Sergio Montero (Universidad de los Andes) and Astrid Wood (Newcastle University) are currently working on projects exploring the circulation of policy models and ideas on urban transportation. Read about their projects below. 


The Politics of Policy Circulation: Mobilizing Bogotá’s Green Urbanisms in Guadalajara and San Francisco (Sergio Montero)

Ciclovía in Bogotá, Colombia

Bogotá, traditionally portrayed in the 1980s and early 1990s as an urban dystopia and a city of fear, has become a global model of sustainable transport in less than a decade. Since 2001, cities as diverse as Jakarta, Guangzhou or Guadalajara among more than two hundred others, have implemented a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system drawing inspiration from Bogotá’s Transmilenio BRT. In the same time period, mayors, transportation planners and bike advocates in more than 300 cities have referenced Ciclovía, a 70-mile weekly car-free event in Bogotá, to pass local street closure program in their home cities. Although urbanism has been shaped by policies and planning mechanisms drawn from European and North American cities for centuries, the rapid spread of Bogotá’s Transmilenio and Ciclovía in the last decade suggest: 1) a significant increase in the speed of urban policy circulation; and 2) that the current transnational traffic of urban policy knowledge and ideas of the “good city” is more complex than a simple North-to-South transfer. In my dissertation, I critically examined the local and transnational actors, networks and agendas that allowed Bogotá (Colombia) to emerge as a world policy model of urban sustainable transport by analyzing the different ways in which Bogotá’s policies –particularly Transmilenio BRT and Ciclovía– were mobilized in Guadalajara (Mexico) and San Francisco (United States). Policy models are either celebrated as inspirational examples that can spur policy learning in many places at once or rejected as “one-size-fits-all” recipes that do not consider the complexity of local contexts. My dissertation departs from both arguments by demonstrating that although models and “best practices” can indeed be powerful catalyzers of policy change, practices of inter-city policy circulation inevitably take place in a local and transnational field of power in which different actors strategically mobilize other cities’ references to legitimize particular agendas and translate their beliefs about how the city should be organized into policy. I show that the wide circulation of Bogotá policies in the last decade reflects an increasing focus by the apparatus of international development on the circulation of city models as an arena to effect global impact. Bogotá’s Transmilenio and Ciclovía are, then, part of a larger set of cost-effective, impact-oriented and financially-sustainable policy models promoted by international development banks and global philanthropy to intervene in global climate change through their replication in as many cities as possible. Yet, the politics behind the global circulation of Bogotá policies are not about “coercion from above” but rather a politics of learning, persuasion and local coalition-building that takes place in and through a mobile infrastructure of policy circulation in the form of policy forums, study tours, best practices guides, images and internet videos. A careful and qualitative analysis of who organizes these events and media objects and the practices of learning and persuasion that take place in and through them is key to understand the friction between global and urban agendas that underpinned the wide circulations of the Bogotá model since the early 2000s. To study transnational policy circuits and their effect on urban policy agendas and planning, I used a combination of methods that included archival research, participant observation and more than 90 interviews with mayors, planners, bicycle advocates, bus company owners, local NGO leaders, philanthropists and others in the many sites and situations where the Bogotá model took me during two years of fieldwork (2012-2014).

Publications

Montero, S. (2016) Study tours and inter-city learning: Moblizing Bogotá’s transportation policies in Guadalajara. Environment and Planning A, early online.

Montero, S. (2016) Worlding Bogotá’s ciclovía: From urban experimentation to international ‘best practice’. Latin American Perspectives, early online.

Contact Sergio Montero (smontero [at] uniandes.edu.co) for more details on the project.


Peripatetic Planning: Tracing the Mobility of Bus Rapid Transit through South African Cities (Astrid Wood)

BRT in South Africa: Johannesburg’s Rea Vaya

In 2006, bus rapid transit (BRT) swept through South Africa with several cities in various stages of planning and implementation. Around the world, BRT – a rapid mode of urban public transport that combines the high-quality and speed of a rail system with the operating flexibility and low-cost of a bus network – is quickly becoming the universal policy fix appropriate within a wide variety of geographical and socio-political contexts to tackle an assortment of local predicaments. These BRT systems are modelled after Bogotá’s Transmilenio, whose accomplishments have been touted as a low-cost, high-capacity transport solution. The seemingly rapid and orderly process through which South African cities adopted BRT raises questions regarding the mobility of knowledge, specifically how and why cities adopt circulated policies. The research interrogates the process of BRT adoption to understand the way in which connections between people, places and products influence local decision-making. It contributes to the scholarship on policy mobilities, which considers how and why cities are increasingly constituted through relational connections with distantiated sites, by focusing on the range of urban practices taking place in order to localize a particular case of best practice at the site of adoption. 

Publications 

Wood, A. (2016) Tracing policy movements: Methods for studying learning and policy circulationEnvironment and Planning A, 48 (2): 391-406. 

Wood, A. (2015) The politics of policy circulation: Unpacking the relationship between South African and South American cities in the adoption of Bus Rapid Transit. Antipode, 47 (4): 1062-1079.

Wood, A. (2015) Multiple temporalities of policy circulation: Gradual, repetitive and delayed processes of BRT adoption in South African citiesInternational Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 39 (3): 568-580. 

Wood, A. (2015) Competing for knowledge: Leaders and laggards of Bus Rapid Transit in South Africa. Urban Forum, 26 (2): 203-221.

Wood, A. (2014) Moving policy: Global and local characters circulating bus rapid transit through South African cities. Urban Geography 35 (8): 1238-1254.

Wood, A. (2014) Learning through policy tourism: Circulating bus rapid transit from South America to South Africa. Environment and Planning A 46 (11): 2654-2669.

Contact Astrid Wood (astrid.wood [at] newcastle.ac.uk) for more details on the project.