Friday, February 13, 2015

Canadian Television Looks at Urbanism, Public Health, and Mobility

With the “Intro to Urbanism in the rear view mirror, I’ll let Canadian television carry the ball today with a 19-minute program that touches upon two different aspects of urbanism, both introduced by folks I’ve often mentioned in this blog.

First, Charles Montgomery, author of “Happy City”, talks about the public health implications of living in suburbia where there are no useful destinations within walking distance and where sidewalks are often missing.

Next, Brent Toderian, former Planning Director for Vancouver, B.C. takes a television crew on a tour of Medellin, Columbia, long known for the brutality of its drug cartels but now rebounding with urbanist innovation.

(By the way, the broadcast pronunciation of Toderian as “TAH-de-run” is correct.  I’d made the seemingly reasonable assumption that the name was pronounced “tah-DEH-ree-an”, but was educated otherwise during the most recent annual meeting of the Congress of the New Urbanism.)

Toderian visits the newest mobility elements of Medellin.  First, he shows how the residents of low income housing on a steep hillside were better integrated into the city with escalators.  It’s inspiring to watch the pride of the residents in their new transit system, constructed for a surprisingly low $6 million.  (I’ll suggest that $6 million worth of escalators created much more benefit than many $50 million freeway interchanges.)

Although we usually think of escalators in the U.S. inside of retail stores or for access into transit stations, there at least a few places where the escalators themselves are the transit system.  Downtown Seattle has a network of escalators, some inside of private buildings but open to the public as a condition of land-use approval, to manage the downtown streets rising sharply from Puget Sound.  Also, the ballpark in Chattanooga sits on a rocky knob above the Chattanooga River and has an escalator for access from the adjoining downtown.

Next, Toderian rides a gondola that was constructed to reach a neighborhood of Medellin near the top of the steep valley walls.  Aerial transit systems are unusual in the U.S., but not unknown.  The Roosevelt Island Tramway above the East River is probably the best known, but has been recently joined by other aerial systems.

And I’ve suggested that aerial transit would be a useful addition to Suisun City, linking the residents on the east side of the Suisun Channel with the downtown on the west side.  Yes, the solution is likely neither physically nor financially feasible, but would be a great way to make a car-free life on the eastside a more reasonable option.

Enjoy the video.  I think you’ll find it worth your time.  And it may even trigger some creative juices.

Next time, I’ll offer personal thoughts about how to build better relationships among the various parties to land-use decisions.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

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