A Car Removed Per Day Keeps The Doctor Away
We have talked to a young lady who is making transport more sustainable in this “perfect urban lab” called London. Originally from Bogota, Colombia, Diana Diaz Castro works on mobility challenges connected to social inclusion and loves to share her thoughts on her blog “Just Cities”.
Riding the wave of opportunities in London
London is arguably a pioneer city in terms of mobility. The London Tube was the first underground in the world and it has one of the strongest transport networks. Diana takes us on a journey to a city that has implemented very innovative practices, such as the Congestion Charge 1 – an £11.50 daily charge for driving a car in Central London between 7 am and 6 pm from Monday to Friday. Most recently, a new Low Emission Zone (LEZ) and Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) 2 saw the light of day to improve the air quality in the most polluted areas of the city. Moreover, last Sunday, the city closed over 20 Km of roads during the Reimagine event to celebrate World Car Free Day. According to Diana, London is paving the way for people to reduce their carbon footprint.
“The Healthy Streets Approach is part of the transport strategy for London and it aims at creating streets that are safe, inclusive and encourage people walking and cycling.”
However, reducing car use and promoting more sustainable modes remains a challenge. Mobility issues? It’s an old story. But if you ask Diana, the source of the problem is to be found elsewhere. Indeed, there is an additional difficulty related to the housing affordability 5 on the verge of becoming a very concerning matter in London. The lack of affordable housing in and around the city centre causes people to move to cheaper areas, usually located far from the employment hubs – thus increasing the need for travel. As Diana points out, “increasing the need for travel puts more pressure on the transport system”.
Slaloming through tenacious mobility challenges – give city centres to the people, not to the cars
One of the main challenges at the policy level is making decision-makers understand the importance of mobility in people’s lives. In reality, it has a huge potential for addressing larger issues.
“Mobility is not only about moving people from A to B. It’s about access to opportunities, services and quality of life.”
At the individual level, Diana considers changing behaviours and addressing misconceptions to be the major issue. Various factors can push people to favour the use of their private cars instead of choosing sustainable solutions.
“In many societies cars are still seen as a symbol of status. On the other hand, more sustainable modes such as cycling are still very connected to social stigmas. So, it’s all about changing mentalities.”
Moreover, there is an upcoming issue that Diana can foresee for the future – the increasing influence of private, profit-driven companies specialised in framed mobility solutions. She thinks that the optimal way to take advantage of these would be to work on co-created solutions. They would require to talk with citizens, governments, industries and with all the stakeholders, in order to prevent cities from being flooded with well-meant but poorly implemented transport solutions.
Steer pushes sustainable transport on the Highway to Heaven
Diana is currently working for Steer 6 – a consultancy specialised in cities, infrastructure and transport. Among the main matters that their clients face – congestion, air pollution, and health issues. In the eyes of Diana, what is particularly important is how these concerns affect some social issues such as social exclusion and inequalities. There is a substantial work done in Human Behaviour Change. It facilitates the improvement of people’s journeys and bring wider environmental and social benefits while making sustainability initiatives more efficient 7. Diana thus emphasises that the Steer team has a solid experience in planning and delivering behaviour change strategies, cycling and walking plans, sustainable logistics and community engagement. Projects about micro-mobility, shared systems, new technologies and business models are also on the team’s agenda.
Steer’s clients can be found among local authorities – such as some London boroughs, transport authorities and county councils – as well as individual client organizations. “We work in partnership with our clients to understand their needs and deliver solutions that are built around their own unique circumstances. Usually we focus on offering solutions that are pragmatic and also grounded in realism. We are very interested in adopting techniques from different sectors to design and deliver approaches to change citizens’ habits.”
“For example, we have been using Motivational Interviewing 8 – a technique that is normally used for changing habits such as smoking – for changing travel behaviours.”
Working for fair and sustainable cities – from dream to reality
Diana is part of a big company with more than 20 offices accross 4 continents. Still, she believes that she can play an important role in making change happen towards sustainable transport.
In one of her past projects, her team was trying to understand the relation between accessibility to the transport network and social exclusion. As part of the project, workshops with disadvantaged groups were organised to discern the obstacles that the targeted groups have to face when using the transport network. Meeting with women, people from deprived places, disabled or unemployed people is part of the job to identify what are these people’s needs and how their lives are affected due to lack of access to the transport system. A survey to measure changes in accessibility in the following years has also been designed by her team and is soon to be launched.
Diana has also helped schools with tailored low-cost solutions to promote active travel to school,
“It was a really great opportunity to design creative solutions and to work with and for children who are a segment of the population that is often ignored in planning decisions. However, we are increasingly seeing children who are concerned about environmental issues and demanding to be part of the conversation, like Greta Thunberg and her Fridays for Future movement. I believe that, as city and transport planners – and especially as young professionals in this area – we owe to the world, to the younger generations and to ourselves to contribute as much as we can to create sustainable urban environments. Yes, I believe that even small actions such as the ones in this project, can contribute to a better future.”
Besides, passionate about making cities just and sustainable, Diana is really interested in the role that urbanisation plays in the development of the Global South. She is eager to find ways in which cities can help reduce inequalities, meet social and environmental conditions, and improve the well-being of citizens. As an expert in this field, she can tell transport has been a big part of that overall effort to improve the quality of life in cities.
As for her primary interest in mobility, it stems from her childhood. She recalls that growing up in Bogota, she often had to spend at least four hours each day in a really poor quality public transport, just to be able to access basic needs such as education or medical services. Her case was not an exception. For instance, she assures you can find many people living with serious diseases in deprived areas, who have to travel for up to three hours to access the medical services they need. There are also people who have been displaced by the Colombian Civil war, living in the slums of the city and being unable to access jobs or basic services due to a lack of connectivity and safety issues in the transport network. Diana accuses the system itself for not contributing to the people’s quality of life. Personally touched by this situation, that is why she started to develop a strong concern for solving and contributing to solve mobility issues.
“I decided that transport was going to be my first challenge in making sustainable cities a reality.”
About Diana, Young Leader 2019
Diana currently lives in London, UK. She is from Bogota, Colombia, and has also lived in the US and Norway. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a Master’s degree in transport and city planning. At the moment, she works for Steer as a consultant in sustainable transport. In 2016, she founded a charity in Colombia for mentoring girls from deprived backgrounds and victims of the civil war in the areas of leadership and STEM education. She started this charity with the desire to help other girls like her, who have big dreams and talents, but limited opportunities. Diana recently started writing a blog 9 about social inclusion, sustainability, and justice in urban areas.
She believes that international exposure and collaboration – such as the one enabled by UFGC and the Young Leaders Programme – is crucial in achieving sustainable development. “Understanding different lifestyles, cultures, practices, political and economic systems helps you to identify solutions that work or directions to avoid.” In fact, what she likes about London is that it feels like a perfect urban lab, filled with people coming from all around the world. She enjoys the Londonian diversity – in terms of population, but also in terms of its challenges.
Everyone can live more sustainably, simply by choosing walking and cycling for short trips.
It’s worth changing your habits, because every one of your actions has an impact and they can make a positive difference in the world.
The biggest challenge in my work is to try to achieve a balance between economic development, social justice and environmental sustainability.