This post originally appeared on This Big City for Urban Asia Week, 10/17-10/23.
by Lyndsey Scofield
With over 1 million of Delhi’s residents displaced through the mass demolition of slum neighborhoods over the last 10 years, Bela Bhatia and Jean Drèze ask, “Is India evicting the wrong squatters?”
In Delhi, India’s 2nd most populous city, slum development accounts for a mere 1% of its land area, while automobiles are an unquestionably dominant feature of the cityscape. The sheer volume of cars added to Indian roads is staggering – the Centre for Science and Environment reports that 1,000 new cars enter Delhi’s roads every single day. It is no surprise that workers in New Delhi suffer some of the world’s worst commutes and experience the most trouble finding adequate parking.
The rise of the automobile also comes with an environmental cost. With millions of idling vehicles spewing fumes each day, a majority of the city’s air pollution comes from tailpipes. Unsurprisingly, New Delhi has been ranked by ECA International as having the worst air quality in the world, a price that exacts a huge toll on public health.
Yet despite these ill effects, India’s government continues to prioritize automobile usage by requiring high minimum-parking standards for buildings, allowing illegal parking that clogs roads and sidewalks, and constructing new roads instead of new transit or pedestrian infrastructure. In short, the government treats automobiles and parking as a public good (like much of the developed world does).
Slums, on the other hand, are viewed as a public nuisance that “tarnish the urban environment,” as Bhatia and Drèze put it. When the government demolishes these communities, they ignore the important economic role that slums play in the city as relatively stable homes for the millions of workers who cannot afford traditional housing or the cost of commuting from farther distances. The housing market has clearly failed these vulnerable populations.
What Bhatia and Drèze make strikingly evident is that while poor residents are increasingly forced to turn to the market for housing after being evicted from slums, the same is not true of car drivers in the sense that they turn not to the market, but to government to supply additional infrastructure (such as free parking lots in the middle of the city). As we have seen in developed countries, this formula only promises more congestion, more pollution, more stress.
Delhi is in a position right now to radically rethink the way they deal with urban transportation issues, and they can do so before going so far as paving over the whole city. With smarter policy that works to shift the burden of providing parking from the government to the private sector, Delhi will see the true cost of parking surface. For further discussion of these market-based solutions, I encourage you to visit Professor Paul Barter’s blog.
So what do you think? Are the number of cars in India a necessary part of their economic growth, or are they actually “squatting” on what could be great public space?
When you think of people who use social media, you generally don’t think of traffic engineers or state DOTs, but last week’s web-based conference on social media held by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) would surely change your mind.
With panel discussions and interactive breakout sessions, the conference mimicked a true bricks-and-mortar event and attracted hundreds of attendees. For an organization that usually caters to a more traditional and technical audience, I was impressed by both the innovative format and accessible content. Clearly the transportation sector is embracing social media and looking for additional ways to take advantage of tools like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. And this comes with great benefit to the public, who are increasingly using social media as a means to keep updated on news, express their opinions, and connect with others.
During an afternoon session called “Engaging Your Audience,” several panelists shared their success stories around using social media, and I’d like to share a couple of my favorites:
Starting locally, NYC DOT’s Neil Freeman talked about The Daily Pothole, a surprisingly entertaining and lighthearted Tumblr started by the agency to connect with a broader audience. They mainly use the site as a place to post pictures and impressive statistics about their efforts to repave troublesome roads, but more importantly, they’ve gotten residents to actually use the site to report potholes in their neighborhoods. As Neil put it, they’re “making potholes and asphalt fun!” Now who would have thought that was possible?
Image: Screenshot of The Daily Pothole, 9/26/11
Another successful case comes from Bobbi Greenberg in Arlington County, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, DC. With a dense population and plethora of good transportation options (including trains, buses, bike lanes, and zip cars), Arlington County Commuter Services really wanted to encourage more people to leave their cars at home.
They launched a campaign called the Car-Free Diet that relies heavily on social media to spread their message. Their website features interactive tools like the car-free diet calculator, and they routinely post informative videos on their YouTube site. But their major success comes from the Car-Free Skeptics Challenge, which follows the experiences of self-proclaimed “car-free skeptics” who agree to ditch their cars for 30 days. With regular blog posts, YouTube videos, and Facebook & Twitter updates, the contestants become ACCS’ biggest proponents of walking, biking, and taking public transit, putting real faces on their campaign.
Image: Screenshot of Car-Free Diet twitter page, 9/23/11
As can be seen from just these two examples, social media allows for a level of creativity and dialogue that just isn’t possible through traditional methods of outreach. It’s promising to see interest growing in these types of initiatives among transportation agencies and organizations, and I expect that the most effective & innovative applications are still to come as more agencies embrace the social web.
The sessions from the conference were recorded and are available on the TRB website, so if you’re interested in checking out what you missed, click the following link. Additionally, most presentations have been made available in PDF version on the same site: http://www.trb.org/conferences/socialmediaonlineworkshop2011.aspx