Race and Place: How Urban Gondolas Address Segregation

Austin is the United States’ number one economically segregated large metro area. Within it, race and poverty are well-studied. The city has the 8th fastest growing poverty rate in the country with almost a quarter of its black and Latino populations living below that rising poverty level. Most minority citizens live in one common geographic location: east of I-35.

A Broken System

Buses serve as the main form of public transit in Austin, yet they are unpredictable and molasses-slow because of the city’s traffic. This is hardly a reliable method for time-sensitive, work-related commutes. Elizabeth Kneebone, a fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institute, confirms the reality of these limitations, explaining that, “part of the problem [with suburban poverty] is access to transit.” Currently, Austin’s public transportation only gets lower-income populations outside of the urban core to “about 12 percent of the region’s jobs in a 90 minute commute,” notes Kneebone.

A Modern Spin on an Old Solution

In the 30s, with the boom of electric power in transportation technology, urban gondolas were relegated to the recreational market, but recently they’re making a comeback in the public transportation sector in emerging markets. According to the Gondola Project, elevated cable cars have been implemented as public transit options in Mexico City; La Paz, Bolivia; Caracas, Venezuela; Medellín, Colombia; Ankara, Turkey; and Constantine, Algeria, among others.

Creating a More Connected and Equitable Austin

While Austin might not have Medellín’s degree of violence, it has similar access issues that Medellín’s poor faced before the gondola system was implemented. In the vein of Medellín, Austin’s disconnected communities could greatly benefit from the increased access that a system like The Wire would provide. Of course, there is no perfect solution: Austin’s isolation of minorities is at least as old as 1928, dating back to the city’s creation of its Negro District, and The Wire (or any other urban cable solution) is not going to fix segregation entirely or instantly.

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