Our Cities, Ourselves

Our Cities, Ourselves is an exhibition sponsored by the Institute for Transportation Development and Policy. It features ten cities that “have proven to be leaders in innovation in sustainable transport and are fertile ground for further transformation.” On my trip, I have visited three of these cities: Dar es Salaam, Johannesburg, and Buenos Aires.

The exhibition was in South Africa during my stay there, but I waited to visit it until it opened at Argentina’s Museum of Architecture and Design. It was especially fun to read about the African cities I had gotten to know in an exhibit in South America. Speaking about the exhibition’s cities when it was in South Africa, the executive manager for planning and strategy at the Joburg Development Agency, Sharon Lewis, noted, “Nearly all of the cities are in developing nations, because this is where most urban growth will happen over the next 20 years. They have the opportunity to learn from and leapfrog over the mistakes made by developed nations, particularly the over-dependence of cars in the United States.”

Our Cities, Ourselves explores the use of bicycles, public space, and public transportation as tools to combat overdependence on cars in cities (PDF booklet highlighting these tools here). A video of the exhibit (in Spanish) is here.

For me, one of the most interesting parts of the exhibit in Argentina was a lecture by Columbia sociologist Saskia Sassen, who grew up in Buenos Aires. She shared her thoughts on transportation’s role in bringing about a “tipping point” in the fight for global sustainability. There are important “microprocesses” involved with transportation, and “we don’t need the big flagship project.” This was an important perspective to hear, especially given the publicity and flagship status cities tend to give to BRT projects. She also mentioned the prevalence of “sites in the city of non-voluntary immobility,” a phrasing I found helpful. A video of her remarks (in Spanish) is here.

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