Originally posted on Cyclopology:

“…She was told never to touch a bicycle. Her parents feared she would lose her virginity.”

“To men, the bicycle in the beginning was merely a new toy, another machine added to the long list of devices they knew in their work and play. To women, it was a steed upon which they rode into a new world.”

Cycling around Dar es Salaam it doesn’t take long to notice a stark gender gap when it comes to who rides a bicycle. I’ve occasionally seen women sitting side-saddle on the back end of bikes pedaled by men, but so far very few ladies powering bikes themselves (an exception: disabled women cranking three-wheeled handcycles). Being an expatriate I’m an alien in Tanzania anyway, and while I’m no boor when it comes to cultural appropriateness while outside of my own country, I just can’t bend to gender norms that make it unacceptable…

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City Beautiful: Scenes from a Sunset Run on the Swahili Coast

Though I do technically run, I don’t consider myself a “runner.” I never really enjoyed it and my short, stumpy body isn’t remotely built for it either (anyone that reads my posts will be familiar with my love of the bicycle, however). Living in Dar es Salaam of all places is slowly changing that – even though there aren’t what you would call “sidewalks” or “parks” to really facilitate physical activity, my runs along the narrow and at times harrowing streets on the Indian Ocean have been at once hilarious, beautiful, uplifting and, dare I say, enjoyable.

Ocean Road near my office in the city center is virtually undeveloped, and a precious open space that is lively and active as the sun sets – teenage guys play soccer, partners do calisthenics and running drills in the sand, loners shadow box, people sit on the eroding sea wall and watch the waves, ladies and gentlemen sell coconuts and ice cream. It’s not just the beautiful scenery that makes running less painful – it’s the people too. The coconut vendors cheer me on with chats of “Mazoezi, sista!” (“Exercise, sister!”), “Yes! Yes!”, and “Safi sana!” (“Very fresh!”). Passers-by also dole out big smiles and thumb’s ups that are just bursting with encouragement – perhaps these little gestures are meant to keep a little runner going who looks positively bedraggled, beet red and broken down. But in the moment I will allow myself to feel like one of those tall, lithe, cheetah-people that run marathons in like five minutes, as I plod along the beach basking in its lovely friendliness.

Below are a few scenes snapped while pretending to check my running time on my phone. It’s high tide and the sun was setting. Enjoy.


Nightly football game:

Contemplation 1:

Kids playing in the waves and hamming it up:

Contemplation 2:

Tree, precariously close to eroding into the ocean but hanging in there:

All photos by author, and appear as they were taken. That is to say, un-Instagramed.

Negotiating the Right to Stay: A Community-Led Process in Old Fadama


**Cross-posted from the Shack/Slum Dwellers International blog**

The air in Accra is humid and full of dust. After spending days inside heavily air-conditioned conference centers and nearby hotels, you start to forget the realities of city life.  Luckily, I got a reminder.

I spent my last day in Accra in the centrally located settlement of Old Fadama. Old Fadama is an informal settlement occupying 31.3 hectares of land along the Odaw River and Korle Lagoon in central Accra. Established in 1981, its population of roughly 80,000 inhabitants is made up of traders and migrants from across Ghana as well as other neighboring West African countries.

The community has resisted threats of eviction for nearly a decade through use of tools such as enumerations, mapping and lengthy negotiations with the Accra Municipal Authority (AMA).  Most recently, the Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor (GAFUP) and the Old Fadama Development Association (OFADA) have been in negotiation with the AMA around the clearing of structures from land around the Korle Lagoon in preparation for a large-scale de-silting project, funded by the Netherlands Government. Korle Lagoon has experienced decades of pollution serving as the main runoff for the entire city of Accra and its shores as dumping ground for much the city’s solid waste.

Initially, the AMA requested that 100 feet of land be cleared to make way for the project. GAFUP and OFADA members estimated that clearance of 100 feet would mean demolition of nearly 3,000 structures and eviction for roughly 7,000 inhabitants. They quickly entered into negotiations, proposing that the amount of land be reduced to 50 feet. Immediately, the community went to work enumerating the 50-foot area. Reducing the amount of cleared land to 50 feet meant a reduction to 1,192 residential and commercial structures and 3,000 people. Still not ideal, but certainly a marked difference.

Armed with their enumeration data, GAFUP and OFADA met with city authorities at the AMA and succeded in negotiating for their proposed 50-foot area instead of original 100 feet, reducing the number of people affected significantly.

The next step was a community led demolition and realignment of structures on right of access identified and negotiated jointly between the residents and the City Authorities. Members of GAFUP and OFADA led this process, first meeting with community members to explain the demolition and relocation process.

A federation member in Old Fadama

Getting the wider community on board has been key to the success of the process. I spoke with a woman whose structure is waiting to be demolished. She has been a member of GAFUP since 2008. However, she says she doesn’t know where she will go when her structure is demolished – that she will simply have to find a piece of vacant land and erect her structure there. Sadly, this means she will likely have to live on the edges of Old Fadama, where the dirt paths are riddled with rubbish and the harmattan hits harder against the shack walls.

Despite these inevitable hardships characteristic of any relocation, resettlement of displaced peoples to other locations within Old Fadama is a success story in and of itself. Most tales of relocation involve displacement to many kilometers outside of the city, far from social ties, employment, and opportunity. Thanks to the successful negotiations of GAFUP, OFADA and People’s Dialogue Ghana, this is not the case in Old Fadama.

In our discussions with GAFUP and OFADA, it became clear that a waste management plan will be crucial to the success of the imminent de-silting project in order to prevent continued pollution of the lagoon. This is a key time for GAFUP, OFADA and People’s Dialogue to put their negotiation skills to use. Waste remains a major issue in greater Accra, and the creation of a community-led waste management program for Old Fadama could serve as a key tool for income generation, community upgrading and negotiation with local authorities around the community’s capacity to engage in the upgrading process.

Farouk Braimah, director of the Ghanaian support NGO People’s Dialogue, stresses, “This whole exercise promises huge benefits and leverages. We anticipate capitalizing on this exercise to strengthen our hitherto weak relationship with the city authorities of Accra and to feed into [other projects] in Accra and Ashaiman.”

Bearing witness to the reality and determination of this community, alongside some of its key leaders, was certainly an experience no conference could compete with.

- Ariana

For more photographs of Old Fadama, check out SDI’s albums on Flickr and Facebook

Follow SDI on Twitter @sdinet

A Sunday Drive in Zanzibar

After landing in Zanzibar for a brief work trip and confirming that it was indeed an actual place, the first thing I noticed was a refreshing lack of traffic compared to Dar es Salaam. The next thing I noticed was that the tree-lined streets are traveled by many more bikes and motorcycles than automobiles. Then, within five minutes of leaving the airport, we passed by the scene of a motorcycle accident.

Zanzibar’s population is growing at a worrisome pace – Stone Town, the main city, is a crumbly but beautiful remnant of Zanzibar’s Arabian nights history, but outside of the historic area you see the sprawling unplanned settlements common to expanding cities on the mainland. While the government is challenged to keep up basic services as the population grows, an effort to improve road conditions is apparent and most of the main ones are in pretty good shape. But the combination of population growth, more cars and smooth roads is leading to a tragic record on road safety even the President himself recently addressed.

Being a short visit to several villages around the northern part of the island, I didn’t have a chance to do any cycling myself but did spend some quality time from the back of our van watching and photographing the road late on a Sunday afternoon on our way back to Stone Town. As the sun started to set the roads were active but not so much with car traffic – most people were cyclists or walking. This particular road was in good shape and I was told had been recently tarmacked, but given the overwhelming majority using it for non-motorized transportation it surely didn’t seem that this was given much consideration in the design for its upgrading.

While overtaking a truck piled high with freshly-cut sugar cane, you get a peek that everyone up ahead is on foot or a bike, stretching across both lanes. There is a shoulder but it’s quite narrow considering the number of people using it.

Again, open road ahead, many people on the move but not too many with motors.

The next few photos are taken from my window as we zoomed past in the van. The pace of cycling is an easy one – mostly old Chinese steel-frame bikes, sturdy and good for hauling stuff, but not built for speed. People (mostly men) rode with bundles of firewood, veggies, and sacks of charcoal (and women) on the back. This contrasted with sparse but aggressive traffic, mostly trucks, daladalas, and boxy vans like ours. The images below look peaceful and pastoral, and the scene really was – but keep in mind I’m observing it from a vehicle going 50-60 mph.

I wasn’t able to find any decent data on how many people bike, walk and drive in Zanzibar, but it was clear that a lot of people bike, and they’re pedaling on smooth but aggressive roads. I also don’t know much yet on the details of the Decade of Action for Road Safety that kicked off this year (sponsored by the U.N. and WHO), but it’s timely and making a very needed connection between transportation and public health. I’m hoping that it includes not just traffic enforcement and awareness for drivers, but is also pushing for engineers and transport planners to taking a good look at who actually uses roads when investing to improve them – and that “improvement” means “safer” along with “faster”.


This is cross-posted from my new blog on cycling in Tanzania, Cyclopology. All photos by author.

Dar Dispatch

It has been a regrettably long time since contributing much to this blog, but at least it’s for a pretty good reason. After graduating in May and going through the all-consuming job search process, I ended up packing up my life in New York and moving to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to work as a consultant on climate change planning and other environmental issues. I’ve been here for a couple of weeks now, and aside from the usual challenges of moving to a new place (How do I get to work? Where’s the nearest bodega? You seriously mean I have to pay my rent with a giant pile of cash??), so far I’ve found Dar to be a beautiful, crumbling, cosmopolitan, exciting city. And it’s hot.

Applying a planner’s eye to Dar es Salaam, the “harbor or peace”, the fastest-growing city in East Africa, will be my main topic of conversation for the next couple of years. If you’re ever in the neighborhood or have any interesting news, please do drop me a line at amy.faust@gmail.com.


Photo credit: Flickr user caribbeanfreephoto

Urbanization News: July 15

That snazzy promo video is for this week’s featured urban happening, “The Just City: A Ford Forum on Metropolitan Opportunity” held in New York yesterday. Sponsored by the Ford Foundation, it brought together “Civic leaders and policymakers, urban designers and entrepreneurs [to] explore how fairness, opportunity and equity can serve as the defining features of this new era of urbanization.” NYU-Wagner adjunct planning prof Solomon Greene, also a fellow at the Open Society Foundations, offers some remarks on Bruce Katz‘s talk in this video. The lineup was an impressive one of thinkers and practitioners doing visionary work in their metropolitan area.

And our picks of the week’s news on cities and urbanization:

This Week in Waste: A pair of articles discusses innovative strategies for what to do with waste as cities grow. This article from PRI features a hydroponic farm in a Chinese lake that gets fertilizer for its leafy greens from sewage dumped in the water from the city of Kunming (photo below, courtesy of PRI). This dispatch from India via Live Mint critiques Delhi’s privatization of waste hauling, especially where Pune offers an example of a rapidly urbanizing city implementing a zero-waste strategy that’s working both for people who sustain their livelihoods from the waste stream and for the environment too.

My city’s modal split is better than yours: The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy opened up nominations for the 2012 Sustainable Transport Award – hurry up and nominate the city where you love to commute! Right now you’re up against Seville, Minneapolis, Cape Town and a few others – Guangzhou won last year, so you won’t have to compete with their awesome BRT and bike share.

“They put a bullet through the train”: In last week’s news we reported that donors had pledged big bucks for inter-city transportation infrastructure in Brazil in anticipation of the 2014 World Cup. Long a transport investment darling of the donor community, Brazil might not be quite as sexy as previously thought – Reuters reports that an auction that opened up this week for bids to build a bullet train between Rio and Sao Paulo (this one a major project for the 2016 Olympics) failed to attract a single bid.

The “Forgotten Front”: This Big City reports on the desperate situation of water in Afghanistan – being in turmoil for decades, infrastructure and institutions needed for a reliable and safe water supply have suffered greatly. “Around 73 percent of the population relies on improvised and inadequate facilities to supply water, while water sources are becoming increasingly polluted and overexploited in places like Kabul.” Find out more in this report from the Centre for Policy and Human Development at Kabul University (photo of the Kabul River below courtesy of IRIN, see a slideshow here). And just in case you were scratching your head too, the U.S. alone has spent about $19 billion just in development aid in Afghanistan since the war effort started.

Everyone should count: Cities Alliance released a new report this week, “The Urbanisation of Displaced People.” It examines how conflicts and wars lead to a unique form of rapid urbanization as people flee their homes and seek refuge in cities – because many refugees and displaced people end up as permanent residents, the report makes a  case for planners and development practitioners to account for these populations in plans and programs.

A critique of Ed Glaeser?!?: James Howard Kunstler, in his witty weekly “KunstlerCast” podcast, critiques Ed Glaeser’s ideas on urbanism. He sees Glaeser’s vision  in his lauded book Triumph of the City as backward-looking and too sweet on skyscrapers.

Elevated Rails to Skytrains

The Elevated Transit Rail system is not a new type of transit solution, but for many cities it is an “un-preferred” one. Specifically in many western cities, elevated mass transit rail systems were some of the first rail solutions for mass transit. The idea is a simple one; build railways elevated above the roads so that they will not interfere with road traffic below. Earlier on, these elevated railways were technically more feasible than underground railways, and were also cheaper to build.

No 1 Train on Elevated Subway Tracks, Inwood, New York City

Elevated Subway in NYC- Photo credit: Flickr user jag9889

CTA Elevated "L" Train System, Van Buren Street, Chicago, Illinois, USA

"L" Train in Chicago - Photo credit: Flickr user MD111

Difficulties came with these elevated railways after construction, when residents began to see them as blight within their community. Specifically the older railway systems such as the elevated subways in New York City or the “L” in Chicago are quite unappealing – at best. Not only are these tracks very loud, but they depress views from buildings along thier path and are much more vulnerable to the weather such as rain or snow.

NYC Subway being cleared of snow after a storm

With these observations in mind it is curious to note that there is a very successful and

Bangkok BTS or "Skytrain"

somewhat beloved elevated railway in the developing world, known as the Skytrain. The Skytrain or BTS is located in Bangkok, Thailand and consists of two lines and 25 stations. It was named the “Skytrian” by the press during the planning process and since its inception, construction and completion has become one of the preferred and well-loved modes of transportation in Bangkok.

An Earlier Version of the Skytrain Map

Skytrain Elevated Railways

As one can see the Bangkok Skytrain looks vastly different to earlier elevated railways and it is based on these differences that it has grown to be successful. With over 500,000 daily trips on the skytrain, the BTS is financially sound enough to cover daily expenses of operations. What makes the Skytrain an interesting success story is the acceptance and general public interest in the system. While elevated railways in other cities could be looked upon with frustration, the monorail design, quieter trains, sleeker construction and looks, connected elevated “skywalks” from the stations to neighboring buildings and relative cleanliness and efficiency of the rail line has led it to success.

View from one of the "Skywalks"

The Skytrains themselves are also very easy for tourists to use; they contain Thai and English signs and announcements, are relatively inexpensive (compared to Western systems – but are certainly expensive for lower income Thai workers) and have air-con and video screens playing music videos and commercials inside the trains.

Skytrain Signs and System Map

Many stations are connected to extensive “skywalks” connecting the Skytrain to malls, offices and residence buildings. There are many small kiosk-like shops and stairs and escalators at many of the stations to the street level.

Skytrain Entrance

The success with the Skytrain can also be noted for a few other important factors. In the 1990’s when the system was envisioned and constructed, Bangkok was world-renowned (and probably still is) for its extensive traffic and congestion. Any type of relief was greatly appreciated. Next the BTS is strategically located in an area of “New Bangkok” – a relatively recent development of the Bangkok Skyline. The newer office buildings and residences lacked the same community or sense of protective outcry that there would have been if the skytrain was built in the “Old Bangkok” area; near most of the city’s famous temples and monuments. The BTS lines also are connected to an Underground Subway Line (MRT), a Bus Rapid Transit line (BRT) and another elevated line running express to the International Airport (SRT) creating an integrated mass transit system to get around large sections of the city.

A Map of the Current Skytrain System with MRT (Underground), BRT (Rapid Bus) and SRT (Express Rail) run lines shown

Currently there are extensions under construction to lengthen both Skytrain lines and a second express elevated rail line (managed by a different organization – SRT) that will hook up with the Skytrain. The impact of these other mass transit systems and lines on the Skytrain’s use and functionality is beyond the scope of this post but it is interesting to see how some cities can not only use but can fully embrace elevated rails.


The Intersection of Advocacy and Ad Hoc Traffic Counts in Toronto

Urban planning is one of the few policy areas that invites community members to participate in the process, and offer insights and criticism on city plans. This is what drew me to the field to start with – I am really intrigued by the way community members can use the tools at their disposal to participate in planning their cities.  During my graduate degree I was introduced to other facets of planning I hadn’t previously considered, including the critical role of data.  Through an internship with New York City government and a Capstone consulting project for IBM City Forward, I’ve come to appreciate good data, and have become surprisingly sensitive (even offended!) by bad data.

As city governments around the world are trying to create more livable cities, in part through redesigning streetscapes, they need to do so in a way that values data. And if they don’t, citizens are increasingly equipped with planning methods that will call them out on it.

The “John Street Corridor Improvements,” a joint project between the City of Toronto and the local Entertainment District Business Improvement Area (BIA),  is a story that illustrates the intersection between advocacy, planning and data. The John Street project is intended to improve the pedestrian realm on a small but central street in Toronto’s Entertainment District and major cultural corridor. Despite having the worthy objectives of making John Street a pedestrian destination and more conducive to outdoor events, the case goes to show that without good data, advocates will take it upon themselves to get it right.

Left: Map of John Street study area. Right: Image of John Street | Photo credit: boldts.net

A second public meeting was held on June 16, 2011 to discuss the design options that are being considered for John Street (Spacing and UrbanToronto.ca both have great synopses of the project), which included design elements such as sidewalk extensions, removing curbs and parking lanes, reducing the street to one traffic lane, as well as the  obligatory “do nothing” option.

One of several design options for John Street | Photo credit: Urban Toronto

Shortly before the meeting, though, local cycling advocate and all-around civic participation champion Dave Meslin pointed out some fishy figures with the City’s baseline survey:

City of Toronto's mode share data.

The numbers begged some obvious questions: First, why was the cycling count so low? Anyone who is familiar with John Street knows that the bike traffic is more substantial than the city’s 2% figure. Second, why are the counts for cycling traffic static, while the counts for other modes shift over the course of the day and throughout the week? After not getting any good answers from the City, Meslin rallied some friends and they held their own tallytwice – and found that the numbers were, as expected, completely off. The chart below compares the City’s data with what Meslin’s ad-hoc transport planners found:

The top row shows the numbers from the City's original survey, the bottom row shows the findings by Meslin's team.

Persuaded, the City of Toronto issued the following statement to Meslin and his group of volunteers:

“On the City’s behalf, I’d like to thank you for the effort that you have put in to supplementing our counts with new material gathered in the past weeks…..We agree it was inappropriate and incorrect to have used the 2% figure for weekday peak hours.”

This redesign is a smart and creative plan, and as a Torontonian who as worked, walked, biked, driven, and certainly partied on John Street I’m looking forward to a new look for the street. But integrity of baseline data is critical, no matter how well-meaning the objectives of any plan – it informs the direction of the project, and helps planners identify unique characteristics of the study area and foresee mitigation measures that may need to be explored.

For example, had the baseline study revealed unusually heavy cycling traffic on John Street that would be displaced by the new design, then perhaps the streets east and west of John should have been included in the study area and proper bike lanes installed there to catch the overflow.  Inaccurate data not only compromises the project and runs the risk of future planning issues, but it also undermines the integrity of the study and potentially the public’s trust in the project – as John Street exemplifies.

Another critical piece here is the role of advocacy in planning.  The planning process is one of the few formalized avenues for public participation.  The requisite public consultations allow members of the community to contribute to plans, and help to revise and refine urban designs.

The story of John Street Corridor Improvements and cycling advocates is a great example of how the intersection of planning and advocacy can be done in a positive way.  To be sure, the goal of the project is to improve the pedestrian realm, so perhaps bike lanes are inappropriate in this case, but I think the actions of both the city and advocate were handled in an ideal way:  Meslin engaged his peers to put the City’s data to the test, and the City responded constructively (at least the second time around). The John Street example serves as case study of positive interaction between cycling advocates and the City.

~Christine Paglialunga

Guest contributor Christine Paglialunga recently graduated from NYU Wagner’s Master of Urban Planning program.  Her interests are in community participation and advocacy in planning.

A European Ghost Town In China?

Recent articles from CNN to the India Times have reported on ghost town cities popping up all over China built in the image of western counterparts. Places like Thames Town outside of Shanghai have been built in the replication of western style cities. Thames town

Thames Town - Complete with British Guards

looks straight out of the United Kingdom (although reports say it was built on an Austrian design aesthetic) complete with churches, town squares and those iconic red telephone booths. An even more interesting point is that Thames town is practically disserted. Most news from China on the real estate market contains statements on how robust and healthy the housing market is, and how Chinese cities are growing at enormous speeds. Areas of Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong have real estate prices that rival those of the Western World; so this would appear true. But is China’s real estate bubble about to burst?

Photo credit: Flickr user triplefivechina

Photo credit: Flickr user triplefivechina

Reports and experts state that the Chinese housing market could be over-valued by a whopping  70%, and that millions of new homes go under used and deserted. However I think that this is an overstatement. There are a number of different political and economic mechanisms that are working within China that require the Chinese government to making such an aggressive move towards “oversupplying housing”. The first and most prominent trend today is the massive amount of migration occurring within the nation. Within the next 20 years it is estimated that an additional 200-250 Chinese workers will move to the City from rural areas in search of jobs. This means that China will have to have to create a large amount of cities and housing in an extremely short amount of time. The second trend is an additional 100 million Chinese workers are expected to escalate the capitalistic ladder out of poverty and into middleclass-dom during this time– leaving existing cities with a large amount of demand for better accommodations. The third and most unique factor is how the Chinese government enforces its living and residential permit system known as Hukou (pronounced like who-cow). The Hukou system is a regulatory system that designates where a person/household may reside by geographic area. For instance a farmer from the country side would have to obtain a Hukou city permit in order to legally move into a city to find work. Think of it as a quota immigration system in between two countries, western and eastern China and that will give you some idea of how it works. In an attempt to control migration the Hukou system (while possibly ineffective – just like other quota systems) could be used to steer workers into these smaller newer cities being built and take some of the mass migration pressures away from the larger cities that are overcrowded.

Thames Town Video

Regardless of the current conditions the government has committed itself to creating 20 cities a year for the next 20 years. The strong intervention approach with the housing market and urban growth that the Chinese government has taken is unlike anything the world has ever seen. It will be fascinating to see how it will play out.