01 Jun 2015
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Lessons from a Megacity

Searching for the blueprint for better cities
by April White

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A small portion of the megacity of Lima, home to one-third of Peru's population. (Photo by NASA)

The first step in researching the public transportation system in Buenos Aires: send the private driver home. “How could we be there studying public transportation and not use it?” asks Eryn Schultz (MBA 2015). She was one of 39 students who traveled to Argentina and Peru for two weeks in January with Senior Lecturer John Macomber’s new field method course Building Cities, part of the Immersion Experience Program (IXP) in the MBA Elective Curriculum. That’s how Schultz and her three teammates found themselves navigating between meetings with transportation experts in the sprawling Argentine capital by foot, subte (subway), bus, and bright yellow bike-share bicycles.

In Buenos Aires, despite Argentina’s economic difficulties, the team found a model transit system—including a new bus rapid transit system to alleviate congestion—that residents have embraced for its convenience and affordability. In Lima, however, they found a complicated web of formal public transportation options and informal, private buses (combis) that struggled to serve the capital city of a far more economically stable Peru. In interviews with residents, the team learned that Limeans used as many as four modes of transportation to commute to work and school, spending as much as three hours in transit each way, and committing some 8 percent of their salary to transit costs. The students asked: How did these systems develop, and how can they be designed to better serve the cities’ growing populations?

Transit is just one of the complicated problems found in megacities like Buenos Aires (population of more than 12 million) and Lima (home to nearly 10 million people, a third of Peru’s population). Other students investigated common problem areas such as energy use and environmental concerns. The teams met with almost 100 experts from industry, government, finance, and academia in the two countries, in search of public-private solutions to some of a growing city’s biggest challenges.

“Cities have the same problems they have always had, exacerbated by rapid urbanization,” says Macomber of his research and the students’ findings. “But there are new solutions, largely around business models, availability of capital, and new technology.

“Better water, better transit, better power are the lifeblood of cities,” he continues. “If you can move the water, people, and power, it’s better for human possibility, it’s better for environmental sustainability, it’s better for economic growth.”

 
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