Most of the cities of the Global South are characterized by high densities and organically evolved land use mixes. Compared to developed cities, this tends to produce short trip distances and a high proportion of walking, cycling, and informal carriers. Public transport is also prevalent in these cities. Often lacking, however, are rationally designed and well-connected road networks, safe walking and cycling corridors, civic gathering places, and safe zones for kids.
According to the World Health Organization’s global status report on road safety (WHO, 2009), more than 1.2 million people die in road accidents each year. An alarming 90 percent of these fatalities occur in the low- and middle-income countries of the Global South, while 75 percent of the deaths involve pedestrians, cyclists, and other vulnerable road users (WHO, 2009). This is a consequence of an environment that does not promote walkability and is not adapted for cyclists and other users of non-motorized transport (NMT).
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Although there are no basic street amenities for an NMT user in many mega-cities of the Global South, the infrastructure for motor vehicles is doubling every seven years. The result is more accidents and congestion, escalating air pollution, and constraints on economic development. These negative externalities cost about 6-7 percent of GDP per year (Cervero et al., 1998). Giving higher priority to road infrastructure than to public transport exacerbates the situation. Being able to access services and public spaces is a major challenge for most urban residents, who cannot afford to drive or own a personal vehicle. A lack of access is a particular issue for the urban poor, the physically challenged, and women and children (Cohen, 2006).
With the creation of hubs at scattered locations in the populous cities, the problem of locating people near their work or services is yet to be resolved. Rising incomes in the Global South mean more trips with more goods to be transported. When the residents of the Global South reach the income levels of Europe or the US, only one-third of travel will be to or from work, which means the number of trips in the future will be multiplied and associated problems exacerbated. Hence, planning for accessible, interactive places is critically important for the social and economic well-being of these populations.
Despite all these issues in the cities of the Global South, a strong sense of identity is visible in their streets and squares, which have retained their role as social hubs. What, then, are the issues that constrain but also provide opportunities for the cities of the Global South to create viable urban places, as well as safer, greener transport connectivity between them? The following section addresses this core question.