On a clear day, the Andes mountains form a dramatic backdrop to Santiago. Those clear days are increasingly common as air quality improves and city residents can pause to admire the view with less stress about their trips around Chile’s capital now that parts of the city have made walking, biking, and transit a priority. “Parts” because Santiago is fragmented into 32 distinct comunas, each with its own mayor. The comuna of Santiago, which covers the city’s historic core, main government buildings, and several bustling neighborhoods, has led the city’s overall efforts to improve mobility options dramatically over the last several years. Under the leadership of Mayor Carolina Tohá (2012-2016), those efforts became tangible with new bike lanes built, crosswalks painted, priority transit lanes established, bikeshare debuted, and public spaces revitalized. Santiago won the ITDP Sustainable Transport Award in 2016 and hosted MOBILIZE in 2017.
ITDP: The theme of this year’s MOBILIZE is “making space for mobility in booming cities”. What is your city doing to address mobility in the face of rapid urbanization and what are the challenges in accelerating these solutions?
Carolina Tohá: Santiago, and all major Latin American cities, underwent a process of urbanization and rapid growth several decades ago. As a result, we have always been responding to the emergencies created by new populations arriving in the cities without any planning and without sufficient resources to provide them fair access to the city.
Now that Latin America is mostly urbanized – this is the most urbanized continent on the planet – we are realizing that many mistakes were made during this growth process of our cities. The main defects are the great inequality and urban segregation, causing the lives of those people with fewer resources to be more difficult and more expensive and hampering their access to the benefits offered by the city.
If we were to experience this urbanization process again, everybody in Latin America would agree that two major priorities are to avoid segregation and to have high-quality public transport systems. We did not do this when our cities were growing, but I think that today this is the trend being imposed in Latin America: to overcome segregation and strongly strengthen public transport.
ITDP: What impact would you like to have in your role in the coming years to address the issue of mobility and rapid urbanization?
CT: In Chile, the great challenge is to understand that mobility is a fundamental backbone of the kind of development we have. We cannot simply leave it to technical decisions made by experts. Rather, it should be part of our democratic debate. We must understand that whatever we do concerning mobility will strongly impact the kind of development and the kind of society we are going to have.
My main objectives are to put mobility at the heart of public debate; to remove it from the offices of the experts and turn it into a priority for people, a priority for the future to come, for the country as a whole and for the city. I believe that the entire world is quite backward in this regard. These issues are still being discussed by very small groups and they don’t manage to become the subject to active demands by citizens.
ITDP: What projects, anywhere in the world, are most interesting to you right now?
CT: First, intermodality. Second, intermodality. And third, intermodality.
These are the most important projects because the only way to respond to such varied needs and complex challenges as we have is for people to get used to combining different modes of transport. None of them by themselves will solve all the problems.
In particular, the mode that has been the object of desire for the entire last century, the private car, is not sustainable as the main mode of transport in the city. It can only play a role in a scheme in which people combine it with public transport, walking, and cycling. Everything we do to legitimize different ways of providing everybody with good infrastructure and safety conditions will help us get out of this car desire paradigm and lead us to a mode continuation paradigm.
I always like to talk about Latin America because I think that there is no need to believe, once again, that this can only be done in the right way in cities or countries that are very rich. In Mexico City, they managed to establish a city constitution where the active modes and the idea of public transport and sustainable transport became an explicitly declared goal of that tremendous metropolis.
What is being done by several cities in Colombia is also very important. There they have taken into account the issues of equity in the promotion of transport, considering the perspective of women, those people with less resources, and thus they have taken a view of transport that is not only related to moving around but also to social justice, which is something very important in Latin America.
ITDP: What are you most excited about seeing or learning at MOBILIZE?
CT: For us, as Latin Americans, the most attractive feature of MOBILIZE is the creation of dialogue and cooperation between Africa and Latin America. I believe that our experiences may serve each other well. Both our continents have social inequality problems that should be the priority in everything we do, and I believe that along this path, urban policy and mobility should take the lead. Normally, when we think about social equity we always think about education, health, employment, and I believe that it is essential to include urban mobility in the agenda.
Even with very strong urbanization the African countries are experiencing today, they still have low levels of urbanization; here in Latin America we already have very high levels of urbanization. This allows us to exchange much of our experience to try to help those cities that are growing so fast, like Dar es Salaam, to grow well. They do not have to go the long way we have taken in other cities to finish discovering that segregation must be avoided, public transport must be prioritized, and the private car should not be the primary mode of transport. It took us a long time to learn that, but the African countries can learn it as of now and have beautiful cities with a sustainable, comprehensive, harmonious outlook right from the start, without repeating our mistakes.
ITDP: Last year’s MOBILIZE, in Santiago, showcased the great work that your administration did. Do you have any advice or lessons for Dar es Salaam in this respect?
CT: Firstly, changes in understanding mobility are essentially cultural changes. They have to do with people’s habits, with how people see themselves as part of a collective, a community, a city. And therefore, to be successful, it is necessary to act in parallel on public policies, on infrastructure, on the way in which contracts are concluded and laws are passed, and on the cultural sphere.
These two things cannot be separated; they have to be done simultaneously. And in the cultural sphere, it is necessary to have alliances; things cannot be done by a decree from a municipal office, or from a ministry, or from parliament. This is done by creating alliances with civil society, working with the media, generating a shared awareness that change is necessary and that we have to be the protagonists of that change, not simply expect the authorities to do so.
Secondly, in all parts of the world, and particularly in developing countries, the local level is the weakest link in public chain decisions. In order to make changes that are sustainable over time, alliances must be made with other levels of government. We, the municipalities, are not able to do it by ourselves. I believe that we are the drivers of this transformation but we need to add allies from the other levels of government, because it is very difficult to undertake these changes based on the municipal will alone, especially in our developing world.
ITDP: Santiago, like many cities, has an air quality problem. How did the interventions you oversaw during your tenure address this?
CT: Several of the actions were focused precisely on the environmental issue because our program was part of a United Nations TK, a green area to limit greenhouse gas emissions. And what was done for this? First, Santiago promoted a series of pilot experiences to incorporate electric mobility in Chile. Pilot plans were developed for public transport, cars, taxis, and free tricycle taxis for short distance trips. Afterwards, these programs have been introduced in a more massive way.
Currently, a new call for tenders for public transport throughout the city is being prepared. It will incorporate a percentage of electric buses that is still being discussed and this was largely motivated by the discussion we created with these policies in Santiago. The same with taxis: an extension of this small pilot plan that started in our Santiago program is now going to be implemented.
Second, there was a strong emphasis on active modes in Santiago’s sustainable mobility plan. One-third of Santiaguinos walk and we are convinced that if we keep them walking as their main mode without switching over to motorized modes, this will be a life insurance policy for our city for the future. We designed a very strong plan, starting with educating children, infrastructure, priority road space, and safety measures for cyclists and pedestrians, all of which has had a quite positive impact on other municipalities and the central government.
For example, the standard that we created for bike lanes later became a national standard adopted by the Ministry of Housing for the whole country. The downtown plan, reserving central roads for public transport; today there are many urban centers in different cities evaluating the implementation of similar plans. All these combined measures have positive effects on emissions and the pollution problems our city has.
ITDP: Tell me about Instituto Ciudad and what you are hoping to achieve?
CT: The institute is a collaboration of different professionals from across the political spectrum who have an interest in urban issues. It is a plural space where people come together from very different disciplinary backgrounds: economists, transport engineers, urban planners, historians, sociologists, safety specialists, communications experts, political scientists. All of them strive for that interdisciplinary approach that will help us to better understand what is happening in the city and to propose more comprehensive solutions.
We want this institution to be a great driver for debate about the city, which should be part of our democratic agenda so that people become aware and empower themselves to demand from public policies that the city be treated as it should be, as a priority. We still have a long way to go in Chile, but we want to raise awareness based on experiences we have learned about all over the world.
This interview is the part of the MOBILIZE Dar es Salaam Speaker Series. In this series, we will feature interviews with speakers and researchers from VREF’s Future Urban Transport where they will discuss their work in sustainable transport and reflect on MOBILIZE Dar es Salaam’s theme: Making Space for Mobility in Booming Cities.
To learn more about MOBILIZE Dar es Salaam visit mobilizesummit.org.