AN URBAN MOBILITY ISSUE IN ALL THE WOLD'S CITIES
As cities continue to grow, their inhabitants now have to travel long distances, for different reasons and to a variety of destinations, using an ever wider range of transport methods, involving a range of speeds, modes and resources. The question of the passage as a shortcut, a transitional space, a special route, is becoming a crucial issue in facilitating access to the city’s different amenities. City folk want more quality, more attention to individual needs, intensity, urban comfort, speed and access to the city centre, at the same time as a slower pace and quality at local level.
An essential link for access to the city
However, while mobilities are becoming more complex, existing transport networks have often been designed in isolation from each other. Yet users judge the quality of their travel experience – in terms of efficiency, comfort, security and urban quality – on the basis of the whole journey. In this case, the passage emerges as a missing link in the journey, which is used to move, with varying degrees of ease, from one transport network to another, guaranteeing the overall success of the urban transport system.
In certain cases, passages can be used to overcome obstacles. Zoning-based urban planning, the monofunctionality of the big infrastructures (expressways, reserved lanes, railway lines, BRT corridors) have helped to create new – sometimes uncrossable – barriers. Structures originally designed as connections have become divisions, obstacles to the movement of individuals, who are sometimes obliged to invent informal and often dangerous passages in order to move around.
The micro-intervention with (almost) immediate effects
Beyond changes to the big infrastructures, these small interventions can have a significant impact and provide solutions to urgent problems (security, accessibility, efficiency) that cannot be dealt with by long planning processes and large-scale operations. Though the concept of a seamless city may be an impossible utopia, ideas such as “urban staples”, “micro-passages” and shortcuts can provide responses to universal urban conundrums.
This passages theme is a way to link solids and voids, speed and slowness, mobility and immobility, aesthetics and function, difference and security, day and night… and to rethink the hierarchy of the networks, in particular the excessive dominance of the primary networks. In the wake of zoning-based urban planning, can passages also help us to reconnect the city, to restore the link between rich and poor districts, between periphery and centre?
OPENING UP THE PASSAGE TO SOCIAL INTEGRATION
Spaces of sociability
To draw attention to the passage is also to highlight the urban quality of these small spaces, which should be seen as more than mere technical facilities. Not only do they facilitate access; they also bring people together. This means that there needs to be close attention to the quality of the passage as a social space. As an integral part of urban life, it is used by a multiplicity of individuals (local people, shopkeepers, passers-by…) whose representations, intentions and aspirations are disparate and sometimes contradictory or conflictual. The passage is the locus of different geographical and temporal rhythms. It is a place that people may claim for themselves or conversely a place of rejection, marginalisation (tagging, illegal dealing, vandalism…). Even when the location is unmemorable, the appropriation and uses of the passage constitute a big social issue.
This dual perspective – from mobility to sociability and from the global urban to the immediate local scale – makes the topic of passages all the more crucial in that it raises the issue of social exclusion. For although the complexity of transport systems affects everyone, it is above all the most socially vulnerable who need these passages: bridges to cross waterways or railways; funiculars, elevators or cable cars to climb the steep slopes of fractured neighbourhoods; shortcuts across impenetrable areas (industrial zones, motorway intersections, closed districts). Nonetheless, some examples show that it is possible to provide good quality facilities for all (such as the Medellin cable car which, as well as a technical object, represents a real social project which – physically and symbolically – links the poorest districts to the rest of the city).
The discomfort of the forced passage
In many of the world’s cities, passages come across as difficult routes, without alternatives. They help to make travel uncomfortable, or even dangerous, to the point that people sometimes give up. In particular for categories of users threatened by the discomfort or insecurity of such routes (women, children, people with reduced mobility…), their unpleasantness becomes an additional factor of exclusion. At best, this leads to the development of makeshift passages, built with the resources to hand, reflecting the conditions of their immediate environment. In the case of “planned” operations, by contrast, so-called “utility” is invariably the rule. At best, it generates banality; at worst, anxiety and discomfort. What should be a pleasure (the passage as shortcut) becomes a nightmare (the atmosphere of oppression and fear).
Right of passage and public reappropriation
In this age of globalisation, passages seem paradoxically to be narrowing, even closing with the increase in the claims for social enclaves on all scales. Belonging to no one, some neglected passages become communal living places for the homeless or centres for illegal practices, and as a result become marginalised, avoided. Most commonly, this appropriation applies to spaces reserved by local people who want to maintain their microcosm by preventing unwanted individuals from accessing it. In this case, the passage will be marked by a barrier, markings on the ground, a signal discouraging entry. It may also become “invisible”, protected by implicit social codes.
The city, however, is a place of confrontation, of interaction within public space, and cannot operate as a succession of private passages. How can the passages of the 21st-century be prevented from being used to exclude, to separate, to privatise?
A stimulus to the imagination
The passage is associated with the literary, architectural, urban and cinematographic imagination, changing with the representations of individuals, societies, cultures. For many of us, it is a stimulus to the imagination. Its association with other events amplifies its distinctive meaning. For this reason, the passage is not only a place, but a space that gives colour to our journey.