Young Generation of Tajikistan and students at the University of Arkansas collaborate to set out their vision for sustainable urban mobility in Dushanbe

Active Travel and Healthy Streets, News, Tajikistan

Throughout 2021, with the support of EASST and the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Road Safety Grant Programme, our partners in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have been working to empower young people as future advocates for road safety and sustainable mobility – focusing on mobilising young people to promote active travel (walking and cycling) as a viable safe, healthy and sustainable alternative to car travel.

A key element of our collaboration has involved consulting young people through surveys, focus groups, and the use of art to better understand their experiences and perceptions of road safety and active mobility, and learn what might be preventing them from making a more permanent switch away from cars.

Young people are a vital stakeholder group, making up 70% of the population of Tajikistan, but are often not consulted nor involved in decision-making, especially when it comes to road safety, sustainability, road infrastructure, and urban planning. As members of the Global Youth Coalition for Road Safety, promoting meaningful youth participation on issues of road safety and sustainable urban mobility is an area that our EASST partners the Young Generation of Tajikistan (YGT) are keen to address.

The innovative use of art as a means of engaging young people in issues of road safety and sustainability was inspired by the work of Dr Carl Smith of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas. Dr Smith’s work focuses on assessing public attitudes toward urban landscapes through the use of drawing to record and document public and personal responses to changing places.[1] Through his own design practice, WORTH, Dr Smith has led creative tactical urbanism projects with University of Arkansas students and local community members in Fayetteville, Arkansas and in Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia. His approach to design frames public places as liveable areas of human experience, memory, and aspiration.

As part of our project with YGT in Dushanbe, we reached out to Dr Smith who agreed to deliver a WORTH workshop aimed young people in the city to gain a better understanding of how their perceptions of urban traffic and safety impact on the liveability of their neighbourhoods and everyday mobility.

With the support of Dr Smith and students at the University of Arkansas we held a workshop with 30 Tajik students at the American Space and Makerspace in Dushanbe where we were able to gather information to help us identify opportunities for local action that will shift the emphasis to cyclist and pedestrian safety and experience, and away from traffic capacity.

As one participant said: “Our area belongs more and more to cars! It’s a city of cars! Some people work and live not far away. They don’t need cars … we spend so much time for a little distance, but you have to go around it to get to the right place.”

However, infrastructure and city planning in the city is currently directed at increasing mobility for car travel and does not yet prioritise the needs of vulnerable road users and liveability.

As a separate exercise, therefore, students in Arkansas worked collaboratively with young people in Dushanbe to develop conceptual designs, based on NACTO urban design principles, setting out their vision for sustainable urban planning and mobility in Dushanbe.

The exercise focused on hypothetical tactical interventions to provide temporary, low-cost improvements based on the findings of the workshops – with additional input from YGT on local conditions and feasibility. In December, they presented their re-imagining of the 82nd District area around Sakhovat Bazaar in Dushanbe. The designs focused on walkability, pedestrian safety, connection, ecology, and the corner condition itself, proposing a concept that not only puts individuals first, but that also allows for the intermingling of commerce and multi-modal transportation. A dedicated bus lane, consolidated parking, and light rail were all included within the existing right of way.

While this was a theoretical exercise, it has been an integral element of our wider project and has served to demonstrate the value of stakeholder engagement and youth consultation. It shows that safety and liveability are not at odds with economic development, rather that these qualities in an urban landscape can improve economic activity.

Using the same principles, our partners, the National Automobile Club of Uzbekistan in collaboration with Young Generation of the World, in Tashkent, Uzbekistan also organised work shops hosted by a local artist for 55 young people from the Tashkent Transport University and Tashkent Architectural Institute. The workshops offered the opportunity for young people in the city to share their ideas and visions for safer roads, especially with regards to cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.

In Dushanbe, the project has already captured the attention of local authorities who have proposed plans to introduce safe cycle infrastructure in the city. With the support of YGT, we will be exploring this opportunity more in 2022.