Post by Marines Pocaterra
The urban fabric densifies constantly increasing the accessibility requirements. Focusing on self-constructed urban tissue (favelas or slum areas), predominant in new metropolitan areas of Latin American cities, we can appreciate the difficulties of tracing new roads and piping through a tightly knit gathering of housing structures which are frequently located on steep slopes or deep gorges.
The intricate network of stairs and paths communicating sectors are uneven and mostly blind alleys making up a confusing net-puzzle.
Access might totally be ‘the main issue’ generating the social problems that develops in these particular parts of the city. With the approach to this issue could be the key to solving many urban problems. Imagine no public transportation, no street patrol, no open markets, no rules of behavior amongst neighbors, building materials triple in price, drugs, and violence make up a dangerous social recepy. Government is not present within the slums.
The construction of a conventional road network would imply lengthy legal negotiation expropriations, blocking the access to entire sectors for long periods of time during construction, and costly stabilization walls.
To address the accessibility issues in slum areas, high efficiency, low impact transport systems are needed. Cable car systems are being used, to avoid heavy roadwork amongst a frail built environment. Gondolas can certainly boost accessibility, but as stand-alone projects they fall short of people’s needs. The station infrastructure, transformed into public icons surfacing informal tissue should give identity to each sector; serve as cultural icons and social meeting places. Social integration is a goal as important as accessibility. But the infrastructure alone will not suffice it is only a proper vessel and also a symbol. The programs (training, maintenance, education) committing the dwellers to run and maintain the services make the social glue.
This system could introduce new patterns of mobility and educate citizens in a sustainable trend which dispenses with the private vehicle, creating cost reduction in both public and private buildings. Cable car and light rail systems can be the backbone infrastructure to create a whole network of new city centers connected to the stations. Medellin’s experience has demonstrated the viability of integrating and providing a new image to former isolated sectors of the city, creating a new set of nodal attractions to reinforce integration process.
On the other side, if the gondola tracks are built without project participation, with exclusive political interest in mind, it will probably not have the best design and neighbors will suspect they are just being showcased, not attended to their needs.
Will city slums count on serious integration projects or will they only be fed convenient political marketing? Not everything shiny is gold.