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Transforming my understanding of mobility being part of Transforming the unwalkable city a project about knowledge, practices, and interventions for a more inclusive future of walking in Africa.

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D6 - Walkability

 

Maputo, 2024

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From a very tender age, my aptitude for running was undeniable. In fact, I proudly held the title of the best girl runner in my primary school, surpassing not only my female peers but also quite a few boys. Engaging in various sports like basketball, volleyball, and football, I developed a love for movement. Be it playing games like jumping rope, Zotu, or riding a bike, my legs were instruments of play, exercise, and reaching destinations like school or church. As I grew older, my legs became my primary mode of transport, especially since I didn't own a car or possess a driving license. Whether it was going to school, handling personal documents, or simply hanging out with friends, walking became second nature.

 

 

Discovery of Walking as a Mode of Transport

 

Unconsciously, I was using my legs to fulfill goals, and it became routine. Walking was just a natural part of life, an everyday activity that allowed me to navigate through various experiences. Even during my late teen years, when I learned to catch public buses for longer distances, walking remained a significant part of my routine.

 

 

Transition to Project and Reflection

 

Embarking on Transforming the Unwalkable City, a project that focused on walking as a mode of transport seemed intriguing, if not unconventional. The initial uncertainty and curiosity arose—could studying walking as a mode of transport be a meaningful endeavor?

 

Conducting interviews with stakeholders such as decision-makers, technicians, community members, and leaders, provided me a deeper understanding. Their perspectives on walking, the reasons behind practicing it, and the conditions in which they engage became crucial aspects of my exploration. One of the fascinating revelations during this project was delving into the varied perspectives of different stakeholders. Activists, for instance, advocate for a holistic approach, ensuring the pedestrian experience is central in municipal infrastructure planning. This encompasses everything from quality pavements and street signalization to the presence of illumination, trees, and combating various types of pollution.

 

Activists show a rounded perspective, addressing issues like the separation of pedestrian and motorcycle traffic, integrating cycling as a mode of transport, and prioritizing the needs of individuals with reduced mobility or disabilities.

Contrastingly, technicians, whether in health or social services, focus on the safety of individuals. Their concerns revolve around creating streets that are safe, especially for vulnerable groups like women, children, and the elderly. Then, there are decision makers from institutions like Empresa Municipal de Mobilidade e Estacionamento (EMME ) in english, Municipal Mobility and Parking Company), emphasizing different priorities. Their primary focus is on making residents understand that public space, particularly parking, is not free. Improving public transportation takes precedence, with walkability initiatives being considered later.

 

 

Perception Challenges

 

Interestingly, despite the pivotal role of decision makers in shaping urban policies and consequently urban infraestrutures, the perception of walking as a mode of transport remains absent. Engagement workshops with decision makers, technicians, and community members underscored that people still don't view walking as a legitimate mode of transport. Instead, it's often seen merely as a means to reach a destination. While bikes, motorbikes, or skateboards are readily recognized as modes of transport due to their tangible nature, the idea of walking as a transport mode eludes them. Their perception remains tied to the conventional notion that transport requires a tangible object to facilitate movement from one point to another.

Community members, particularly those in areas with poor infrastructure, have unique expectations. Their humble appeals for neighborhood enhancements, such as requesting wider streets and the installation of lights, derive from the practical issues they confront regularly. These neighborhoods often contend with narrow streets that, after rainfall, transform into miniature lagoons, impeding residents from traversing their way to the main streets without wading through water. Moreover, the presence of cramped and regularly shaped streets becomes a safety concern, creating an ideal environment for potential threats. In such conditions, residents face heightened vulnerability to theft or more sinister intentions. The emphasis on wider streets and adequate illumination goes beyond mere aesthetics; it serves as a fundamental response to the residents need for visibility and a heightened sense of safety. By widening streets and installing lights, they gain the ability to see potential threats from a distance, fostering an environment that discourages illicit activities and instills a crucial sense of security.

 

This diversity in priorities and views on elements influencing the pedestrian experience highlights the complex tapestry that shapes our urban environments. From activists advocating for comprehensive improvements to technicians emphasizing safety, and decision makers directing attention elsewhere, the perception of walking remains multifaceted.

 

Shift in Perspective on Mobility

 

Working on this project has reshaped my understanding of mobility, particularly as an architect and urban planner. Initially, my focus was on crafting plans that regulated and proposed infrastructure primarily for cars or, to a limited extent, cycle roads. Little did I realize the complexity involved beyond accommodating bicycles because, at its core, mobility is about people. This realization humbled me, acknowledging that neglecting the multifaceted needs of pedestrians was a shared oversight among various stakeholders. The project underscored the need for a more comprehensive approach to mobility planning.

Conclusion

 

There is  a lot I  am yet to learning a such short period of time (in my perspective one year is not enough) the nuances of walking and two key takeaways: (1) infrastructure is important and influences a pedestrian experience in the journey to their destinations and (2) decision makers  pivotal role in in prioritising people over cars  to the extent that policies and regulations are implemented  to create accessible, safe and enjoyable walking experiences for all.

 

Overall I believe that is up to all of us to decide whether walking is important and if it can be considered more than just a method to get to our destination, more than just a way to promote good health, more than just an socioeconomic indicator, but yet an intrinsic activity that we inherently strive to perform.

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