holding onto her purse inside a rickshaw with no protection from the open sides of the vehicle.
Via conversation with a colleague working on a project in Sao Paulo I’ve learned that there is equally as much, if not much more, traffic, and a larger disparity between the rich and the poor. Traffic has gotten so bad that the upper elite now all have helipads and private helicopters to literally ‘rise above it all’.
And of course, as noted in Mexico City, definitely in Mumbai and perhaps in Sao Paolo - we wonder where is the government while all of this is taking place? Most likely taking a back seat, breaking the rules they are supposed to be enforcing, and even bribing vehicles to be able to do what they are allowed to already - take a u-turn or park. Its either pay or slowly move forward or continue to look for another spot - searching a pin in a haystick. This behavior leads to proactive public behavior - and should that turn into a brawl, well then what better reason for the cops to either watch, or penalize yet again, with a bribe. On the good witch side of the story, many times I have seen people get out of their cars to untangle an intersection amidst a cacophony of horns everyone else is trying to close off.
Beyond the general public there are many great organizations ‘doing the needful’ in the way of improving traffic, livelihoods, and the greater good across the urban transportation board. Embarq, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, and the Urban Land Institute are three of the larger groups providing solutions to not only traffic, but deeply embedded social issues in developing and developed countries. What’s notable, and something to leave you thinking on is that most often developing countries look to developed countries for how to modernize their systems, specifically to the US in designing cities as the great automobile centric cities and livelihoods we have painted across our landscape. On the ITDT website for the United States, their work is precursored with a statement that indicates a sentiment that I and many people already know and stronglu believe; that the great cities of the future are not made, or even resuscitated, on the failed attempts of our past, but created with ingenuity and activism that technology and globalization enables access to. Every country within the ITDT network has its own section on the website, yet none start with such a disheartening statement as this :
'America’s public policy and investment decisions in the twentieth century spurred growth, but also encouraged sprawl, increased driving and ultimately took a toll on community livability, energy security, and the environment.'