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Helsinki Background Note for Project - 1 March 2012

Helsinki Background Note for Project - 1 March 2012

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Published by: Eric Britton (World Streets) on Mar 01, 2012
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Examining the prospects for
 
Equity-Based Transportation
 
A Peer Enquiry by the City of Helsinki
Work Program Introduction & Schedule
 Helsinki Department of City Planning and TransportationKansakoulukatu 1 A FI-00099 City of Helsinki
 
Equity-Based Transportation Planning, Policy and Practice
(A collaborative investigation of an unusual concept in Helsinki Finland)
Draft background notes for Helsinki project
27 Feb. 2012 Page 2
 
1.
Introduction
The following summary presents some first background information on a collaborative investigation justgetting underway in the City of Helsinki, looking into the concept of equity-based transportation planningand policy at the level of a city. This is the first peer project in this series and is being carried out under thedirection of the Helsinki Department of City Planning and Transportation over the period 15 February to 13April 2012. It is being followed closely by a group of international colleagues who share these concerns.
2. Behind the project
Whenever we create a social system there is always, inevitably, and often also invisibly, a philosophybehind it. This is true whether the example involves education, food, shelter, health, energy, water,migration, the economy, culture, politics or, in our case here, mobility and transport in and around cities.The usually unstated philosophy behind investments in the transport sector for the better part of the lastcentury has been consistently based on two fundamental structural pillars: speed and distance. Enormousachievements have been possible working from these premises because we had technologies such astrains, cars, ICT and infrastructure tools which permitted us to achieve these underlying objectives.However this process, progress if you will, has come at some cost. One result of this largely invisibletransportation philosophy has been that not only have such important qualities such as proximity,environment, quality of life, social contact and fairness to all been considerably atrophied over all theseyears. But also as part of this invisible Faustian deal, in most places we have ended up spending on theorder of 80% of all public investments on infrastructure and other components that primarily support theautomotive society (which has sometimes been characterized as the
all-car, no-choice society)
.If you look at the numbers you see that this policy ends up allocating some 80% of all hard-earned publicmoneys, to serve what is in fact a transportation minority. In fact, a relatively prosperous and generallywell favored transport minority. Now that is, or at least should be, a significant problem.As we look into this project we need to bear in mind that it's 2012, and here we are in this new and verydifferent century, and the questions we are asking ourselves and the values that we are working with are inmany respects quite different from those of the old century now well behind us. The unrest we are seeingnot only in the developing world but also in the most prosperous nations concerning many of theunquestioned historical and often distinctly inequitable arrangements are part of this emerging new socialand economic fabric.So it is time to start to look around for and develop some new foundation philosophies for our citiesconcerning what we should be doing with all these great technologies and considerable investments, andgiving more attention to understanding how they end up influencing all of us in our day-to-day lives. In asociety in which democracy, well-being and sustainability are core values, fairness is important. Andfairness means equity. Moreover, when it comes to the reform of our transportation arrangements withequity as our flag, and assuming we get it right, the results will not only be fairer mobility for all, but alsosignificantly improved system efficiency and economics, both for individuals and the community as a whole.Which is the concept that we are now looking at closely in Helsinki.
 
Equity-Based Transportation Planning, Policy and Practice
(A collaborative investigation of an unusual concept in Helsinki Finland)
Draft background notes for Helsinki project
27 Feb. 2012 Page 3
 
Strategy
Over the last decades we have incessantly been told about ("sold") many kinds of transportation strategiesor techniques which variously promise great things for mobility and well-being: sustainable transportation,green transportation, clean, smart, soft, active, low-carbon, fuel-efficient, carfree, intelligent, liveable andmore. But while there are many cities in which such concepts have been put into place as projects, withvarying degrees of success, the truth is that as things stand in 2012 we have yet to find and put to work a(a) single, (b) strong, (c) inclusive, (d) measurable central theme around which to organize policies anddecide investments that are, at once, (i) coherent, (ii) consistent and (iii)
checkable
.In most cities our transport policies and actions all too often based on ad hoc individual decisions and roughassemblages of policies, projects and services, some good, some less good, but which as a whole are notreally
systemic
. And, not surprisingly, the city and the people suffer from this. At best what we are seeingare good measures implemented here and there, with luck more or less well integrated and coordinated,but at the same time the big investments that that are being made in the sector are not consistent with asingle base strategy. This is dangerous because if we have no strong central core and test to which allactions and decisions can be disciplined, we are going to suffer a policy of bits and pieces, some better,some worse, and the whole badly lacking. This is a real problem, as we are seeing in city after city.But all that said, we need to bear in mind that it is not easy to create a coherent system -- unless we haveat the core a central indicator or metric that will allow us to align all our individual decisions and pull thewhole thing together in a coherent package in which all the individual decisions reinforce each other sothat they all move in the same direction. This project proposes to look at one central metric by which theentire program and service package can be judged. Namely that of equity, a concept which is potentially aspowerful as it is, until now, unknown.
The Helsinki project in brief 
The project keys on a series of brainstorming sessions organized over the month of March 2012, with asmall core team working under the aegis of the Helsinki Department of City Planning and Transportation,meeting and exchanging ideas and proposals with a broad cross-section of individuals and groups,government, private sector and volunteer organizations, to examine together what the transportationsystem of the city and its surrounding areas might look like, if, instead of distance and speed, public sectorinvestments and actions were required to look first and above all to the concept of equity.To be sure we are clear on this: when we say
equity 
we are not talking about
equality 
in its raw sense, noreven
 justice
in the legal sense. Rather we are talking about fairness, social justice and true democracy .When Abraham Lincoln ended the Gettysburg Address during the darkest days of the American Civil Warwith the words "government of the people, by the people, for the people", he was in fact talking aboutdemocracy and equity.It needs to be said that one reason for choosing a Finnish city for this first collaborative peer investigationis directly related to their great accomplishments over the last years in building one of the most highlyrespected educational systems in the world (see the OECD PISA program results over the last decade) based specifically on the concept of equity. Our project will also examine the strategic base of their success in theeducation sector, to see if there are lessons which can be applied to transportation systems reform.

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