On the 30th August 2015, my column entitled “There is another way of being and moving” was published in the Sunday World Newspaper. Below is a text copy of the column and a scan copy of the actual piece.
You can download the original pdf here
ACROSS the globe, in seminars and summits, on social media and in private conversations and dialogues there is an exciting discussion taking place. It is premised on an alternative world-view, challenging the dominant paradigms and is premised on happiness, collaboration, common good and a different way of interacting with each other, the spaces we live in, our natural environment and the quality of our lives.
Issues like Gross National Happiness, design and its impact on our lives, new collaborative economies are no longer being discussed in hushed whispers –
instead they are boldly being brought to the fore by a variety of proponents of an alternative world view. Central to many of these discussions is the issue of mobility, space-making and human interaction. For too long, mobility and transport have been conceptualised and planned for in relation to modes, engineering standards and economy.
We must rethink mobility as a lifecycle issue that fundamentally alters the life experiences of each member of society. The reality is that mobility is part of our daily existence from how a pregnant mother accesses antenatal care, which schools we attend, what recreational activities and social amenities we are able to access; all the way through to how our mortal remains reach our final destination.
Transport options, the cost of a trip, the availability of safe, reliable, affordable and accessible transport are major determinants in the experiences which shape so many aspects of our lives. The disparities in wealth are starkly evidenced in our mobility system. Road space is the largest shared space in our cities – yet the way in which it is disproportionately allocated to the minority, with access to discourse and voice in their private cars entrenches advantage for some.
Our transport system must respond and allocate space for those who walk (pedestrians), those who cycle (cyclists) and those who usepublic transport.
The way in which we choose to allocate space can reinforce existing disparities or it can democratise our cities and public spaces and create new opportunities for interaction in the public realm. We need investment in public spaces that allow all to feel welcome, included and confident.
Spaces that are designed for activity, interaction, connection with the natural environment, that give rise to conversations between strangers who become friends. Spaces in which we can all be and reflect on our individual potential. Spaces that encourage creativity, connection, interaction – we must move away from design that is informed by fear, paranoia, keeping the other out!
Spaces for shared mobility and public transport hold the seeds of a society fundamentally different from the one we currently inhabit. The possibility for people to strike up conversations with each other, for the CEO and the general worker of a company to rub shoulders on public transport and both feel
equally comfortable, for public transport that gives dignity to the user so that we don’t all aspire to private car ownership.
Women in their multiple roles – particularly that of care-giving – arehighly affected by the quality of the transport system. Too many households are spending disproportionately large percentages of household income on transport costs.
The limited hours of operation of public transport, the design of facilities including lighting, personal safety all become deterrents for women to truly enjoy social amenity and access. Many public transport services and facilities have overlooked the needs of parents travelling with young children, of the elderly with impaired mobility, of the youth with needs for connectivity, of those who lack the confidence to ask questions or challenge the status quo.
We have the opportunity to rethink, re-design and improve our cities, our public spaces and our mobility systems. We can challenge the stereotypes about life being only about work. We can shape a transport system – where accountability, co-operation, honesty, respect and ubuntu inform design, customer-care, operations and user experience.
South Africa has the opportunity to demonstrate the principles of our Constitution and bring them to life in the way we choose to redesign our cities and spaces. It will require visionary and bold leadership to challenge the dominant one person, one car culture. Yet, we dare not fail future generations because we live on a planet with limited resources and we have the opportunity to make choices that show our children that there is a different way of being. A way of being where people are more important than material possessions, where design can unleash people’s potential, creativity and confidence, where collective good comes before the individual and where we open city spaces rather than restrict them to a few who have.