Innovating to adapt: Lessons from global cities

The world is getting smaller and larger. As more people are born and more of us move into cities, the global population will approach 10 billion by 2050, with two-thirds living in urban areas. If our cities are going to be ready, there’s a lot of work to be done to make them the innovative and exciting places that they can be, rather than hubs of inequality and inefficiency that they often are.

We need to get smarter about how we move people around cities, how we provide them with affordable places to live, how we can keep intact their sense of community and ensure they feel at home.

We need to think clearly about how we’re going to expand welfare services, provide sufficient leisure facilities for everyone to live healthily and happily, and ensure that everyone has equal to access to the myriad benefits of urban living. Varied aims don’t need to be in competition with each other.

River Seine, Source: ErasmusofParis
River Seine, Source: ErasmusofParis

Take Paris, where both banks of the Seine have been taken back from private vehicles and pedestrianised. The initiative started out as a summertime pop-up of sandy beaches, beer gardens and plazas on the left bank. After a number of successful years, more road has been closed to be repurposed into a scenic park. As well as offering citizens more space to enjoy their city, showing pedestrians that those with cars don’t in fact deserve more space than them, the city has also cut its greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution from vehicles. And as more people use these spaces, the spaces themselves become better. Likewise the hope is that as more drivers ditch their cars, this should in turn help incentivise improved transport services.

Getting around is an essential part of urban life. From home to work and back again, to the shops, or out to meet friends and family, it takes a rare breed of urban resident that has no need for transport. Unfortunately in the UK more cities have seen the proportion of residents commuting by public transport fall than rise. But by no means are we alone.

In US cities, the situation has got so bad that only 30% of jobs are accessible by metropolitan residents within a 90-minute journey on public transport. Not only are bus routes few and far between, but often there are no pavements, because the idea of walking is close to laughable. We may look at Seoul in awe and struggle to imagine how we could implement such a smooth, wide and varied bus network when our roads aren’t eight lanes wide.

by Pedro Felipe

But consider Bogotá, Colombia. Famous worldwide for its introduction of rapid bus system TransMilenio in 2000 , the project was at first highly successful at reducing travel times and congestion, but later became insufficient as it suffered from intense overcrowding and resultant delays. As a city with over 8 million residents, a metro train system has long been “in the works”. But it’s happening at last under mayor Enrique Penalosa, who is saving the city 4 billion pesos (over £1 billion) by implementing the network as an elevated train. He argues that thanks to modern technology, traditional criticisms of elevated rail, such as noise pollution, are irrelevant. And the money saved now may allow for an expansion of the 30km network. What we see in this case, is that the work is never done. Cities are organisms of change; people flow, places adapt. And so must we.

Mia Rafalowicz-Campbell is Policy & Research Officer at Campbell Tickell. For more information or to discuss this article, please

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