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Updated: February 15, 2013 19:50 IST

What is the chief urban challenge globally?  

HEMA VIJAY
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Joao De Matos has worked for over four decades at Atelier Parisien d'Urbanisme (Apur) the state-funded French institution for urban planning. He was in the city on invitation by Apparao Galleries to speak about Paris streets, then and now
Joao De Matos has worked for over four decades at Atelier Parisien d'Urbanisme (Apur) the state-funded French institution for urban planning. He was in the city on invitation by Apparao Galleries to speak about Paris streets, then and now

French urban planner JOAO DE MATOS was in Chennai recently to share his town-planning expertise. He speaks to Hema Vijay about commuting, cycling and public transport

Urban problems are the same world over — too many cars, too much pollution, too little space. But you can direct the city towards a less choked state by making laws and by creating infrastructure that leads to a situation where using private transport seems idiotic and cumbersome. For instance, in Paris, only 54 per cent of the households own cars. Personally, I don’t own a car, not even a driving permit.

How can private transportation be discouraged?

Many strategies need to be adopted. For instance, there are zones in Paris called ‘green quarters’ that are dominated by tree-lined pedestrian lanes and cycle lanes, with only one lane allocated for cars. Meanwhile, in London, there is a car tax to be paid if you want to commute by car through certain areas. Of course, we need a system like Velib to ease the transition. (Velib is a public bicycle sharing system introduced in Paris in 2007.)

Tell us about the Velib phenomenon

Paris was not the first town to introduce the Velib. But when Velib succeeded in Paris, everyone stood up and took notice, because the general sense was that if a big city like Paris (which also happens to be the most visited city in the world) could do it, so could any other city. Now cities in the US are trying to replicate Velib. Paris now has an Autolib (launched six months ago) along the lines of Velib that uses electric cars.

How does Velib work?

The Velib is a 20,000 strong cycle shuttle service that anyone in the city can rent and use to commute through the city, at a very nominal cost. After use, the cycles can be returned to any of the 2000-odd Velib parking lots in the city, with one located every 300 metres.

How can space be created in a cramped city for a cycle transport system?

Convert parts of parking lots for cars into parking lots for cycles; reduce motorable lanes and introduce bicycle lanes in its place. At one stroke, this discourages cars and encourages cycle traffic. Enlarge pedestrian lanes.

The key to successful town planning?

Team work and coordination between various agencies is crucial.

The memories of this Chennai visit that will stay with you…

The shore temples of Mamallapuram, among other things. The craftsmanship at Mamallapuram is astounding, and the unfinished structures make you wonder what they would have looked like had they been completed. When I get back home, I am going to read up on Chola architecture.

Evaluate Chennai’s town planning.

I could happily live in Chennai. But I can’t comment on a city’s planning after a casual look around. The next time I come to the city, I’ll take time to survey it properly to arrive at an understanding.

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