URBAN GORILLA

Icon

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

Filed under: Automobile, Collectivism, Infrastructural Growth, Infrastructure

Downfall of Subways

Subways allow for an amazing proliferation of people throughout the city.  Railways are part of the infrastructure that defines a culture as civilized.  It recognizes that they have developed far enough industrially and economically to not only have need for such a thing, but the capability to construct these huge nodal linkages.

One can enter into this wormhole on one side of the city and arrive on the other side in just a few minutes.  The stop takes you within a few minute walk of wherever your destination may be.  You can exist underground- you switch lines entirely underground, shop underground, eat underground, all on your commute.  Emerge and submerge, never really knowing on what side of the ground plane you’re on.  Time becomes irrelevant, and yet the only thing prevalent.

The perfect example of the utmost efficient subway system is in Tokyo.  One never has to travel far to find a subway station, and the stop will take you to precisely where you want to go.  The subways are incredibly clean.  No one has to wait longer than a few minutes for a train to come, and it seems to always accommodate all its users.  In cases when the subway is really full it still remains highly civilized.  The front train care is always reserved for women only, so women would not feel uncomfortable being too closely packed to their stranger counter parts.  Even as a foreigner to the Japanese subway system there are always information booths available more than willing to give you directions or help with whatever problem you have concerning your subway experience.  For that matter, police booths exist at ground level, or ‘koban’, that can help direct you as well.  Ultimately, this system goes beyond providing the needs it was constructed for.  It creates a standard any city can only hope to live up to.

While speeding under Shanghai, I ponder my nearly hour long route to ‘work’.  More precisely how my commute breaks down to about 20 minutes of walking to the station, a 5 minute wait at the station, 15 minute train ride and finally a 15 minutes from the station to my place of work.  If I go during ‘traffic hour’ I have to wait for a couple of trains to finally fit in one.  If I wait for an off time I can hop on a train right away.  Once inside the train I feel like a sardine.  That’s when I start to wonder, when do demarcations of civilization cease to be civilized? – as someone’s elbow jams into my ribcage and the man rubbing against my frontloaded backpack burps loudly in the face of the woman smashed against him.  At the particular stop I take, to switch lines I must go above ground and walk couple blocks to reach the transfer, then buy a new ticket as their systems are not yet connected.

There is one main issue here: the subway does not meet the needs it was constructed for.  That is when it stops being civilized, when it can’t meet the demands made on it.  It is not efficient, or timely.  This subway is not part of large spanning underworld, it is simply pieces of what it could be.  Shanghai’s subway system is scheduled to double by 2022.  And it needs to, as of now the city is growing faster than the infrastructure that provides for it. It is only the city center that is well provided for by the subway system.  People’s Park is incredibly easy to maneuver via subway.  However on the current outskirts of the city there aren’t nearly enough stops or lines going to those far reaches of Shanghai.  Once additional lines are built there hopefully will not be a problem with overcrowding a train car or lining up for the third subway to arrive.  Shanghai is a huge sprawling city.  For the area the system covers it does quite well.  All of Tokyo only covers a fraction of the area Shanghai covers and furthermore has only been developing for a fraction of the time.

//Lexie

Filed under: China, Infrastructural Growth, Japan, Subways, Urbanism

ABOUT THE AAU PROGRAM

The views and opinions contained in this blog are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the views and opinions of the University of Southern California or any of its officers or trustees.

CATEGORIES

PHOTOS FROM THE TRIP

IMG_5302

IMG_5270

IMG_5230

More Photos

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