OPINION: The nature of movement is to serve a connection

At the heart of Maputo, Mozambique. Photo: Ofentse Mokwena. 

Not sure how this will go, but there are some strangely interesting problems in the thinking around travel behaviour. More specifically: the manner in which travel behaviour is not part of the policy narrative in SA. What is in the policy narrative is the idea that certain modes need t be adopted, or there is a hierarchy of modes that needs to be adopted (I think I want to critique this). Perhaps in the Northern World, it may be sensible to argue that a shift toward non-motorised transport is crucial as the cities are enduring the cumulative returns of urban development.  I suspect that the additive effects of investing in roadways, then public transport followed by an interest in leveraging on urban nodes is a pretty rational sequence attached to the pace of economic development. This does not take a linear path–and is there are latent asymmetries and diminishing returns of various kinds waving in the underbelly.

One of my most recent questions is whether this is truly tied to the possibility that the Global South already has a rapid type of transit system that has been ignored as a system in its own right. At the same time, the impact of technology on reducing the rate at which activities need to take place spatio-temporally is clearly intriguing in the face of lower unit costs and higher unit values associated with web access and interaction. I’ve just been finding it unusual that we don’t seem to ask why things are prioritised the way they are.

I’m obviously going to explore this, but just thought it’s an interesting thought. So one of the pieces I’ve been contemplating is the deep limitations in transport policy in South Africa when considering travel behaviour within these hierarchies. We do not seem to acknowledge or explore the potential contrasts between the ideals and the most tangible realities. Lately the notion of adoption over recognition has been the most enlightening for me. How uneasy it has been to adopt global logical patterns, over recognising observable facts locally in the mobility trajectory has fascinated me for years. I find this deeply problematic in the context of policy thought. How do we point at a packaged objected, lift it, drag it into our homes without ever opening the box in a controlled test group and see how this could really work in the tactile context of multi-dimensional spatialities? Is it truly worthwhile to pursue hyper-granular (dis-aggregate is not a generous enough term) tests, to the most essential long-term detail to inform and explore the details from various angles, metrics and moralities?

As far as I’ve seen behaviour, as a thematic area is not deeply explored as a tool to guide policy in general–especially in SA. It seems to be an after thought, intimidating the policy maker who is writing in the face of multiple undisclosed biases bubbling to the surface. I mean, one may ask why the policy narrative itself is not interrogated as to how it was manifested and the individuals involved are not deeply profiled on a multivariate scale.

This in my view simply highlights the peculiar levels of trust we propose to a system that is largely exposed to exponentially increasing openly accessible questions, examples and alternative paths. Some are suitable, yes– others belong behind the scenes as conversations between undisclosed officials. What if the entire policy was developed by a group of individuals aged between 25 and 69, most car users and only a few have used public transport for more than 2 years in their lifetimes? Well a counter line of question might be should a doctor treating a patient experiencing cancer have experienced cancer in order to perform a suitable assessment? I don’t really care if it counts.

With so many cracks in the historical narrative in SA, I just worry that the same logical fallacies behind why we missed some of the empowering motives behind the Reconstruction and Development Programme, from a land-use and local area planning perspective, may repeat themselves. The same pseudo-abstract contemplations woven in the White Papers of long-term mobility and access development may undermine the deep need to participate in Africa’s industrialisation. The historical cracks have turned into pieces of broken things, fragmented and barely glued together. World is changing and we need to keep filling the cup with the unpurified sludge of opportunity. Slowly stagnating until we come to a halt, and fingers point to congestion, public transport, and poor investment decisions–instead of enabling response abilities. The concrete hardens.

While we focus on transport modes, land-uses and funding, what I see more of in the web of non-linear behaviour are people, policies, institutions and decisions. Maybe I shall focus on this more, without really trying to adopt these hierarchies for the sake of being consistent with mass thematics, but to simply recall that the nature of movement is to serve a connection.

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