Americas / Global
Toronto plays catch-up with its transport plans, why San Franciscans will be hearing more clearly, and how the Chilean capital is luring residences back to city living.
Greening the valley
Next year, a radical irrigation project in Peru could see the country’s barren Olmos Valley transformed into agricultural land. The proposed 19km tunnel would divert fresh water from the Andes and would cost an estimated €380m.
Back to the start
When Rob Ford, Toronto’s colourful mayor, took office in 2010 he cancelled the city’s $8.4bn Transit City project – the first major expansion of the city’s bus, subway and tram infrastructure in almost two decades. He objected to the plan’s preference for above-grade light rail over subways. “Subways, subways, subways… the people want subways,” the mayor was fond of repeating, promising that the private sector would help pay for them.
Ever since, Toronto’s transport file has been in disarray, held hostage by a rather emotional debate on the merits of subways versus light-rail. Subways may be faster but light-rail is far less costly; with the money available light-rail lines could service far more people across the city. “The reason we have a lot of catching up to do is because we’ve only looked at the most expensive option, which is subways,” says Steve Munro, a local public transit advocate. “We spend more time talking about it than actually building it.”
Until the mid-1990s Toronto possessed a transport network that was considered a model of access, efficiency and safety. Then a string of austerity budgets drastically cut government support for transport just as Toronto’s population was about to boom – adding 1.5 million new residents. Even when the economy returned to health, transport funding was never restored.
Fortunately, councillors recently stopped squabbling long enough to reinstate the old Transit City plan that Ford cancelled. Toronto’s lesson is that a fast-growing city needs to plan responsibly for the long term, rather than get too caught up in the politics of the moment.
In the past decades, Chileans have abandoned living in the centre of their capital in favour of US-style sprawl outside town. But last year’s census showed a reversal: the population in the borough of Santiago Centro rose by more than 100,000 and the number of homes almost doubled over a decade, largely due to more than 500 new high-rises. Part of the change comes from a demographic transition as traditional six-child households yield to childless young professionals. A subsidy for inner-city homebuyers and growing immigrant communities in the centre has also helped. But Santiago needs urban design. The borough has stopped issuing high-rise permits after complaints of oversized, ugly boxes.
It has been billed as the world’s next superfood due to its nutritional benefits. The UN has even named 2013 as International Quinoa Year in a bid to push it in emerging markets such as Africa. Yet the big winner in the quinoa boom could be Bolivia, one of South America’s poorest nations and the largest producer in the world. Exports grew by a quarter between 2011 and 2012. In the last decade, quinoa trade has increased 40-fold, although it still represents less than 1 per cent of GDP.
Got the message
It is a scenario familiar to many San Franciscans: there’s a snarl in the subway system but the announcement explaining the delay is muffled, hissy or garbled and of no help to anyone.
“Right now we have a radio system that is from the 1970s and the audio announcements are not clear,” admits Municipal Transportation Authority spokesman Paul Rose. Thankfully the city is taking action, and has launched a $24m (€18m) project to improve station communications, including the speaker systems. In 2014 it will upgrade the audio components on buses and trains, meaning that mystifying messages will soon be a thing of the past.