As I took part in some of the side events today on sustainable transport, a cognitive dissonance was created in my mind. It happens quite often that brilliant ideas somehow do not marry so easy with everyday reality. Even at Rio+20.
People from all over the world – large global multinationals and the most powerful countries – have gathered at Rio’s Athletes’ Park in the city outskirts. The topic under discussion – bright new ways of managing the concrete spaghetti that feeds the daily maneuvers of urban inhabitants. The participants have delivered brilliant presentations on modern urban development, with speeches about how energy creates mobility. The audience has listened to them carefully and with noticeable interest, nodding their heads from time to time. That the entire took place just a few hundreds of meters away from one of Rio’s stinking favelas, where it is likely that nobody has ever heard about spatial planning or smart trams, added a huge heaping of irony.
Adding to the incongruity was the special shuttle bus on the other side of the street that we had to use get back to the main conference venue. Why? Apparently, there is a zebra crossing to the other side of the highway. But it is located quite a distance away from the main exit from Athletes’ Park. As a result, visitors finding the highway too dangerous to cross head directly for the bus stop; in fact, they are encouraged to do so by the event volunteers. To make matters even more farcical, the shuttle bus goes the whole way round, driving a couple of kilometers to the nearest major intersection, in order to make a U-turn and arrive at the spot. The whole journey takes up to 40 minutes, depending on traffic.
Thus, does it really make sense discussing the role of rapid bus transit? Do all the UN initiatives give good examples of sustainable and responsible performance? Or should their alternative motto be Shakespeare’s “Words, Words, Words” instead? Hopefully not. The dissonance, however, remains. But is there no other way the sustainability could work on and move on?