By Rami Sarafa
How individuals respond to large-scale projects is a core consideration for developers. Real estate, infrastructure and transit projects aimed at creating greater efficiency and savings can seem ideal as blueprints, but necessarily in practice. It’s essential for the curators of a given project to incent and educate constituents in order to shape behaviors or a new style of living; this approach is especially essential in pursuing large-scale projects that strive to provision for future generations. The Dharavi case study is an example of how developers must consider particular needs/desires, while hopefully incenting individuals to live differently than how they’re accustomed.
A particularly salient example is the potential development (or redevelopment) of a country’s transit system. Such projects are only as successful as its potential beneficiaries allow it to be. One case example I’ve personally witnessed is the construction of the metro in the emirate of Dubai. In theory, the project’s massive cost should be offset by time, environmental and financial savings given the state’s busy highways and streets. However, the system has primarily attracted tourists and joyriders rather than actually serving as a transit alternative for Dubai’s motorists. Individuals still prefer to expend resources (i.e. petrol money, time) fo the convenience of driving. Individuals have also smirked at the prospect of being in crowded trains with strangers (especially cross-gender) given the state’s Arab-Islamic identity.
Dubai has pursued some policies that have been effective and others that are unsuccessful. One retroactive measure the government has pursued is installing automated tolls on the city’s major highways to disincentive drivers and promote public transport. However, this measure has had little impact on motorists who live in one of the wealthiest states in the world. The project designer’s integration of different cabins by class (premium vs. economy) and gender-segregation has been more successful. For instance, work commuters can use Wi-Fi in the premium class, which takes into account their specific needs/wants. Since the metro line is still limited in terms of breadth, shuttles connect metro stations to other parts of the cities. But because these shuttles were the same design as public-city buses (which traditionally only blue collar workers utilized), wealthier individuals did not want to take them. Distinctly designed, metro shuttles now connect the stations, which has helped encourage use. Such lessons are now being applied to the second and third phases of the project, which are aimed at provisioning for future decades.
Dubai metro is an example of how understanding and alignment (or lack thereof) can be a principal determinant of whether a project is successful or not. It is not enough to simply rely on factors of convenience or cost to encourage behavior. Policymakers should seek to understand the unique needs of individuals before committing to major projects. Allowing stakeholders to be part of the decision-making process can be a potential solution. Also, continuous learning and a flexible approach to a project help provision for unanticipated requirements.