Saving the Planet While Making Cities More People-friendly: Transit-Oriented Development in a Caspian Context
On August 9, 2021, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) released its latest in-depth scientific analysis, leading the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, to say that evidence of the need for immediate action “is irrefutable.”
“We are at imminent risk of hitting 1.5 degrees in the near term. The only way to prevent exceeding this threshold is by urgently stepping up our efforts, and pursuing the most ambitious path.”
- UN Secretary-General, António Guterres
A complex, multi-pronged approach will be needed if the world is to meet the difficult carbon emission targets necessary for limiting the projected global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. One of the longer-term strands is the rethinking of how cities are planned. One primary approach is to facilitate the appeal of public transport by making the growth of conurbations more sustainable: the key idea is to build high-density mixed-use developments (residential, commercial, leisure) arranged compactly around well-serviced transport nodes. This approach of making more ‘liveable places’ while reducing dependency on car ownership is known as TOD (Transit-Oriented Development). Although it has been very much in vogue amongst forward-thinking city planners for the last 20 years, TOD has taken a while to catch on in practice. However, that is changing worldwide. Successful applications of the idea have been touted by the World Bank - from Hong Kong to Stockholm, Tokyo to Copenhagen and decision-makers in the Caspian Region are taking notice.
When Derbent, Dagestan, Russia’s southernmost historic city, launched its international competition for a new urban master plan, it stipulated a TOD approach. A key feature of the winning master plan adopted in November 2019 was a ‘tourist mile’ walking loop linking the giant fortress Narin Kala to a new marina and Caspian seashore promenade.
Narin Kala fortress overlooks the city of Derbent where a new ‘tourist mile’ is part of the city’s TOD based masterplan. Image: Jonas Gzhishtov/Shutterstock
The ITDP (Institute for Transportation & Development Policy), which promotes TOD solutions worldwide, has helped with studies of traffic management systems in Kyrgyzstan’s second city Osh along and Kazakhstan’s former capital Almaty. The latter had been facing particular growth in traffic density. Car ownership has doubled in a decade despite minimal corresponding development of an infrastructure plan.
Tbilisi, Georgia, began adopting TOD ideas as part of a comprehensive resilience strategy, launched in reaction to the shock of June 2015 floods that ravaged parts of the city. The possibility of TOD options for Baku, Azerbaijan and Yerevan, Armenia have been highlighted in mobility studies by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, respectively.
For those familiar with the conveniently ‘walkable’ centres of Tbilisi and Baku, it might seem surprising that such places would need to be thinking of transit-oriented development, but both capitals have vast sprawling suburbs that are only patchily covered by metro links while Baku has – and is actively gentrifying – a huge inner-city area of former industrial land.
The Georgian capital Tbilisi already has a dense multi-modal network of public transport options, but TOD-based improvements are nonetheless part of the city’s resilience strategy. Image: Aleksandar Todorovic/Shutterstock
Iran is a recent but particularly significant convert to TOD ideas. An in-depth academic study had presented the pressing case for a ‘paradigm shift’ in Iranian city planning in 2016, and its findings have now filtered through to government at the highest level. On August 10, 2021, Iran’s outgoing transport minister, Mohammad Eslami, announced what appeared to be a wholesale TOD plan for the country.
Mohammad Eslami has been Iran’s outgoing minister of roads and urban development since 2018 but is due to step down as the Rouhani government hands over the reigns to the new team of Ebrahim Raisi. Image: PadmazOrg
With a population growth rate of 1.4% and a sprawling capital dominated, Los Angeles style, by vast grids of expressways, this is a potentially momentous decision, though the detail so far revealed suggests a more modest start based around a series of city gateway-node developments.