Five cities that could save Antarctica

A global common. Image: Hulton Archive/Getty.

Antarctica is at a crossroads. This frozen continent at the bottom of our planet has the potential to either become one of the most fiercely contested zones in the world, or the most collaborative.

Antarctica is one of four internationally recognised global commons, along with the atmosphere, the high seas and outer space. These are all areas that have historically been guided by the principle of the common heritage of humankind.

The continent is governed by the Antarctic Treaty System, a complex set of arrangements developed to regulate relations between states with interests and territorial claims in the region. As of today, 29 states are “consultative parties” to the treaty. They demonstrate their interest in Antarctica by carrying out substantial scientific activity there.

Several states have very specific and long-standing interests in Antarctica, which not only determine national policies about engaging with the continent, but can also complicate those engagements. Seven have territorial claims including the United Kingdom, France, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Chile.

In 2007, the UK made a submission to the United Nations to claim more than a million square kilometre of seabeds, and in 2012 it renamed an area as Queen Elizabeth Land. Both instances led to diplomatic tension with Argentina.

Despite ongoing competing claims over the Antarctic and increasing interest in its resources, this is also a moment of remarkable opportunity for collaboration. One example of such collaboration is the possibility of creating a large marine protected area in the Ross Sea in East Antarctica.

Meet the five gateway cities

Which path will Antarctica take? The answer may lie with five cities in the planet’s deep south: Cape Town (South Africa), Christchurch (New Zealand), Hobart (Australia), Punta Arenas (Chile), and Ushuaia (Argentina).

These cities are the most connected to the Antarctic in the world. They are formally recognised international gateways through which most travel to the region flows. All significant engagement with the Southern Polar Region is co-ordinated through them, but the ensuing competition for economic advantage that this traffic offers is not always constructive.

We rarely consider the role that urban centres play in humanity’s relationship with the world’s most desolate, extreme continent. But in these cities, Antarctica has exercised a powerful hold on the urban imagination since the late 19th century.

All five cities are small in size and population and, with the exception of Cape Town, do not fit the profile of a global city. But that might change if we consider their influence over an entire region; the high percentage of residents employed in the scientific research and logistics sector; and the fact that they host some of the best educational, tourism, and entertainment facilities in relation to the Antarctic region.

Ushuaia

Ushuaia (population 67,600) is the capital of the Argentinean province of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctic and South Atlantic Islands. It is commonly referred to as the southernmost city in the world.

The city is located on the Beagle Channel, in an area that had been occupied by Yamana – or Yaghan – Indigenous people for more than 10,000 years.

Due to its proximity to Antarctica – around 1000 kilometres – Ushuaia is today by far the most popular gateway for Antarctic tourism, capturing close to 90 per cent of the more than 35,000 tourists who travel each year to the Antarctic. But it has yet to act as a base for any national Antarctic science programmes.

Since 2007, Ushuaia has hosted the Biennial of Contemporary Art at the End of the World an international arts forum with the motto, “Think at the end of the world, another world is possible”.

Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas (population 125,000) was founded in 1848 as a penal colony by the Chilean government, and later served as destination for the settlement of European immigrants. Until the construction of the Panama Canal in 1910, its port was key in the commercial route linking the Atlantic and the Pacific.

Punta Arenas was a key site and principal point of reference for many of the early Antarctic scientific expeditions. The city is dotted with these stories. Among the most important is the 1916 failed Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition by Sir Ernest Shackleton. This year Punta Arenas celebrated the centenary of the rescue by the Chilean Navy officer Piloto Pardo of Shackleton’s stranded crew in Antarctica.

Most important, the national Antarctic programmes of more than 20 countries use Punta Arenas as a gateway to the continent – a higher number than any other gateway city.

This is partly due to logistical advantages and the geographical proximity to the Antarctic Peninsula (about 1,300 kilometres), the area of Antarctica that hosts the largest concentration of scientific research stations on the continent, and arguably the world.

Punta Arenas is at the centre of a new ambitious development plan seeking to improve its infrastructure and generate new forms of Antarctic culture and identity in the Magallanes region. These include a School Antarctic Fair, a unique initiative in which school students compete for a coveted trip to the frozen continent to work with scientists.

Christchurch

Christchurch (population 360,000) is a key gateway to the Antarctic as the logistics centre for a number of national programmes (most importantly, for the United States, Italy and South Korea).

Christchurch’s historic links with Antarctica and tributes to early explorers – such as Captain Robert Falcon Scott – are evident, and made accessible through central city walking trails. While it has yet to attract significant Antarctic tourism operations, Christchurch has arguably the most developed cultural sector of all Antarctic cities – perhaps only comparable to Hobart.

In 1992, the International Antarctic Centre – an education and outreach facility – was opened in a precinct that includes the passenger terminals of Christchurch Airport and the New Zealand Antarctic programme offices. The city also hosts the NZ IceFest – a public festival celebrating all things Antarctica. And since 2016, it houses a new Antarctic Office tasked with developing plans to become a world-leading research hub.

Christchurch has a long history of Antarctic exploration. Image: P. Stalder/creative commons.

Hobart

Hobart (population 225,000) was founded in 1803, also as a penal colony. It’s Australia’s second-oldest capital city after Sydney.

It has the most complete infrastructure of any gateway city, hosting the largest critical mass of Antarctic scientists and scholars anywhere in the world with world-class research and education institutions. This is the result of a decision made in 1981 to move the Australian Antarctic Program to Hobart from Canberra, which in hindsight marked an economic and cultural turning point for both the city and the state of Tasmania.

In the early 1990s, the local government created the Tasmanian Polar Network, which represents the considerable Antarctic and Southern Ocean business and science sector. Hobart’s claim to its gateway status is logistical, economic and scientific (primarily for the French and Chinese Antarctic programmes).

In the Southern Hemisphere summer of 2011-12, Hobart hosted a range of big cultural events celebrating the centenary of Antarctic expeditions by Sir Douglas Mawson and Roald Amundsen. Today, the city’s gateway status is also increasingly shored up by heritage tourism: a growing list of polar tourist attractions including permanent museum exhibitions and a new Australian Antarctic Festival launched in 2016.

Hobart, Australia. Image: creative commons.

Cape Town

Cape Town (population 3.8m) has a completely different history to the other four gateway cities. Founded in 1652 as a key site in the commercial route between Europe and the East Indies, Cape Town is an order of magnitude bigger than the next largest gateway and is one of the most multicultural cities in the world.

Situated further from Antarctica than the other cities, Cape Town sees its potential in building up research and logistics services, and in being closer to both European tourist-generating regions and key national Antarctic programmes, such as those of Russia, Germany, Belgium, Norway and Japan.

Cape Town from above. Image: Aerialcam/creative commons.

International co-operation

Each of these cities has a complex relationship with the Antarctic that goes back hundreds of years. But they have only recently acquired international relevance as entry points for tourists and workers travelling to Antarctica.

A formal memorandum of understanding between the five cities was signed in 2009, binding them to explore the benefits of exchanging expertise about the continent. Nonetheless, a substantive relationship between them remains tenuous.

It is time we rethink both the outlook of these cities – not as five far-flung ports competing for the same northern hemisphere capital and investments, but as members of a network that can learn from and benefit each other.

The future of the Antarctic hangs in the balance and these cities have a key role to play in securing the future of this fragile continent.

A new approach is crucial. The cities should not just act as thoroughfares, but also as urban centres that embody the cosmopolitan values associated with Antarctic custodianship: international cooperation, scientific innovation, and ecological protection.

Through ecological stewardship, political cooperation, cultural vibrancy and economic prosperity – benefits that can be mutually reinforcing – these cities could change their future relationship with Antarctica, and each other.The Conversation

Juan Francisco Salazar is an associate professor in the School of Humanities & Communication Arts; Liam Magee a senior research fellow in digital media, and Paul James the professor of globalisation and cultural diversity at Western Sydney UniversityElizabeth Leane is an associate professor of English and the ARC Future Fellow at the University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Seville has built its entire public transport system in 10 years. How has it done?

Just another sunny day in Seville. Image: Claude Lynch.

Seville, the fourth largest urban centre in Spain, was recently voted Lonely Planet’s number one city to visit in 2018. The award made a point of mentioning Seville’s impressive network of bicycles and trams, but it neglected to mention that it’s actually their ten year anniversary. The city’s metro opened just two years later.

This makes now an excellent time to look back on Seville’s public transport network – especially because almost all of it was completed in the middle of the global financial crisis. So, is it a good model for modern public transport? Let’s find out.

Cycle Hire

Seville, like any good metropolis, features a cycle hire scheme: Sevici, which is a clever portmanteau of the words ‘Seville’ and ‘bici’, short for bicicleta, the Spanish for, you guessed it, bicycle.

The service, launched in 2007, is run as a public-private partnership. Users can pay a flat weekly fee of €13.33 (£11.81) for unlimited rentals, as long as all the journeys last 30 minutes or less. For the fanatics, there’s a year-long subscription for €33. This makes Sevici cheaper than the London equivalent (£90) but slightly more than that of Paris (€29).

However, the reason why the bike hire scheme has gained particular praise in recent years is down to Seville’s network of cycle paths, snaking around the town centre and into the suburbs. The sheer scale of the scheme, 75 miles of track in total, has prompted comparisons to Amsterdam.

But there is a meaningful distinction between the two cases. First, cycling culture is such a big deal for the Amsterdammers that it has its own Wikipedia page. In Seville, cycling culture is a growing trend, but one that faces an uphill struggle, despite the city’s flatness. Around half of the cycle paths are on a pavement shared by pedestrians; pedestrians often ignore that the space is designed specifically for cycles.

A Sevici station in the town centre. Image: Claude Lynch.

Surprisingly, cyclists will also find exactly the opposite problem: the fact that bicycles enjoy the privilege of so many segregated spaces mean that, if they dare enter the road, motorists are not obliged to show them the same level of respect – because why would they need to enter the road in the first place?

This problem is only compounded by the Mediterranean driving style, one that takes a more cavalier attitude to objects in the road than that of the northern Europeans. While none of this makes cycling in Seville a write-off – it remains the cycling capital of Spain – budding tourists should bear in mind that the cycle paths do not extend far into the old town proper, making them a utility, for the most part, for budding commuters.

Metro

The metro system in Seville consists of a single metro line that travels from Ciudad Expo in the west to Olivar de Quintos in the east. It has three zones, which create a simple and straightforward fare system, based on the number of journeys and number of “saltos” (jumps) between zones, and nothing more.

The need-to-know for tourists, however, is that only three of the metro stations realistically serve areas with attractions: Plaza de Cuba, Puerta de Jerez, and Prado de San Sebastian. Given that a walk between these is only a few minutes slower than by metro, it shows the metro service for what it is: a service for commuters coming from the west or east of town into the city centre.

Some of the behaviour on the network is worth noting, too. Manspreading is still dangerously common. There are no signs telling you to “stand on the right”, so people queue in a huff instead. Additionally, there is no etiquette when it comes to letting passengers debark before you get on, which makes things precarious in rush hour – or if you dare bring your bike on with you.

On the plus side, that’s something you can do; all trains have spaces reserved for bikes and prams (and they’re far more sophisticated than the kind you see on London buses). Trains are also now fitted with USB charging ports for your phone. This comes in addition to platform edge doors, total wheelchair access, and smart cards as standard. Snazzy, then – but still not much good for tourists.

Platform edge doors at Puerta Jerez. Image: Claude Lynch.

The original plan for Seville’s metro, launched in the 70s, would have had far more stations running through the city centre; it’s just that the ambitious plans were never launched, due in equal measure to a series of sinkholes and financial crises. The same kind of problems led to Seville’s metro network being opened far behind schedule, with expansion far down the list of priorities.

Still, the project, for which Sevillanos waited 40 years, is impressive – but it doesn’t feel like the best way to cater to an east-west slice of Seville’s comparatively small urban population of 1m. Tyne and Wear, one of the few British cities comparable in terms terms of size and ambition, used former railways lines for much of its metro network, and gets far more users as a result. Seville doesn’t have that luxury; or where it does, it refuses to use it in tandem.

You only need to look east, to Valencia, to see a much larger metro in practice; indeed, perhaps Seville’s metro wouldn’t look much different today if it had started at the same time as Valencia, like they wanted to. As a result, Seville´s metro ends up on the smaller side, outclassed on this fantastic list by the likes of Warsaw, Nizhny Novgorod, and, inexplicably, Pyongyang.

Seville: a less impressive metro than Pyongyang. Intriguing. Image: Neil Freeman.

Tramway

The tram travels from the high rise suburb-cum-transport hub of San Bernardo to the Plaza Nueva, in the south of the Seville’s old town. This route runs through a further metro station and narrowly avoids a third before snaking up past the Cathedral.

This seems like a nice idea in principle, but the problem is that it’s only really functional for tourists, as tram services are rare and slow to a crawl into the town centre, anticipating pedestrians, single tracks, and other obstacles (such as horse-drawn carriages; seriously). While it benefits from segregated lanes for most of the route, it lacks the raison d'être of the metro due to the fact that it only has a meagre 2km of track.

The tram travelling down a pedestrianised street with a bicycle path to the right. Image: Claude Lynch.

However, staring at a map long enough offers signs as to why the tram exists as it does. There’s no history of trams in Seville; the tracks were dug specifically for the new line. A little digging reveals that it’s again tied into the first plans for Seville’s metro, which aspired to run through the old town. Part of the reason the scheme was shelved was the immense cost brought about by having to dig through centuries-old foundations.

The solution, then, was to avoid digging altogether. However, because this means the tram is just doing the job the metro couldn’t be bothered to do, it makes it a far less useful service; one that could easily be replaced by a greater number of bike locks and, maybe, just maybe, additional horses.


So what has changed since Seville’s transport revolution?

For one thing, traffic from motor vehicles in Seville peaked in 2007 and has decreased every year since, at least until 2016. What is more promising is that the areas with the best public transport coverage have seen continued decreases in traffic on their roads, which implies that something is working.

Seville’s public transport network is less than 15 years old. The fact that the network was built from scratch, in a city with no heritage of cycling, tunnels, or tramways, meant that it could (or rather, had to) be built to spec. This is where comparisons to Amsterdam, Tyne and Wear, or any other city realistically fall out of favour; the case of Seville is special, because it’s all absolutely brand new.

As a result, it’s not unbecoming to claim that each mode of transport was built with a specific purpose. The metro, designed for the commuter; the tramway, for tourists; and cycling, a mix of the two. In a city with neither a cultural nor a physical precedent of any kind for such radical urban transportation, the outcome was surprisingly positive – the rarely realised “build it, and they will come”.

However, it bears mentioning that the ambitious nature of all three schemes has led to scaling back and curtailment in the wake of the economic crisis. This bodes poorly for the future, given that the Sevici bikes are already nearing the end of their lifetime, the cycle lanes are rapidly losing sheen, and upgrades to the tramway are downright necessary to spare it from obsolescence.

The conclusion we can draw from all this, then, appears to be a double-edged one. Ambition is not necessarily limited by a lack of resources, as alternatives may well present themselves. And yet, as is so often the case, when the money stops, so do the tracks.

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