REPORT OF THE CONGRESS IN SUWON, SOUTH KOREA
REPORT ON FOODLOGICA AT THE ICLEI URBAN MOBILITY CONGRESS
Urban environment are the manifestation of global problems, decease where local solutions are tested, order managed and realized. Working in implementing local solutions, discount and especially by focusing on collectively shared spaces, like in the case of urban mobility, is not an easy task. This is related to the fact when approaching the public sphere, issues of democratic representation and engagement emerge significantly. In this short overview of the Congress of the Global Urban mobility Festival, which took place in Suwon, South Korea at the beginning of September 2013, we will briefly summarize the most relevant contents, presented by several speakers and global thinkers.
During the opening speech, the Mayor of Suwon, who also a former environmental activist, focused on the process of transforming the Haenggung-dong neighborhood in Suwon into a car-free neighborhood. The process of urban transformation is never easy; in fact, imaging transforming the traveling habits of a whole neighborhood for one month: it is without doubts a tricky challenge, especially if we think about realizing such an initiative in a city like Amsterdam, where the foundation I manage is located, in west corner of the Global North. The creative director Konrad Otto Zimmermann also mentioned the difficulty of such an initiative in its presentation: “That’s a huge social experiment in which public participation is the key”. What happened in Suwon? ICLEI, together with the local government and several stakeholders, has been creating more space for pedestrians, putting electricity cables underground, painting alleyways and planting trees. Moreover, EcoMobile Vehicles have been made available for the residents to use and try out for one month trial period. In addition, a test-track has been implemented, where half of the busiest street in the neighborhood has been made available for environmentally friendly vehicles. This process can be seen, from a westerner perspective as a top-down intervention in a neighborhood where its residents have manifested very much resistance, especially at the beginning of the process. On this account, Professor Heiner Monheim presented the issue of socio-economic and cultural differences in EcoMobility, explaining the interrelation in between economic and social set of local circumstances and mobility patters. Mobility affects every aspect of our life and, if approached as an urban development concept, can be referred as wide framework including: pedestrianization, traffic calming, cycle promotion (e-bikes & public bike systems), public transport (rail & tram systems, bus systems, para-transit & car sharing), and also, if we open up our perspective, examples of mobility planning can be found in regional and national connectivity.
As transport habits bound intangibly with our lifestyle, if we think for example of the American Way of Life, we see how a model for car-dependent mobility has been exported till the level of globalization. The fact that this model result in what can be defined as globalized chaos and destruction is another story, the story that we are telling in recent times: having a car as a private solution for mobility is an action to pave the way for a collective urban disaster. In fact, professor Monheim concludes, motorized urban structures are fatal for energy consumption, climate change, traffic safety and urban life. Would the “Compact City” (an urban environment characterized – in general terms – by high density, short commuting distances and high quality of public space) can be seen as the model for the future? And more generally, as Gil Penalosa (Executive Director 8-80 Cities, Toronto Canada ) stated at the beginning this presentation “How do we want to live?”. The issue of public participation and its intricate connectivity to public space management and collective awareness, are political subjects, as Mr Penalosa argues: walking and cycling should be framed as human right, and EcoMobility should be used as a mean to achieve vibrant cities with healthy communities. Although many speakers presented technical and financial analyses of what could be pictured as a process of “ecomobilitization”of our urban environments, Mr Penalosa stresses the point that EcoMobility is a political issue, where citizens and policy makers should and deserve to develop strategic alliances to co-plan and create appropriate transport plans. These plans should take into consideration people using the public space, which means that infrastructure generates culture: “If we want people to bike, we need to build the infrastructure”. But, as mentioned earlier, it is not that easy to create bike infrastructures, especially in already built, chaotic, car-dominated urban environments.
Andre Dzikus, from the Urban Basic Services Branch at UN-Habitat shaded some light on this complicated issue. Mr Dzikus introduces the notion that resistance is manifested when people are not fully informed or when there is a shared feeling that the private interest is on stake. One possible way to deal with this issue is “transparent communication” and multistakeholder forums, in which people buy into a specific target so that their interest is safeguarded. Moreover, an interesting (maybe the most interesting) point is made: the issue of job creation, especially for the younger generations. Addressing unemployment is not only a powerful tool to increase community engagement, but also a social beneficial process addressing citizens empowerment, decreasing dependency on global workforce and enabling a neighborhood to fully benefit from a public policy program. In conclusion, it seems that people-centered mobility is the key world of Suwon 2013 congress: communication, education, engagement and identification with new traveling traditions are necessary to live in a society that travels with brains.
Posted on 14 October 2013 and filed under Projects