Petrol, chocolate and a sales meeting:Business lounges in service stations

What’s the reality of “walkable cities?” If you are one of the mobile business consultants, salesmen or any one of a large range of contractors, who everyday you spend more than half their time traveling in their car,  truck or van, with no options for using public transport or working over the internet, but having to see people face to face, inspect works or transport their workmen to sites distributed all over  the sprawl. Amongst a series of recent posts and articles on car related themes these caught my attentions and gave me pause to rethink a little about how we see the transition from our present high carbon cities to a lower carbon  “neutral” future?

The first one is this from The Economist, which is appropriately on the growth of facilities catering for this car culture, any of you who have traveled in Britain are aware of these large aglomerations on the freeways, we have our own versions here in South Africa, not yet this extended but with the growth of controversial toll-roads, no doubt soon to get there:

AT 10 o’clock on a mid-week morning, there’s already a goodly queue at the McDonald’s in the Cobham service station. Kingdoms may rise and kingdoms may fall, but mankind’s need for Egg McMuffins and coffee shows no sign of weakening. Elsewhere at the facility, which recently opened on the M25, London’s orbital motorway, drivers and their passengers play other traditional service-station roles, buying petrol, using the loos, shouting at their children, wincing at the sandwich prices. With its Shell garage, Days Inn hotel, Marks & Spencer, WHSmith, McDonalds, KFC, a couple of other restaurants and some slot machines this is a normal, modern motorway stop. Look up on the first floor, though, and you see a more unusual amenity with views out over the service-station floor: a Regus business lounge.

Is nowhere safe from business travellers these days? An ever-expanding army of mobile workers needs an expanding number of places to meet and work. Regus has been opening a lounge a day since early 2011 and now has them in over 500 cities, including in railway stations in France and the Netherlands (in Britain, Network Rail has done a deal with another provider of flexible working spaces, the Office Group). In its efforts to dominate in what it calls “third place” working environments (where the first place is the office and the second is the home) Regus recently decided that motorway service stations were the next battleground. It is running three new operations beside British motorways, as well as several in France. And though the atmosphere of a typical business lounge is rather different from that of most service stations, the two do appear to complement each other.

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We all know our frustration with cell phone/mobile use in cars, texting is especially dangerous and despite the laws against it and the surprising frequency with which we see drivers of large SUV’s with handset to their ears, which I would think should have a handsfree as standard equipment, here is an extreme version of this trend from Things I grab, motley collection :

Click to visit the original post

Forget texting while driving. German police say they nabbed a driver who had wired his Ford station wagon with an entire mobile office.

Saarland state police said Friday the 35-year-old man was pulled over for doing 130 kph (80 mph) in a 100 kph zone while passing a truck Monday.

AP Photo / Saarland State Police

Built on a wooden frame on his passenger seat they found a laptop on a docking station tilted for easy driver access, a printer, router, wireless internet stick, WLAN antenna, and an inverter to power it all.

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All of this is variously blamed on everything from Fordism through neoliberalism to America’s Oil Wars, but as most of us who have one know – we love our cars and even of we have a placebo Toyota Prius like me, we are in love with driving them and we construct our identities with them, this post from URBAN TIMES

The Growth of Car Culture

What is car culture? It is the practice and regular usage of cars in cities around the world. It is the feeling you get when you wake up early in the morning eager to get out of the house to drive. It is a lifestyle built around using cars.

The culture or social behavior of using cars has spread throughout the world. It has become an international social phenomenon attributable to both developed and developing nations.

As Wilfred Owen points out in in Wheels, in 1900 the world had hardly ten thousand automobiles, but eight decades later, there were more than 360 million motor vehicles and their effect on mankind has been enormous.

A personalized version of the cheapest car in the world – the Tata Nano. (Image: vm2827 / Flickr)

John Urrey observes that car-culture is a culture which is presently being followed by the general public although it was primarily consumed by the rich and elite classes in the 20th century.

According to theOICA (automotive issues in world forums), a total of over 50 million cars were produced internationally in the year 2011. Presently, more than 500 million cars are being consumed world-wide and this “figure is expected to double  by 2015“.

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With this culture being actively driven by the automobile and big oil and their differential adaptations to  soliciting customers either through more and more powerful cars – a la TopGear, or through their offerings of alternative smaller, more fuel efficient cars and by undertaking extensive urbanization trends studies such as this one by P-Rex , an MIT research lab

Toyota’s vision: The right vehicle,
at the right place, at the right time

This ambitious project attempts to “take the temperature” of urbanization of the entire U.S.  Conceived of as a Drosscape 2.0, we are collaborating with Toyota to assess and project the urbanization patterns in the metropolitan landscape.  With the echo boomers entering prime house-buying age, we see this as an opportune moment to envision how the basic urbanization will proceed over the next few decades.  We are more metropolitan, more southern and more western as a populous than we  were in the 20th century.  Will these trends hold?  How  will the complex of jobs, housing, and transportation interact with this new metropolitan landscape?  These questions and more will be addressed in this multi-year research contract.

Extract from Toyota Alternative Fuels Presentation

An presentation using some of the initial results is available here; Our Shared, Sustainable Future: Progress and Challenges which clearly highlights whose future it is that Toyota are most concerned with!

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So how does this look in under African Skies; – here is a piece that might let you judge somewhat for yourself:

The first is on the role of the “Black Diamonds” and the growth of South africa’s middle class:

Counting Cars to Measure Africa’s Middle Class  by John Campbell from Africa in Transition

Township residents pose on a luxury car in Soweto's Thokoza Park March 25, 2006. (Antony Kaminju/Courtesy Reuters)Township residents pose on a luxury car in Soweto’s Thokoza Park March 25, 2006. (Antony Kaminju/Courtesy Reuters)

That Africa has a growing middle class has become conventional wisdom, and the prospect of a new and expanding consumer market excites investors. How to define the “middle class,” to say nothing of how big it is remains unclear. Uri Dadush and Shimelse Ali show a way forward in their article, “In Search of the Global Middle Class:  A New Index,” recently published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

They suggest that in developing countries, the number of cars in circulation is indicative of the size of the middle class. Car ownership indicates arrival at an income threshold (around $3400 ppp) where households can begin to afford non-essentials.  Further, they say car statistics are usually reliable. So study of car circulation statistics can indicate how rapidly the middle class in a given country is growing.

Using the “car index” they conclude that of South Africa’s fifty million people, almost nineteen million are middle class. This is significantly larger than this African Development Bank’s  study on the size of middle class (PDF) (but smaller if you add the “floating class”—people living on $2-$4 a day).

Given South Africa’s economic and racial inequality, the purchase of luxury cars can also tell us something about how the wealthy have fared.  Indeed, it appears they have done well. 21.5 percent of automobiles sold in 2010 were “luxury.”  (Of G20 countries, in China, it was 2.8 percent;  in Mexico, 2.8 percent, and in the United States, 9.6 percent. Only Germany at 26.6 percent exceeded South Africa.)

The car index appears to support the view that South Africa’s middle class is growing.  With eighty percent of the population black, most of that growth must come from blacks.  But the high percentage of luxury vehicles sold would imply that the nine percent of the population that is white is also doing well.

Certainly the car index accords with what I saw during two trips to South Africa last spring

Finally, for now, a piece I wrote last year on  No quick fix to save our cities, so we’d better start now

A Dynamic New Magazine on African Urbanism

I had to read about this in [polis]register on the link and get your free copy it looks interesting and its by the African Centre for Cities – Tau is a very innovative and creative designer – well done!

It has been nearly four months since we breathed a huge sigh of relief. After more than a year of meetings, informal conversations, exorbitant coffee bills and more meetings, we finally launched CityScapes at the Open Book literary festival in Cape Town. A brief introduction: CityScapes is a biannual print magazine focusing on cities in the Global South, an initiative of the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town. Don’t judge us by our geographical location: The cover of the launch issue features a photograph taken on the opposite end of Africa — a portrait by Moroccan artist Yto Barrada.

CityScapes has a core team of four diverse individuals: urban theorist Edgar Pieterse, who is also director of the Centre for African Cities; Camaren Peter, a sustainability researcher and scientist; journalist and arts writer Sean O’Toole; and myself, Tau Tavengwa, a bookmaker, designer and accidental researcher. The four of us spent a lot of time grappling with the various dialogues about cities in Africa. At the same time, we tried to figure out how they connected to larger conversations about urbanization and development in the Global South. One of our main conclusions was that there was need for a publication — something disciplined and thoughtful but also rambunctious — that would adequately serve a range of practitioners (scholars, architects, urbanists, journalists, artists, photographers, essayists and all other sorts of cultural factotums) saying interesting things about the “the city.”

The second issue of CityScapes is due out on April 30, 2012. It will be as eccentric and enquiring as the first.

Tau Tavengwa is co-editor, creative director and co-publisher of CityScapes.

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Growing potential: Africa’s Urban Farmers

More on Urban Agriculture from thisbigcity including the issues that hinder and the hazards from it – once again the ideals of the humanists and the indigenous population tend to have divergetn views of what is desirable and what is actually practicable

Growing Potential: Africa’s Urban Farmers

By Anna Plyushteva – PhD student at University College London and contributor to a forthcoming book on the politics of space and place. Anna’s most recent publication is on the Right to the City. See her profile on LinkedIn.

Urban agriculture, or growing plants and rearing animals for food within the city’s limits, is a common sight in virtually every African city. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, there will be 35 million urban farmers on the continent by 2020.

At the household level, an urban garden means improved food security and access to nutritious fresh produce which might otherwise be unaffordable. Surplus is often sold locally which helps supplement income, especially for vulnerable groups like women-headed households, the unemployed, the elderly and people with disabilities. At the macro scale, urban farming addresses issues increasingly critical to African cities, such as greening the urban environment and recycling household waste  – a valuable source of nutrients for an urban garden.

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African Cities are Walking Cities, but are they Walkable?

A commentary from WALKONOMICS  on some of the hazards of walking in African Cities and efforts to improve the conditions sing BRT systems, which in South Africa are aimed more at reducing mini-bus taxi’s and car traffic than improving on the conditions for walkers

If you’ve ever been in an East African city during rush hour, then you’ll know that African cities are walking cities.  In the rapidly urbanising capitals of Africa, walking is by far and away the most popular form of transport.  For instance over 60% of trips in Addis Ababa are made on foot, while just 9% of trips are made in a car and in Nairobi over 45% of people walk.  These are the kind of walking statistics that developed cities can only dream of: London struggles to get 20% of people to walk and in New York its between 10-20%.

Can a growing city keep people walking?

As a result, the current CO2 emissions of these cities are extremely low, with the vast majority of people either walking or using ‘ad-hoc’ public transport such as the small blue and white minibuses of Addis Ababa.  However most Urban Africans aren’t walking out of choice, but simply because they can’t afford to travel in any other way.  The real challenge facing urban governments in Africa is to maintain these high levels of walking as their cities grow at an incredible rate and Urban Africans start to earn enough to be able to afford to travel differently.

So walking is popular in Africa, but this isn’t because urban African streets are walking-friendly.  In fact quite the opposite: 63% of streets in Addis Ababa lack any pavements or sidewalks and crossings are rare.  Africans walk despite the un-walkable urban environment, not because of it.  Walking isn’t only difficult, its also very dangerous with 67% of road accidents involving pedestrians in Ethiopia’s capital.  Sadly this is the case in many developing countries, where road accidents are a growing epidemic and are expected to be the third biggest killer by 2020.

Walkable urban development

Faced with these huge challenges and opportunities the United Nations have recently pumped over $3 million into a project to kick-start sustainable transport in three African capital cities.  ’Sustainable transport in East African Cities‘ will support and fund improvements to walkability, bikeability and public transport in Nairobi, Addis Ababa and Kampala.  The project is built around creating Bus Rapid Transit systems (BRT) in each city, similar to schemes in Johannesburg and Bogata.  BRT are low cost and efficient bus systems with dedicated ‘busways’ and high quality enclosed stations.  They provide the usability and capacity of other Mass Rapid Transit (like trams or subways) but at a fraction of the cost, making BRT an ideal option for developing cities.

Bus Rapid Transit, like this one in Bogata, can help to create sustainable transport systems in East African Cities

As well as establishing BRT systems, the project will create more walkable and bikeable streets in each city, which will form a sustainable transport network. These improvements will include building more sidewalks, signalised crossing and improving road safety. It is hoped that by creating a holistic transport system now, each city can provide a sustainable alternative to the car-dependent development that has caused so many problems in western cities. Perhaps this will also mean that while East African cities continue to develop and grow richer, their citizens will still choose to embrace walking as the best way to move in the city.

Images courtesy of sameffron and carlosfpardo