Urban planning service

My colleagues at Enea Consulting and I had a lunch time conversation about urban planning, car-lite rhetoric and who the plan should be serving. One of us was very anti-cars and thought of all the implications around urban planning, environmental impacts – he considers private cars a cancer of urban development.

So for him personally, he found it unfair that pedestrians are told to look out for cars on the road (written at the crossing in stencils) and saw this as a manifestation of the car-centric culture that exist. On the other hand, I thought this was largely because the negative consequences on a pedestrian in a traffic accident is so assymmetrically dire for the pedestrian compared to a driver hence the need to remind them.

The society is not that biased to car owners given they are subjected to huge penalties and there are lots of opportunities for them to suffer financially should they fail to comply. Pedestrians don’t face the same sort of legal risks. Yet the subject of who the urban planning should be serving is still present. Given that a quarter of our city is covered with roads, it’s hard to see our urban planning is not partisan towards drivers or at least car owners.

One can of course be a conspiracy theorist and claim that there’s an overall bias on this since legislators, top leaders of our society are probably majority car owners themselves (whether they are driving themselves or not), the orientation of planning will give more eminence to car ownership. Those on two-wheelers, including bicycles can feel like they are treated as second-class citizens on the road. It may not be deliberate but this can be a powerful force. Likewise, the fact car ownership is sometimes a general aspiration of the society means the middle class who are not yet car owners can prefer that the state leave the privilege where they are so they can enjoy it when they get to that stage.

I think at the heart of matters is, who is our urban planning seeking to serve. And through all the balancing and struggles, whom have they ended up serving?

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