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The Art of Reshaping the Metropolis

By Bill Moore

A video dialogue with World Bank Senior Urban Advisor Pedro Ortiz about the cities of the future and the challenges population growth and urbanization present in providing residents with the resources to live productive lives.

When the government of Brazil acquiesced to yet another annual call by private transit companies to increase fares 20 centavos in cities like Sao Paulo, population 19.7 million, and Rio de Janeiro, population 6.3 million, it ignited a wave of protests that continue, albeit in smaller numbers, to this day. Jumping bus and train turnstiles, as that illustrated by the masthead photo above, became symbolic of a larger movement calling for more equitable government and economic policies.

Few people outside of Brazil understand the underlying dynamics that sparked the protests, which eventually caused state and city administrators to roll back the fare increase, as well as agree to address even larger societal concerns, from rampant government corruption to better public education and healthcare.

While demonstrators' concerns - and most of them are young people from the middle class - mirror those expressed elsewhere, from protests on the streets of Britain to the ongoing unrest in the Middle East, what Brazil's troubles also would appear to harbinger are the kinds of problems the planet will face in a world that is increasingly urbanizing at a rate where city populations in the developing world now are doubling every 14 years.

Worse, that growth is manifesting itself, to use the words of respected urban planner Pedro Ortiz, like a metastasizing cancer in the form of ever-widening rings of slums. Today, in cities around the globe, 80% of residents live in unregulated, often disease-ridden, crime-infested slums. And the tragic irony is, for those teeming millions, this is a better way of life than their rural existence offered them and their children.

We in the developed world of North America and Europe tend to take for granted our freedom of mobility where we can hop in a private car and go pretty much when and where we want, with the exception of certain heavily urbanized cores like those around New York or Washington or the infamous 405 in Los Angeles. But as the population of the planet grows from its 7 billion today to 9-10 billion in another three decades, the kinds of problems confronting the middle and lower income classes in Brazil, especially in terms of access to affordable transportation, are going to only get worse for all unless planners and politicians begin to think differently about how cities function.

That's the core message of Pedro Ortiz's forthcoming book, The Art of Shaping the Metropolis, due out in November. In this 42-minute video interview with Ortiz, we talk about the problems in Brazil as a model for a dysfunctional future, if not in the OECD countries, certainly in much of the rest of the world if a balance isn't struck between what he refers to as the three legs of a goverance tripod that includes economic concerns, the social fabric of the city, and its physical and biological environment. If any of these three are neglected or over-emphasized, as in the case of the for-profit privatization in the 1990s of Brazil's transit system, where the buses aren't painted different colors to represent different routes, but different private companies, then you will have the unrest and potential violence seen this summer across Brazil. A careful, mediated balance has to be struck.

Along with that, how you view a city has to change, Ortiz argues, reverting back to the ancient organizational practice of city grids, which he pioneered in the re-planning of Madrid, Spain while he was the central district mayor.

When he agreed to do the interview with me, Ortiz thought he would want to talk for only 15-minutes.

"People will lose interest after that," he told me.

Yet, we went nearly three times that length, and might have gone on longer but it was getting late on the East Coast. So, while this dialogue may be of greater interest to city planners and government officials than electric car enthusiasts, it does provide food for thought, especially the next time you find yourself, like I did in New York City recently, stuck in gridlock and wondering if there isn't a better way. There is, but it will take time, money, and above all patience, understanding, and a spirit of collaboration.

Videos

Addendum: Book Promotional Video

View a promotional video for Senor Ortiz's book.

Times Article Viewed: 5269
Originally published: 17 Aug 2013

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