Infrastructure and environmental justice in the city

By Gemma Todd

Transport and infrastructure remain key components when designing urban space. Urban planners are required to evaluate transport routes, modes, and costs, to ensure the city functions efficiently. Across Tanzania key means of public transportation in, and around, the city includes boda-boda's, or piki-piki's, (motorcycles) and daladala's (small buses). Such means are cheap, frequent, and although carrying capacity is limited, space can be made to squeeze another passenger on. However, with rising concerns over road safety, the costs of congestion, and the need for improved supply, the future of such transportation remains debatable. As the agenda shifts to designing 'sustainable cities', whereby urban environments can meet contemporary needs without jeopardizing that of future generations, we need to question what it means in the developing world. The concept of environmental justice is key. Discussions on environmental justice integrate calls for sustainability and recognition of the social, spatial, and economic, inequalities individuals face in relation to the environment . Environmental justice recognises the urban environment as political. Access, externalities, and use-value, of the environment are political.

Experiencing environmental injustice: accessing the city

With reference to infrastructure design, Dar es Salaam is articulating forced change. Dar is notorious for lengthy traffic jams; and the sprawling urban landscape comprising Dar's boundaries showcase the issue of rapid urbanisation without adequate planning. For example, inhabitants living within a 20km radius of the centre report spending up to 3 hours commuting. Such congestion holds major costs to the environment and road users. Dar has identified such factors as problematic, thereby introducing the Bus Rapid Transit Project. The projects implementation has begun and recently the government has restricted public transport routes in an attempt to clean the city image, and make the city pedestrian friendly. The restriction has been supported by a number of government officials and authorities - including the Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority who claimed boda-boda's had been operating illegally in the city centre anyway. The question is however, to what extent are the restrictions showcasing a shift, with Dar becoming safer and more accessible? With our desire to design a sustainable city how can we ensure roads are safe, buses not overcrowded, and environmental burden just? Further, what will individuals without private transportation use to access the city? With Dar's sprawling geography, all inhabitants have a right to access, dream, and engage with urban spaces.

Improving infrastructure for an exclusive city?

The proposed changes in Dar require reflection on three vital factors. Firstly, the project is based on the contemporary buzzword - 'public-private partnerships' – involving international and multinational stakeholders. Therefore what is expected in return, and by whom? Secondly, justification of the banning has been made due to the 'illegality' of daladala's operating in Dar. However, such 'illegality' remains a vital source of income, with few alternative paths. Fifty percent of daladala drivers reported they would leave the city if the banning went forth (Ahferom, 2009 ). Finally, the idea of building a sustainable city returns to the idea of environmental justice, and fundamentally who gains access. A discourse is being built whereby the poor are narrated as the 'polluters', the customers and workers of illegal, inefficient, transport systems. The vision of a sustainable city becomes founded on a reality of desired class, an exclusive image of the city.

When discussing contemporary urban development I wonder whether we have become too complacent in our current mind-set – who is willing to change ideas and construct innovative projects that challenge current realities? Within the tensions over urban road space how can environmental justice be recaptured for all citizens? As the public transport banning continues, and arises in other cities – such as Paris, what can be used? Should we rely on technology (such as Uganda’s road safety and congestion app, RoadConexion), the government, or be creating a platform for information and voicing concerns?

Photo credit: Michael & Lauren Crigler

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