Yazmin Viramontes – Founder and Director of CAMINA Mexico
An architect by profession Yazmin is an expert in creating people friendly cities in Mexico, leading as the General Director of CAMINA – Center for Pedestrian Mobility Studies A.C in Mexico; and an instructor in the new Master’s programme in Public Space Master’s programme in Public Space and Mobility at the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM). She won the ‘Walking Visionaries Award’ at Walk21 Vienna in 2015, in 2016 she lead Mexico’s participation at the Venice Architecture Biennale with the “Tactical Urbanism Manual – Camina_kit” and coordinated the ‘Street Manual: Road Design for Mexican Cities’ whilst at ITDP Mexico.
As founder and Director of Camina (walk – in Spanish), the pedestrian NGO in Mexico, what do you think are the key features of a walking friendly city and why is it an important element of sustainable cities?
I think the key features of a walking friendly city have three scales:
- Point – intersections, pedestrian crossings, pedestrian corners, transport connections
- Line – sidewalk experience, journeys, public spaces net, street plinths
- Zone – density, pedestrian and cyclist net, economy, transport, zoning
In each scale the important thing is to care about the details of the key features of a walking friendly city as: safety, comfort and enjoyment (as Jan Gehl says). For example, if we are planning to build a complete street or a pedestrian crossing, we have to always have the human scale in our head. That means: to remember the inverted pyramid of mobility where the pedestrian is the first in the hierarchy, but also the context in latinamerican cities.
This is an important element for sustainable cities because it starts with promoting a form of transportation like walking or cycling instead of using a car. Each decision we make is taken by the incentives and disincentives the city offers. For example, in Luxembourg you don’t have to pay for public transport, or in London they apply a congestion charge zone, and in Sao Paulo, they have a diagonal pedestrian crossing with a permanently red light for cars and allows the pedestrian to cross anywhere in that intersection. These kind of initiatives are great incentives to not using the car for transportation and we can be creative for implementing them in all latinamerican cities with different social context.
What impact is the current covid-19 situation having, and might have in the future for pedestrian issues in Mexican cities?
In my opinion, this pandemic lets us notice, again, how bad the conditions of streets in Mexican cities are for pedestrians and cyclists; and at the same time, shows us which people in the government are really willing to change this reality. In Mexico for example, the national government is promoting a “healthy distance” if you have to leave your house and meet with municipalities in order to share strategies to implement different projects during the current covid-19 situation. But it is hard to change some people’s ideas about how active mobility needs more space on the streets. That is why I keep supporting and promoting Tactical Urbanism projects, because there is still a lot to do in Mexican cities.
I think we are in a big moment of change, in all aspects, and that should make us hurry to develop with creativity and intelligence, better conditions for people who walk or cycle. Also, we have to stop thinking we are on our own in this big task and try to work together in a multidisciplinary way and between intersectoral levels.
Please share with us the aims and objectives of Camina and the types of work and impact that Camina has had in Mexico to create more sustainable cities?
In CAMINA, our Vision is to transform cities to encourage displacement on foot.
CAMINA Center for Pedestrian Mobility Studies A.C. is a non-profit organization, with an interdisciplinary team committed to improving pedestrian environments, and creating strategies that encourage more people to walk safely, efficiently and comfortably.
We work with the public and private sector, non-governmental organizations, civil associations, and with people who interact directly with the urban environment.
At CAMINA we research, design and create projects focused on improving the relationship that exists between the individual and the built and social environment. Our Vision is to transform cities to encourage displacement on foot.
CAMINA specializes in:
- Redesigning streets based on the new paradigm of mobility where active mobility is prioritized.
- Designing and implementing behavioral, cognitive and attitudinal research projects on pedestrian-built phenomena with quantitative and qualitative approaches.
- Using tactical urbanism strategies to test and socialize experimental projects in public space. This involves redesigning spaces temporarily to demonstrate how long-term visions can be achieved. These exercises help citizens visualize what an equitable and safe design would look like.
- Designing and implementing participatory design and efficient communication strategies between urban dwellers and road and public space consultants.
- Developing workshops for decision-makers, companies, organizations and students interested in improving their urban environment, enabling walking and road safety in their cities.
Since 2016, we have worked on 20 projects across the three scales I mentioned. We have worked with municipalities, the private sector, universities and local communities on specific projects. In each project we have showed how changes in infrastructure generates different behaviours that benefit pedestrians.
How would you rate the walking environment in Mexican Cities on average? What works well and also how could it be improved?
I think I would rate the current walking environment in Mexican Cities as very low. First of all, people keep dying on the streets because of the lack of pedestrian safety infrastructure. Secondly, in every journey we make, we can recognize how the city is aggressive towards the pedestrian – when we find holes, ramps for cars in the middle of sidewalks and obstacles everywhere we walk.
Just to give an example, using the Pedestrian Crosswalk Safety Index (PCSI) we evaluated 500 pedestrian crossings on primary roads in Mexico City and the results were horrible. 91.3% of the pedestrian crossings are not safe in Mexico City.
The PCSI is a tool that allows the evaluation of the various aspects of the quality and safety of pedestrian crossings located on primary roads in Mexico City, allowing the government to focus interventions on the most dangerous and underdeveloped crossings. This index has been published by the Pan American Journal of Public Health Review and on the project’s web page.
You trained as an architect and previously worked for ITDP, how do you use your urban design skills and knowledge in your work at Camina?
As an architect, I am passionate about human scale design in every project. I am convinced that public spaces can inspire us. With my experience working in ITDP Mexico I was involved in designing public policy and regulations that led to the changes Streets in Mexico needed.
As a professional in my work at CAMINA I always try to understand the context of every street in order to improve the street design. That means that sometimes I need to manage the relationship between local people and politicians so that we can study the street using different methodologies.
In CAMINA we encourage planners, architects, and engineers to get out on the streets, observe and listen to the people who live in the places and put at their fingertips the necessary tools to redesign the streets with their own materials. In addition, we are developing strategies to redesign streets with the help of the community involved in public spaces. The objective is to communicate one of the principal points of road safety: a better street design rises all users’ safety.
What do you think cities around the world can learn from Mexico about promoting walking and becoming more sustainable urban areas?
In my opinion, cities around the world can learn from the creativeness and innovation in daily things that we have to employ in Mexico to solve problems on our streets. Our economy and lack of norms applied to public spaces demands us to learn quickly from our mistakes and define public spaces according to the context we live in.
What in your opinion is the greatest challenge, and corresponding solution, for Cities around the world to become more sustainable?
I would definitely say that ORGANIZATION and MANAGEMENT are the greatest challenges. We already have the knowledge in our hands, and in most cases we don’t apply the solutions due to the interests of few people.
The first thing to do is to keep spreading the knowledge to the people who have the tools and who are making decisions about cities. Secondly, apply this knowledge as soon as we can in order to stop people dying in the streets.
How do you see sustainable transport in Mexico changing and improving in the future?
In my opinion, sustainable transport needs more research in the context of Mexico. So, I think that sustainable transport in Mexico will change if we keep learning from mistakes. For example, we can look at the mistakes in the construction of raised highways for cars or highways besides rivers or the replacement of roads.
We need the government in every municipality in Mexico to spend more money on sustainable transport. In addition, in every urban sustainable transport project, there has to be improvements made in connection with pedestrian spaces in all of them.
While this happens, we have to keep fighting for every pedestrian crossing and every sidewalk to be free of obstacles and holes and make them safe enough for people to want to keep walking in Mexico.