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Social inclusion: Not linking two worlds by bridging one to the other

ucfudmd24 November 2010

It is no longer a mystery that models of development shape policies and goals which substantially differ on the ground while seeming the same on paper.
Social inclusion is one of those expressions widely accepted although least explored and agreed upon. There seems to be a lot of fantasy accompanying this concept and therefore the need to take a closer look at the overall implications of its use. My current involvement with a project to evaluate precisely social inclusion in public transportation has generated even more scepticism and interest about the use of this term.

Diana DasteIn preliminary research, it was not hard to discover how public transportation post facto evaluations claimed as a success, may not be so in reality.  Inclusion from a liberal perspective is a process of expansion in the number and proportion of consumers and producers within a society; therefore, urban public transportation systems are mainly concerned with improving the physical articulation of cities, to increase the efficient exchange of people, goods and services and a broad base of users, with the aim of generating wealth for society.

The critical point is that while these definitions ignore the wider relation between public transportation and human development, they constitute a reversal to social inclusion from a social development perspective.
From a social development perspective transport should constitute the link between people and their opportunities and social inclusion, is concerned with enhancing the opportunities of those whose deprivation is sustained, seeming to have little prospects of mobility and who are sustainably disadvantaged. It has to do with social justice, the acknowledgment of rights; the recognition of diversity; public participation and redistribution of resources. From this perspective, public transportation is not a technical intervention but a means for social inclusion.

Aerial cable cars are increasingly becoming a common solution to link Metro or BRT transportation systems with deprived and marginalized areas in developing countries.  Examples of these are the Metrocables in Medellin and Manizales in Colombia, pioneers of this model and the succeeding Metrocable in Caracas, Venezuela. Future Cable cars in South America will operate in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, receiving technical advice from Medellin’s Metro, and in Cali, Colombia where construction has started attracting local governments from Mexico, eager to know the process better. The popularity of this technology for public transportation and the absence of post facto evaluations, offers rich potential for reflection.

The Image: Diana Dasteinstitutional, political and economic processes to decide for Cable cars differ widely between cities. However, as an extension of the massive public system, these appear convenient, because they increase the spatial coverage and offer good accessibility for the users to reach terrestrial transport. They also minimize ground affectations, requiring little physical intervention. The implementation of these systems certainly changes the urban landscape and mobility patterns of the cities, including or bettering the travel conditions of previously unattended users and like every public intervention, it has to generate politically successful results in order to continue.
These are currently being measured through satisfaction samples.  In Medellin for example, the average journey from the Comuna 7 to the city centre changed from over two hours to less than thirty minutes. This allowed previously marginalised citizens to access new spaces in the city and get involved in different activities. Passenger satisfaction with the functioning of the system seems to be the overall feeling. This affords better links between the city and the Comunas, while serving as a quasi- tourist attraction to travel in an “egg “, to previously “no go areas”, with the possibility of returning. However, satisfaction samples mostly cover the users and travel public when evaluating the efficiency and effectiveness of the service and even though these results may suggest inclusion; these samples rarely reach the non-users, which are paradoxically excluded. Likewise, satisfaction samples hardly consider the effects of the intervention in the social context in which it operates.
A thin line traces the boundary between real opportunities and acquired needs. In these particular areas many of the residents require solutions to reach local social services, community associations or political networks, which have been highly affected by violence and poverty. In the first stage, these systems appear as an innovative alternative to link excluded areas to the city, but not necessarily attempting to generate local solutions of transport or urban development in the area. The right to the city is important as a possibility to access desired spaces but not as a required movement  aimed to bridge two worlds, for the sake of one productive engine. When analysing social inclusion, aiming for a system that generates wealth while enhancing the opportunities of people, the major challenge of reaching the excluded continues. Understanding their needs and motivations is essential to value the success of any public transportation. It is true that the metrics of development demand results, as it is also true that in the midst of useful discourses for political legitimation, we have constantly to remember that people are still waiting to be rescued as the ultimate subjects of development.