Designed technological systems: the cases of urban transportation in Copenhagen and Bogotá

Andres Felipe Valderrama Pineda

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    Abstract

    Infrastructure development projects in cities have always been a critical, complex and highly controversial matter. Nonetheless, we increasingly count with the knowledge, the qualified workforce and the computational tools to cope with the uncertainties and complexities of large engineering projects modelling them as systems. And yet, the number of technical problems, safety and infrastructure failures, construction delays, cost overruns, start up defects and operation details tend to increase at a higher rate than our capability to solve them. It is as if sophistication in design and management met increasingly sophisticated problems. This phenomenon is due to the inherent non linear and complex character of large infrastructure systems that can not be grasped by the simplicity paradigms which support our decision making tools, even the most sophisticated. Thus, there exists the need to develop new complementary tools associated to the complexity paradigm in order to tackle not only closed (deterministic) and contained (probabilistic) change, but also open ended change (complex). But how can we achieve this goal? During the last ten years two innovations in urban transportation have been accomplished in two different parts of the planet: in the city of Bogotá, in Colombia, the first mass bus rapid transit system was designed, built and put into operation becoming the most visible icon of a great urban transformation of the 7 million inhabitants metropolis; in the city of Copenhagen, in Denmark, a driverless Metro was designed, built and put into operation to complement the existing train and bus service also transforming the entire functioning of this 1.5 million inhabitants city. The observation is straightforward: transportation projects transform cities. The paradoxical reality thus is that a problem that has been traditionally conceptualized in technical terms (transportation engineering, transportation economics, planning theory, traffic engineering, urban planning, etc.), has tremendous consequences in the life of cities and citizens. Thus a problem that is often outlined in technical terms is also a problem of political choice at different levels. Therefore, the challenge to face is how to bring together a comprehensive approach that takes into account policy making, community building and technical operation when discussing transportation projects in big cities. The tradition of Science and Technology Studies might have provided some clues. In the following paper we discuss the most prominent aspects of some theories in STS in order to understand and conceptualize the cases of Bogotá and Copenhagen. The theories at hand include the already classics: sociotechnical systems (Hughes), actor network theory (Callon, Latour, Law) and social construction of technology (Bijker, Pinch); but also other less known developments like the grid based system (Summerton) and the arenas of development (Jørgensen). The main idea underlying all this approaches is that cities and their support systems co-evolve in permanent interaction shaping one another. Thus, if change is to be produced in desired ways actions must be taken in all fronts to render a desired result. This paper is part of a PhD research project that will examine the transformations in transportation in the cities of Copenhagen, Denmark and Bogotá, Colombia within the last decade. The project is carried out at the Design and Innovation Research School, at the Technical University of Denmark. This space provides a rich interdisciplinary environment where the traditions of engineering, design and social sciences are combined with STS and other interdisciplinary efforts for education and research purposes.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication date2007
    Publication statusPublished - 2007
    EventLancaster Sociology Summer Conference - Lancaster, United Kingdom
    Duration: 1 Jan 2007 → …

    Conference

    ConferenceLancaster Sociology Summer Conference
    CityLancaster, United Kingdom
    Period01/01/2007 → …

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