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  • Writer's pictureJames Brackenhoff

A Tale of Two Cities

Like people, no two cities are alike. No two cities experience identical challenges and, therefore, a tailored approach to improving a city is vital in this Century. Achieving the best tailored approach requires a good measuring stick. The 20-Minute Lifestyle is a good gauge for what a healthy city provides; this lifestyle allows all residents (of all ages, ethnicities, and abilities) of a city to have their daily needs met within a 20-minute commute.

Understanding how to meet this aim requires a deep understanding of the underlying pressures and physical conditions facing different cities and societies. If we look at two similarly sized cities in North and South America, we get a better sense of how this plays out.

Ibague, Colombia, is a city of roughly one hundred thousand people. The city has good existing physical structures to support the 20-Minute Lifestyle. It has a well-connected street network, the right density and mix of uses within neighborhoods, and, generally, a very vibrant public life that would normally be associated with a 20-Minute Lifestyle. However, like many cities throughout the world, Ibague has allowed private motorized vehicles to consume large amounts of public space. This has come at the expense of the young, old, poor, and physically unable to drive who do not have the same mobility opportunities to meet the demands of the 20-Minute Lifestyle. Because the existing infrastructure, a grid of streets, lends itself to efficient multi-mobility solutions, Ibague would not need to make major investments to expand mobility opportunities to improve the city. Investing in a low-cost multi-modal transportation system, including protected bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and more frequent public transit options, would provide more people access to 20-Minute Lifestyle.

Salem, OR is a city roughly the same size as Ibague. Large portions of the city have an unconnected street network, low density neighborhoods, and homogenous land-use patterns: none of which help accomplish the goal of the 20-Minute Lifestyle. Unfortunately, this infrastructure will require much more extensive and expensive investment. In the long-term, Salem will need to overhaul many of its planning and transportation standards to remedy the physical structures required to support the 20-Minute Lifestyle; something it can do if the public is educated on these issues to support macro-scale planning remedies. Fortunately, Salem is not a poor city by global standards. It could immediately benefit from expensive new technologies like automated vehicles in the next 5 years, which would dramatically reduce the cost and need for privately owned vehicles. This will, in the short term, give access to people who would otherwise lack access to the 20-Minute Lifestyle.

These two cities represent very distinct circumstances facing cities throughout the world but give insight to the complexities facing each city in the global context. One size fits all solutions to urban challenges should be seriously vetted before pursuing any strategy.


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