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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

The Dark Knight of Guangzhou

A hero, a villain, a facilitator, a complexity, a connector; Guangzhou’s Bus Rapid Transit system is all these things. It is the bane of the rich and the automobile enthusiast, eradicating almost half of the formerly 16-lane Zhong Shan Road. Yet it is the savior of those who have no means of transportation, provides a sigh of relief to the sustainable thinkers, and induces wide-eyed wonder for the young aspiring architect. Inspired by one of the world’s most robust public transportation systems located in Bogotá, Columbia, the behemoth spans 29 kilometers with 26 bus stations along its length, as well as bicycle stations, to make even the narrow-alleyed urban villages accessible. This feat was accomplished in just over 5 years.

As I was riding the B2A line of the BRT back in the direction of our hotel located on the outskirts of the city, I was fully expecting to have to hop onto a taxi for the last leg of the trip. My jaw dropped as the bus pulled onto our street and stopped not a hundred yards from the hotel. That’s what 2 Yuan got me. It’s a pity I only just learned about this phenomenal system the night before we left Guangzhou for Zhuhai. Until next time old friend…

When I first think of strategizing the layout of an urban infrastructure, I would probably only think to connect major city nodes that have the most foot traffic in order for the system to be sustainable and operate at maximum efficiency. Although The BRT may have laid its foundations upon that strategy, its reach has spread beyond simply connecting major nodes. By connecting even the currently obscure outreaches of the city, it creates accessibility to those areas. This encourages the business workers of the city center to live in these cheaper areas by eliminating the problem of commute, which in turn attracts parasitic businesses to line these routes, increasing real estate value, and all in all, stimulating economic growth. The infrastructure has evolved from being the parasite to the predator.

The system reminded me of California and its proposal to construct a high-speed railway from Bakersfield to Fremont. Both systems are, or plan to be, running through a lot of “no-man’s lands,” both hoping that this infrastructure will create jobs. California’s mistake however is that it does not establish a connection between two critical masses, being Los Angeles and San Francisco, to get the foot traffic necessary for the economy to develop along the railway. Guangzhou, as is the case with many Chinese cities, already has that critical mass of people in the sheer size of its population.

So how can such an effective, albeit radical, public transportation system come into being in such a short span of time? A strong central government and a loose set of policies definitely expedite the process. In the United States, our lobbyists hold an iron grip on the speed of any form of infrastructural development. It’s ironic really, that our government, by the people and for the people, is coupled with an individualistic mindset that ultimately does not benefit the majority of its population as far as urbanism is concerned. The everyday in the lives of us citizens really boils down to a product, as Henri Lefebvre states in The Everyday and Everydayness, that is not in our control, but in the control of the “managers of the means of production (intellectual, instrumental, scientific).”

So is a strong central government flawless? Of course not. From the outsider’s perspective, I obviously do not experience the pains and struggles that such a system places on its enormous lower class. But in the end, it is more of a matter of a collectivist versus an individualist mentality. The BRT, as I mentioned, was made primarily for the benefit of the poor, and was in fact supported by many automobile industries in China. In LA, the poor silently cry for an equivalent BRT system as the automobile industry continues to lobby for money to be spent on additional lanes to the 405. The BRT is the system of infrastructure that Los Angeles needs, but not the one it deserves right now. Until our lobbyists learn to sacrifice a little for the greater good, our infrastructure can’t be our hero. It’ll remain a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A dark knight.

– Muhi

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Filed under: Automobile, Collectivism, Infrastructural Growth, Infrastructure

2 Responses

  1. Anita W says:

    Reading your article I completely agree with the power of the BRT in this region of Asia and how it has begun to join the different social typologies together by literally creeping into the nooks and crannies of the city with a system of cheap buses and accessible bicycles. And i also agree that Los Angeles needs this very system but why does Los Angeles not deserve that now? The way that the BRT started was because they acknowledged a flaw in the routes of the buses and so they took the old route and revived it so that it could reach different places. And then on top of that they took the small villages (which i can assume to be equivalent to the ‘ghetto’ areas of LA) and used bicycles to reach back and pull into the alleyways of the lower income areas. Taking out lanes might piss off our car manufacturers but I think by rerouting and promoting a bike system within the city of LA can improve the overall state of our city.

    A

    • moohee says:

      Hahaha, I actually did have a hard time incorporating that part of the Dark Knight famous quote into my blog post because “deserve” is such a strong word that could come across the wrong way to people who haven’t seen the movie. I wasn’t implying that the people of Los Angeles don’t deserve such a successful system. But more that the flaws of the government, where the rich pretty much hold all the cards, isn’t “deserving” of the system in that the course of action that they always take will never result in that kind of success. Sorry to make this into a movie discussion, but in the Dark Knight, Gordon called Harvey Dent the “hero that Gotham needs, but not the one it deserves right now,” addressing the state of corruption of the city where the mob leaders basically had their way with everything. An extreme case of corruption indeed, but that’s the relationship I was trying to tie between the two.

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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Director:
Andrew Liang
Instructors:
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Students:
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu

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