Citizens of Johannesburg, international experts and City of Johannesburg officials gathered yesterday for the Imbizo (Public Dialogue) with Mayor Parks Tau. The Imbizo has been an opportunity to openly discuss how the EcoMobility Festival is faring so far directly with the Executive Mayor Cllr Parks Tau, positive examples from the rest of the world and future plans of city and provincial government regarding transport were also a part of this Imbizo.
The large auditorium at the IDC Conference Centre in Sandton was crowded, the debate participated and competent. Citizens had the opportunity to interact directly with the Mayor and a panel of experts comprising: Ismail Vadi, MEC for Roads and Transport of Gauteng Provincial Government; Camilla Ween, Director Goldstein Ween Architects, London; Timothy Papandreou, Director Strategic Planning & Policy, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency; Konrad Otto-Zimmermann, Creative director of the EcoMobility Festival and The Urban Idea; Prof Daniel Irurah, Senior Lecturer, University of the Witwatersrand. “A global panel for a global perspective”, as the session moderator Victor Kgomoeswana, CNBC and PowerFM anchor, pointed out.
The Mayor started his opening remarks on connecting urban planning with the development of sustainable transport: “We currently have an estimated 345,000 sqm. of new office space either under development or planned. They’re very energy efficient, but most of them have parking spaces of up to 6 floors, which is ironic. We reduce emissions by making an efficient building, but we encourage the use of private vehicles, thus increasing pollution and emissions again”.
MEC Vadi explained that analyses on the transport demand for the next 25 years show that in 2037 the average speed on Gauteng roads will be less than 15 Km/h if nothing is done. Part of the problem is the car-centric culture of middle class: private vehicles are a status symbol. Congestion is in fact a middle and high class problem, as the working class keeps walking and cycling.
Konrad Otto-Zimmermann explained how the concept of EcoMobility entails a change of paradigm that directly addresses the issue of social inclusion, as its implementation eases people’s lives in poor areas helping them to access vehicles and transport other than their feet, while downsizing cars and the level of traffic in richer areas. “We have to come to disarmament in transport, reducing cars in number and size” said Otto-Zimmermann.
Safety on the road, especially for the 10,000 people walking every day from Alexandra to Sandton, was one of the main leitmotifs of the Imbizo, and many questions from the audience reflected this concern.
Camilla Ween underlined the simple truth that, as roads and public spaces become more populated and alive, safety increases.
Timothy Papandreou told the audience how the municipality of San Francisco overcame its congestion and security problems by adopting a strategic approach to transport management. “Rather than starting huge capital-intensive 10-year projects, we started from small projects immediately applicable” said Papandreou. High level of engagement of citizens helped change the balance between cars and non-motorised forms of transport from 60%-38% to 50%-50%.
Communication and engagement around the issues of transport was indeed another key aspect raised by citizens’ questions and comments. From the need to spread the word on social and traditional media to the importance of distributing transport data, the audience confirmed that there is high interest and willingness to be involved in what will necessarily be a long journey towards an ecomobile future. “This future”, Mayor Tau concluded, “starts now”.