Invisibilities (Putting our eyes to work)

In the city, as in life, as we make our way around it we normally register only what we set out to look for. The anomalies, the absences, the troubling, somehow escape our attention. Consciously or not. But when it comes to matters of transport and public spaces, everywhere the eye might wander there are valuable clues, both visible and invisible, for planners, policy makers and the concerned citizen. However, if we fail to use our eyes we miss out on valuable information. And as a result our cities do just that much less well.

With this in mind we have made a selection of fifty wildly different photographs from the working archives of World Streets, which have been culled from more than three thousand  images and which one by one can help us to  better understand the almost infinitely variable challenges of sustainable transport, sustainable cities and sustainable lives.  I call these  “Invisibilities” reminding us to all of the many things that go on in our sector which we often fail to look at. This is a universal problem, and my hope here is to encourage us all, myself included, to be more fully attentive to the human side of transportation.

(We propose that you look at this with the full screen setting bottom right just above.)

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McKinsey on Urban mobility at a tipping point

uk-traffic light tree-smallThis article by a team from McKinsey & Company has puts together the pieces of the urban mobility revolution in some original ways, to present a challenging view of the future of urban mobility worldwide.

We publish selected brief extracts here to get you going and if you then wish to turn to the full text and illustrations which you will find – – – > here.

The speed and extent of the mobility transformation will differ. In this report, we lay out a framework that describes the evolution of urban mobility. We also highlight a set of urban archetypes, defined by population density and the maturity of public transit; each archetype can be expected to take a different path to mobility. Our analysis suggests that a mobility revolution is on the way for much of the world. As a result, we anticipate big improvements in the quality of life for city residents.

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Rethinking Car Free Days: On their Tenth Anniversary in Taipei City

Thank you. I have been kindly invited by Mayor Hau Lung-pin to come to Taipei City this year to discuss  the celebration of the city’s tenth successive Car Free Day — and as part of this collaborative brainstorming process to draw on my experience of some seventeen years working with this, one hopes, transformative transportation approach in different cities around the world.

eb - along from group photo Taipei CFD 2011This year’s Green Transportation Forum has given me an opportunity to meet once again with many old friends and distinguished colleagues working in the sustainable transport sector, and to hear about the progress the city has made in working with this approach in this first decade. In all I ended up spending a full week in the city and the surrounding region, in order to have a better appreciation of the overall transportation situation, which of course is what the Car Free Days are supposed to be all about. The goal of the Green Transportation Forum was to lay the way for the CFD X celebrations on Thursday, the 22nd of September. And if you turn to the closing annex here you will find a summary of the principal events organized by the Taipei city team for this year’s celebration.

But after ten years might it not be a good time to think about making some major structural changes in the CFD formula and procedures, perhaps with a goal to being more ambitious about what we would like them to achieve for the city in the decade ahead? The Forum gave us an opportunity to compare notes on this. We had a lively time brainstorming on this topic, and I believe came up with some interesting ideas for next steps , as you will see in the following summary. In closing I would like to thank Mayor Hau and his team for a warm welcome and highly efficient series of events. Every time I come to Taiwan I end up learning a great deal and this visit was no exception. Thank you all.

– Eric Britton, World Streets and EcoPlan International, Paris. 7 October 2011

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The Mobility Complex: John Whitelegg lights a fire.

Whitelegg book cover MobilityJohn Whitelegg, Professor John Whitelegg, is a remarkable man who has spent his entire professional life as a scholar, teacher, critic, publisher, activist and politician, trying to make sense out of our curious world and the contradictions of transport and mobility. And in a successful attempt to bring all the threads together, what he has learned about our topic in three decades of international work spanning all continents, he has just produced for our reading and instruction a remarkable and, I truly believe, much-needed book.  His title gives away the game – Mobility: Transport Planning Philosophy for a Sustainable Future.

John’s view of transport and mobility is conditioned by the fact that his point of departure is geography (his doctorate) and the uphill struggle to sustainable development and social justice (his professorship). And in the case of this latest book he digs deep beyond all that we can find in the crowded field of books, reports and articles about sustainable transport that will be published this year, in order to get into the guts of what it is really all about: the life philosophy behind it all. For if we have no philosophy we can have no vision. And if we have no vision, there is no way that we can shape and influence our future. 

A handful of things distinguish “Mobility” from the rest: It is much needed. It is timely. It is wise. It is readable. It challenges and makes your brain work. And for less than $10, you can have it in front of your eyes in a few short minutes (see below for ordering instructions). Yet one more thing that sets apart  this book, and indeed all his work from the rest, and  the author’s utter willingness to enter into armed intellectual combat to set out and defend his ideas and values. John’s work always brings to mind the wonderful words of the passionate Irish poet and politician, William Butler Yeats, who wrote a century ago that “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”  John lights the fire.

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Op-ed: The total importance of a coherent planning vision

Most of what we are seeing in Penang when it comes to planning and policy in Penang is terribly familiar.  You are not  doing well, but at the same time you are not alone.

In fact Penang could hardly be more lucky because there is not only abundant information on the fast-growing number of well thought Montreal thinks bigout examples of cities, projects and approaches that are showing the way for sustainable transport and sustainable cities. But there is also an even longer list of examples of cities that are getting it blatantly wrong. These should be understood and integrated into the thinking and planning process of the city, just as much as the attention which must be given to understanding and adapting “best practices”. If you look closely you will see there are patterns that repeat themselves again and again. It is important to be aware of them.

Here you have an example of the city of Montréal, while doing a fair number of good things in terms of transport, public space and environment, is at the same time  suffering badly from the lack of a well thought-out understanding of how transport issues cannot be treated without full attention to land use and the structure of the city. Again painful signs of Penang. And how did this come up?

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Op-Ed: Reform Malaysia’s transport mess

malaysia penang heavy trafficThis Op-Ed has been contributed by Dr.Kua Kia Soon and provides an brilliant independent critical overview of what the title unambiguously suggests is “Malaysia’s transport mess”. While it examines the overall situation and climate from the vantage of Malaysia as a whole, it is no less relevant for the circumstances describing transport policy and practice in Penang. We thank him for his permission to publish the entire article as follows. This is an important piece to guide critical thinking and informed action in a sector which has been lagging badly and high costs to the citizens of Penang and Malaysia.

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Greek Crisis: Why all the angry accusations?

Working draft for limited distribution and comment : today 4 July

Greek crisis - Our money - multiple sources

Seven reasons why Northern and Eastern Europe are not supporting the Greek cause.

Forgetting the Germans (not that this is ever possible of course) and the more prissy lipped representatives of European institutions, why might we reasonably ask ourselves are there so many angry accusations coming in from Eastern and Northern Europe?  It’s a bit complicated, so let us consider this in several stages.

First and most reassuring to those of us who care about the economy and democracy, these are not universally shared positions in those countries.  And this is what you are not hearing from the media, as much as anything else because the real message is so complicated: namely that there are substantial portions of the populations and political alliances in each of these countries who are in fact NOT AT ALL IN AGREEMENT with the orchestrated media pronouncements of certain government representatives, including national delegations to the various European institutions.  For those of us who are concerned not only with matters of the well working of the economy but also that of democracy, this multiplicity of views is reassuring news.

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