Let’s Take ACTION!

Throughout the semester, I have worked on ways to incorporate different modes of transportation in the daily lives of individuals, and given alternative vehicle options that will be more sustainable in the future. Looking at the systems thinking map, I have come to realize that with every action, there is a reaction—good or bad. That is to say, although one solution can be proposed to a problem, many other problems can arise from that one solution. When in reality, looking at a bigger picture, other feasible options are available. Creating the map allowed me to look at my problem as a whole and attack it from different angles. It allowed me to explore choices that maybe would not have come to mind initially, but serve as a better solution in the long run compared to other ideas that have been an initial thought. My systems thinking map incorporates not only solutions and limitations at hand, but who would affected from the shift to a fossil fuel free transportation system.

This is not a new idea; far from it. Cities around the world have been implementing ways to become a more forward-thinking entity and interconnecting transportation methods in their everyday lives for years. Unfortunately, we do not see this as a huge shift in America just yet. To begin implementing solutions, that have been successful in other cities, in the US, we must understand the reason why these cities were able to accomplish it in the first place. Taking notes on the successes of other places and understanding the logic behind them is how America can become a sustainable nation. With every successful achievement there comes barriers. Determining the barriers and finding ways to get around them is also how we will become a nation not reliant on fossil fuels.

Copenhagen, a forward-thinking city that has made strides in the integration of fossil fuel free transport, has revolutionized the way we think of an urban city. With the abundance of bikes, that most citizens use as a mode of transportation, to buses, trains, and metro systems, Copenhagen is on the way to becoming a zero-waste city. The integration of zero-emissions transport is not just about improving the environment, it is also about bettering the lives of its citizens, as well as promoting health, and improving the economy. The incorporation of bike lanes in the city has had substantial positive outcomes on the health and the community. This low-cost form of infrastructure has had a reduction of CO2 production, healthier citizens, provided faster routes to and from destinations, and improved city life in general.[1] The integration of a single pass for bus, trains, and metros has also improved the way its citizens use public transportation. These forms of transport allow its users to even bring their bikes on the ride, allowing them to hop on and off without a worry of how they will get to their next destination. The introduction to bike sharing in the town has also led individuals to park their bikes in lots, knowing that they can book a bike at an arrival site in which they will use to their next destination.[2] Incorporating technology into this system is keeping up with the technological demands of the society, while creating simple ways in which community members can get in touch quickly and efficiently with their chosen modes of transport.

The integration of bikes, buses, trains, and metros in one town has given its citizens a variety of choices of transport to use other than the vehicle. This integration gave a rise in usage of these modes of transport while cutting down CO2 emissions, reducing traffic congestion, and improving the economy.[3] This convenient and time-saving interconnected form of transportation dissolves the stigma associated with public transport, creating a new norm of locomotion. Transitioning to public transport will optimize urban space and move larger amounts of people in an effective way. For example, from getting from point A to point B in the same amount of space and time; a car carries two people, while a bus carries nine, and bicycles 12.[4]  Copenhagen was able to incorporate these methods of transport in the daily lives of its citizens and impact the economy in a positive way simultaneously. Becoming a sustainable community doesn’t take just one solution, it is a compilation of many others working together as a unit. Interconnecting transport systems is one way in which a community can move into a more sustainable direction.  

Not only can sustainability be accomplished by the transformation of modes of transportation, but it can be done so by incorporating architectural thinking as well. In the city of Curitiba, Brazil, we see an increase in the sustainable development set forth by former mayor Jaime Lerner. As an architect, he decided to transform the city in just the right time into a sustainable entity capable of growing with its increasing population. As a mayor that served his city three times, Lerner was able to incorporate more pedestrian areas, and the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in the city. Over the course of two decades, he managed to create a town that would be considered the “green capital”.[5]

The first aspect he decided to tackle was turning a very busy car-driven street to only accessible by foot. The street, Rua Quinze de Novembro, was well-known for the shopkeeper’s customers to stop their cars, come in for whatever they needed to get, then get back into their car and go on about their day. Lerner’s biggest challenge was the revolt started by shopkeepers to stop the project immediately. To get this done, Lerner only had two days to accomplish this before turmoil hit the city. Thankfully, it only took three days for the transformation to happen, and to many of the shopkeepers’ anger, they were very pleased with the new installation. With more room for pedestrians, the store owners were receiving more customers, boasting the economy while driving vehicle owners to give up their cars.[6]

In the spirit of giving up their cars, the community started using public transportation more. With the rise in the use of public transport, lanes designated to buses as well as longer vehicles, and pre-paid tickets, were in the makings to create a more sustainable and efficient city. Removing the set of stairs needed to get from station to bus and adding futuristic “tubes” (which the city is very well-known for), citizens were able to reach their destinations faster, and about 85% of the city uses these bus systems today.[7] Curitiba is a city that started the BRT movement back in 1974, a transit system now seen worldwide. It took rapid thinking and the push of an innovative and passionate individual with a vision and plan to set this city in motion in order to become a sustainable city. It was not without barriers that this was accomplished. Steps in a more sustainable future is possible, all we need is motivation and the means to do so.

Looking at these two very different cities situated across the world from each other, we can learn that change doesn’t come easy without initiative, heart, economic means, and the support of its citizens. It is not impossible to turn the United States into a sustainable country, on the contrary, we have the means and capita to do so. So, what are we lacking? As Americans, we are set in our habits that are hard to give up. We don’t want to change, because it disrupts the cycle we are used to. Designating more bike lanes or bus lanes in urban areas will disrupt the flow of vehicles. As a society, we need to learn to adapt to the changing world around us, and understand that the world we live in today will not be feasible in the upcoming centuries. Change needs to start now and learning from communities that have done so already is one way in which we can start changing our mindset of a fossil fueled driven economy to a renewable energy future.

[1] Cluster, Copenhagen Cleantech, ed. “Copenhagen: Solutions for Sustainable Cities.” State of Green Join the Future. Think Denmark, January 2014, 4-13.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Adler, David. “Story of Cities #37: How Radical Ideas Turned Curitiba into Brazil’s ‘green Capital’.” The Guardian. May 06, 2016. Accessed December 08, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/may/06/story-of-cities-37-mayor-jaime-lerner-curitiba-brazil-green-capital-global-icon.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

Travel Pass used in Copenhagen to get on buses, trains, and metros. All accept this same pass to allow easy transfer between them.
Curitiba, Brazil- Bus Rapid Transit system