To what extent a model of more inclusive city can help avoid the social explosion that particularly major cities in the US are living due to the George Floyd case? “Designing inclusive cities is crucial, mainly if we care about the well-being of people that have very different backgrounds, knowing that the social, economical, racial origin and even gender can very much interfere how we feel about the space surrounding us” sums up Nidhi Gulati in an interview from New York for the Portugal Mobi Summit.
“In city planning it’s necessary to take into account the history of who we are as a community and think about the needs of the various groups, that can be very different. That means that we need to use inter-cultural lenses to do so” said the director of PPS – Projects for Public Spaces, and NGO that supports communities in New York to plan more sustainable and inclusive spaces since 1975.
It is exactly because of a lack of those inter-cultural lenses that we find the root of many of the problems in urban eco-systems, and that Covid-19 put them into the spotlight, mainly in the United States, notes the specialist. Because the reconfiguration of cities it’s much more than a mere question of buildings and roads, “it has mainly to do with power structures and political representation”, points out the Indian architect.
“Designing inclusive cities is crucial, mainly if we care about the well-being of people that have very different backgrounds”.
Does the person who make the political proposition actually represent the communities? And those who are interpreting them at a level of urbanists, architects, pedagogues, do they also represent the diversity in the population? The answer to these questions made by Nidhi Gulati is negative and helps to explain the reason why an important part of the population lives unsatisfied in their communities, without their needs taken into account, therefore more vulnerable to phenomena such as radicalization.
Being women about 50% of the population, they too are victims of under-representation in urban planning, mainly at a level of mobility, considers Nidhi Gulati. The Senior Director of PPS refers for example that “In the United States – where it’s mainly men who are supporting families – public transportations are designed to make a shorter distance from point A to point B, that is, from the suburb to the center of the city”. Now, she observes that “the typical mobility of women it’s not contemplated in this model because they might very well have to drop off children in one place and to do shopping or laundry in another direction, but the public transportation network doesn’t have that flexibility, making the use of private car the only alternative”.
Also the car compartment and its respective safety system is designed to accommodate a typical male body, and studies show that because of that, women are more at risk of accident, underlines Portugal Mobi Summit guest.
Nidhi Gulati takes as a starting point her own experience in order to defend that “there has to be a future alternative mobility that is more flexible and sustainable in an environmental point of view”. Having lived many years in New Dheli, she says that “I always counted on public transportation to move around, from the train to the taxi. I never felt the need to drive a car in order to feel autonomous, until I moved to a suburban neighborhood in Texas, where there were only highways and I understood that even just to go to the local market or if I wanted to look for a flat, I needed a car”.
Then is when she understood the reason why the private car is so institutionalized in the US and became a challenge to think about other types of mobility.
That is the reason why she cannot imagine going back to a pre-Covid normality. “I don’t want to go back to normal” she says, adding that “we have to change, also because we don’t know if there will be more pandemics with climate change”.
For Nidhi Gulati, “we have to rethink completely our way of traveling. On one side, travel less, then also travel less distance and when we really have to, adopt more sustainable means of transportation”. Another dimension is consumption, that takes us to the question of knowing from how far do the goods that we consume come from and if we shouldn’t opt to consume more locally, developing local communities economies, she defends.
“We have to change, also because we don’t know if there will be more pandemics with climate change”.
As far as good examples, Nidhi Gulati points to the nordic mobility models, very much based on walking, biking and micro-mobility. As far as collective transportation in a pandemic scenario, Gulati considers that “if we already have 21st century cars, it’s also time to have new century public transportation”, that in the current situation it could be more frequent or with bigger compositions so to allow social distancing.
To summarize her intervention in an interview conducted by Paulo Tavares and Charles Landry, co-curators of the Portugal Mobi Summit, Nidhi Gulati underlined also that in order to create more inclusive cities, we need to increase civic participation of all the groups that are under-represented, and that is also a responsibility of those groups themselves.