(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 417: Policy Transfer in Southeast Asia
This week we’re joined by Dr. Dorina Pojani, Associate Professor of Urban Planning at the University of Queensland to talk about her book Planning for Sustainable Transport in Southeast Asia: Policy Transfer, Diffusion, and Mobility. We chat about how four different Southeast Asian cities are taking transportation ideas from other places and trying to deal with congestion and mobility.
You can find the book from Springer here.
Below is a full unedited transcript of the episode…
Jeff Wood (1m 23s):
Well, Dr. Dorina Pojani. Welcome to the Talking Headways podcast.
Dorina Pojani (1m 28s):
Thanks for having me.
Jeff Wood (1m 30s):
Well, thanks for being here. Before we get started, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Dorina Pojani (1m 33s):
I’m originally from Albania and I now work in Australia at the University of Queensland. But before landing down under, I made the round a little bit. I lived in the States for many years. I lived in different parts of Europe and that’s given me a pretty broad perspective of how transport works in different places and being based in the southern hemisphere. Now our closest neighbors, of course, are in Southeast Asia, so my research has been refocused in that region.
Jeff Wood (2m 7s):
And how did you get into this line of study, transportation, urban planning, those types of things? Like what was your first introduction to the topics?
Dorina Pojani (2m 15s):
Well, I was actually an architecture major as an undergrad, and then when I finished, I felt that I knew a fair amount of detail about buildings, but I did not have a very good understanding of the context of the urban context. I wasn’t able to provide really good advice when I was asked, well, what should we do about this park? Or how should this building relate to its neighbors? So I decided to sort of broaden my horizon and study urban planning instead. And in urban planning, I felt that one of the governing factors of the special layout of cities was transport.
Dorina Pojani (2m 55s):
So then I decided to study that more in depth for my PhD. So that was my trajectory, architecture, urban planning, transport.
Jeff Wood (3m 4s):
What made you wanna be an architect? Was it something that you saw when you were a kid? Was it something that interested you in the cities that you lived in? What was it that sparked
Dorina Pojani (3m 12s):
That? My mother is an architect.
Jeff Wood (3m 14s):
Oh, so you were brought into it. It was, yes. Not a choice. Yes. Well, I’m here to talk with you about your book, planning for Sustainable Urban Transport in Southeast Asia, policy Transfer Diffusion and Mobility. What caught you to start thinking about writing this book?
Dorina Pojani (3m 30s):
Well, traveling in the region, I felt that a lot of the cities there, they’re interesting culturally from the perspective of western visitor like me, but at this point in time, they’ve come to be defined by their traffic ingestion instead of their local culture, their monuments. You know, in the past, if you went to visit a city, you sort of have these landmarks kind of stuck in your mind afterwards. And I felt like in all these Southeast Asian big cities, what left the strongest impression on me was the congestion. So I felt that this was something that needed to be researched in depth because there are good solutions out there to reduce congestion and improve transport problems.
Dorina Pojani (4m 18s):
But why weren’t these cities implementing those? That’s what came to my mind. That’s, that was the big question. And it’s not as if cities in Southeast Asia are poor. If they were really poor, then it would be a different story. I would say, well, they simply like the finances to fix their problems, but that’s not the case. I mean, in these cities, people spend a fair amount of money on private transport. You know, they purchased cars, they purchased motorcycles, some cities, they’ve even implemented rail systems. So what’s happening? Why aren’t the solutions reaching these places? That’s what prompted the research.
Jeff Wood (4m 54s):
Another interesting thing about the book is the way that you’ve structured it. So it’s a series of interviews that you did, and a lot of the structure of the book is, you know, you laying out a topic and then having a quote from somebody local. And a lot of the interviews that you did were in the local language and through connections that you’d made talking to people. I’m wondering how that process worked in terms of, you know, finding people to talk about what was the importance of, of talking to locals and making sure that their voices were in in the book and thinking about this topic generally?
Dorina Pojani (5m 27s):
So researching the book wasn’t easy. I had to employ few work research assistants. Of course, due to the language barrier, it’s only the Philippines where English is wildly spoken. The other countries, including the book, I had to rely on local language. So there was a lot of translation involved, and I did make very heavy use of quotes in the book because I felt that it would’ve been unfair of me as a foreign commentators to write a book and talk about countries that are not my own without reporting things exactly as the locals said them. I mean, it’s still a translation process, so things might not be exactly as they said them, but at the very least I felt like I needed to use quotes.
Dorina Pojani (6m 16s):
So later on people could not say, well, who are you to come here and tell us how it works in our own country? By using quotes, I could say, well, it’s people in those countries that said those things. It was them that raised the issue of the huge amount of stress that transport causes in southeast Asian countries. It’s this huge undertaking, trying to get around the city. People feel as if they’ve achieved so much when they just go to two meetings per day. Once they get through two meetings, they feel like, oh, I’m, I’m already exhausted because of traffic. I sat in traffic for so long, I’m done.
Jeff Wood (6m 56s):
And it’s so interesting because you talk about, you know, wanting to have everything in their language, in their words. And it’s interesting that a lot of the book talks about the idea of policy transfer, trying to get people to adopt policies or taking in policies from other places, that a lot of the discussion is about expertise is about who has an more authoritative voice on the subject, who should we take from, who should we give to in terms of policy? That that’s a really interesting kind of undercurrent of the whole book as well.
Dorina Pojani (7m 25s):
It’s interesting because when I went into the research, it was very much in the back of my mind, the colonial history of this region. Out of the four countries that I researched, Thailand is the only one that’s not been a colony. All the other ones, the Philippines has been a colony, and Malaysia has been a colony, and Indonesia has been a colony. And so I thought maybe there are these longstanding colonial legacies. Maybe people are still looking at the metro, the colon metropolitan for ideas. But I found that not to be the case anymore. I mean, there are some sort of neo-colonial relationships that are being established, but one finding that I felt came through very strongly is that local experts are becoming much, much better at coming up with solutions.
Dorina Pojani (8m 18s):
They have information about the world. The internet has helped a huge amount there. Of course, most locals are included in a whole variety of international networks that they participate in, either via LinkedIn or even just Facebook, social media, Twitter and so on and so forth. They receive newsletters from a variety of of organizations. So they do have all the information that they need. So they’re starting to wean themselves from foreign technical assistance. The problem, the big problem that I found in the region is implementation. So knowledge is there, but things are not happening on the ground.
Jeff Wood (9m 1s):
Yeah, and we’ll get to that in a bit. That’s another interesting topic for sure in the book. But the book focuses mainly on the idea of policy transfer as a field of study. I’m wondering exactly what is policy transfer, because I understand the theme and I understood what you were talking about, but I’m curious, you know, what exactly is policy transfer? Because the term itself is a little bit new to me.
Dorina Pojani (9m 23s):
Well, policy transfer, I mean, I have to say something that’s always happened, right? Countries have always looked at one another for inspiration. And before even getting to the international level, just think about it from a local perspective, say in the, I dunno, the, in the US in the San Francisco Bay area, there are the nine counties, they’re, I can guarantee that they all look at one another when they want to get something done. For example, they want to set up, I don’t know, a new parking policy, new parking documents. They probably most likely look at the next county to see how they’ve done theirs. And then they draw lessons from that report. So cities and counties at the local level do it, but then entire countries also try to transfer policies from other places.
Dorina Pojani (10m 9s):
In the past, at least in Western literature, policy transfer was understood as they this intentional process where people in one country decided to learn from another place. And so they sent perhaps a delegation of experts, they did a study tour, they drew some lessons, they wrote a report, and then they tried to implement those lessons in their place. Or there used to be this other type of policy transfer, which was total coercion. And that happened a lot in former colonies. So the center of a colonial empire would attempt to transfer their own bureaucracy, their whole bureaucratic apparatus in the case of England, for example, two various colonies to try and design the colonies their government system in the model of England.
Dorina Pojani (11m 0s):
So that’s a typical example. France has done something similar with their own colonies, but we can see the French education system, for example, being sort of replicated around the world now, it’s a different kind of situation. There is this shift more towards what’s called in the trade policy diffusion, the kind transfer that happens more so organically, bio osmosis ideas kind of spreading from place to place at the same time with no clear direction. So that’s where we’re at in this field of study.
Jeff Wood (11m 36s):
Well, what’s interesting, you take a lot of theories for policy transfer from the different disciplines, so like political science and geography, but what does policy transfer mean specifically in the topic of transport and mobility for that matter?
Dorina Pojani (11m 49s):
Well, it’s interesting you picked up on that because in planning we often say that we like to borrow or perhaps even steal from the theories of other fields. So in planning, we employ sociological theories or organizational theories. We borrow a lot from geography or psychology even. So that’s quite typical in planning. In transport specifically, what might policy transfer policy learning involve? Well, let’s say country wants to implement bus rapid transit system, buses trying to look like a metro system, having their own right of way, their own segregated lane on the road.
Dorina Pojani (12m 33s):
And then general superior design and superior level of service. This sounds simple when I say it, but in fact it’s a very, very complex technology to implement in cities. So IFC wants to do that. Most likely they’ll need help. And because this is still not that all the technology, it’s likely that the help will have to come from abroad. They’ll have to find a set of experts from abroad that have the kind of knowledge to make that happen locally. So that’s one case of policy transfer in planning. So this is an intentional policy transfer where you have to go and look for experts, maybe even issue a call for a tendering process and hire an international firm to advise you on how to do b t.
Dorina Pojani (13m 23s):
But we also have the case of say the bike sharing systems. Those have not been transferred so intentionally, however, they seem to have cropped up everywhere. We’re now at a stage where it seems like if you are some kind of self-respecting city, let’s say a city that has the aspiration to global city status, then you have to have a bike sharing system. And more recently an e scooter sharing system.
Jeff Wood (13m 52s):
It’s interesting, you know, we talk about transferring policies for these types of systems, bus, rapid transit, light rail, metro, bike share, all kinds of transportation, safety projects, road building, even a lot of the discussion is in Southeast Asia, but I’m curious what people are trying to solve for, and you mentioned at the top of the show you mentioned congestion, right? That’s the big issue. But in order to want somebody else’s policies, you’re trying to solve for something, is it the congestion or is it something else bigger that they’re trying to make better?
Dorina Pojani (14m 22s):
It’s the congestion that’s a huge problem. Having experienced myself, this is not knowledge I’ve acquired from books. I mean, I’ve actually been to the countries that I’ve studied and congestion does cause a whole lot of stress locally and accessibility as well. And it’s really perverse with transport because in these countries, incomes have gone up and with incomes going up, a lot of things have improved in society. For example, all the countries in Southeast Asia have better education systems now and better healthcare. Some of them are even having the so-called healthcare tourism when people go to Thailand to get cheaper healthcare from the United States even.
Dorina Pojani (15m 7s):
But as these other sectors have improved, transport has gotten worse. So that’s the unfortunate reality of transport. So congestion is a problem, and then mobility has increased in these countries and motorization has increased meaning people are able to afford both cars and motorcycles more and more. Yet accessibility seems to have decreased. It takes people longer and longer to get to work or other destinations that they need to reach for leisure. And let’s say you’re outta necessity. So accessibility is another issue. And then it’s also all the externalities that come with transport, huge amounts of pollution, both air pollution and noise pollution as well, and greenhouse gases.
Dorina Pojani (15m 57s):
So the climate change issue. So that said, I mean these are big problems that are in search of solutions, but I mean one does see from time to time the situation where there are solutions in search problems, right? So one type of transfer transfer is driven by the so-called technology mongers. So oftentimes western firms or perhaps Japanese firms, they come from Asia itself that try to sell their technologies to other countries. And in the process they act as agents of transfer. Of course.
Jeff Wood (16m 35s):
That’s interesting. Also in the book, one of the things that I was reading, and I, I was kind of surprised by it a little bit, was one of the quotes from somebody, and I can’t remember which country it was in, but they were worried about philanthropic organizations in the United States, like the Rockefeller Foundation and Bloomberg and others who had come into the country because they believed that they were there to sell them technology, not from their firms necessarily, because those organizations don’t sell technology, but to create a situation where the United States could sell technology in the country. And I found that really fascinating because that’s never an idea that crossed my mind. But if the technology monism is something that is pervasive, that must be something that pops into people’s mind, even when philanthropic or you know, international organizations, you mentioned World Bank a lot and UN and, and a lot of those organizations as well, trying to kind of put their foot in the door so they can sell something, not so they can improve the local, you know, situation with congestion.
Dorina Pojani (17m 31s):
Exactly. And locals realized that, and please keep in mind that, like I said before, most countries in this region have suffered through rounds and rounds of colonization. So it’s expected there will be a little bit suspicious, right? There has been also this fatigue with policy transfer efforts driven by these international organizations that you mentioned. So it’s natural that they’ll be a bit suspicious, right? And they’ll feel that any advice that comes from abroad will have some strings attached. So often when they hear someone is coming there to present them new technology or a new idea, they’re like, well, where’s the catch?
Dorina Pojani (18m 13s):
Are they trying to sell us something? How can we follow the money here to find out was the ultimate purpose of this presentation that were given.
Jeff Wood (18m 23s):
I was also interested in the flows of policy transfer. So which countries, cities that you’ve talked about. So the cities in the book are Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Manila, and Bangkok. And so the flow of where policy transfer could come from. So is it rich countries? Is it rich cities, is it poorer countries? Like who’s on the hierarchy? It seems like there’s a naturally created hierarchy in people’s minds in those countries about who you can take information from and who you can’t or who you shouldn’t or who you don’t want to, because maybe they’re less than, which is unfortunate because you can learn something from everybody. But I, I found that interesting too, these hierarchies that exist in the region.
Dorina Pojani (19m 4s):
Of course. Well you know how it’s become a bit of a cliche out to say that we’re experiencing the fall of the west and the rise of the rest, right? That’s true to some extent. I mean, I already mentioned that local experts are more and more empowered, they’re much more knowledgeable. A lot of them have trained abroad, they’ve returned to their home countries. So they know quite a lot. I mean what’s, but what’s happening, they’re knowledge is not the province of particular places anymore. However, I found through my own research that you still need to be a wealthy country for people to look up to you.
Dorina Pojani (19m 43s):
That’s the unfortunate reality of the world we live in. We live in a capitalistic world, many talks. So it tends to be wealthier countries that are cast as policy lenders as the best policy lenders. The difference is that if in the past the west was the only region that was wealthy and therefore considered as wealthy of looking to for inspiration and transfer, now Asia itself is becoming wealthier and wealthier. So there is Japan of course they provide a lot of policy advice to other Asian countries who are Asian countries.
Dorina Pojani (20m 28s):
But then South Korea is getting up there as well. Singapore is huge in Southeast Asia. A lot of countries look to Singapore especially because they’ve seen the rise of Singapore itself, say up until the sixties, Singapore was not all that different from the other Southeast Asian countries. And then it experiences meteoric rise then the neighbors, they remember that, right? They remember that. And then they say, we could be Singapore if we played our cards right. So it’s a very, very good example. Hong Kong, Taiwan as well. Those are great examples that neighbors in Southeast Asia look at.
Dorina Pojani (21m 9s):
And China’s becoming also more and more important only particular areas, perhaps not all of Chinese transporters as a model, but yeah, more and more. And part of it comes from the willingness of particular Asian countries to fund the technology or ideas exchange. So Japan spends a huge amount of funding through its international advisory agency, jica. So they’ll send experts to southeast Asian countries and they don’t even do it really in a fast and furious way the way the west used to do things in the past, the World Bank sending experts to various countries or the USA I d sending experts and expecting things to get resolved.
Dorina Pojani (22m 3s):
You know, in just a month Japanese are doing it in a bit more systematic way. They’ll send people for months and months, sometimes someone who sit with an organization create long-term relationships. They’ll do a lot of follow-ups, check whether the program has actually been implemented. And there is also the cultural similarities that perhaps make exchange with Japan easier or more desirable for Southeast Asia. I mean some people said that to me openly in in interviews. They said, you know, I like that we both have dark hair and dark eyes, meaning the policy course and the policy lenders.
Dorina Pojani (22m 48s):
And I mean I understand that, you know, cultural proximity brings comfort.
Jeff Wood (22m 53s):
There’s a lot of different ways, as you mentioned, that countries export their policy or try to export their policy. I found that really fascinating. The difference between, like you said, the Japanese who might come and sit in and be actually more likely to be long-term technical assistance versus the Germans in Siemens or somebody who might come in and be shorter term and and just try to sell a technology. I’m also interested, you know, in the US we also kind of have this problem of lacking benchmarks. We have money and we spend money on transportation and we have, you know, a way to appropriate it and send it to everywhere, but there’s never really a goal related to it. And so you have these areas in Southeast Asia with cities that have lots of congestion, but there aren’t necessarily any benchmarks.
Jeff Wood (23m 36s):
And so you send this technical assistance folks to come in and then they give you an idea. They might, you know, try to push you in one direction, but there’s no real way to figure, figure out whether the end result will be successful or not. And I found that really fascinating too in thinking about how it’s similar everywhere, obviously everywhere seems the same. We try to solve these problems like congestion, which are kind of nebulous and and and large and sometimes, you know, not really understandable, but we don’t have necessarily a way to measure whether it’s a success. So you might go in, you might spend all this money, you might, you know, change your political system or not in the end you’ve just spent a lot of money and maybe made new friends from people in other countries.
Jeff Wood (24m 18s):
But it’s interesting to think about that. I don’t know your thoughts on that ARB specifically, but the benchmarking, you know, what constitutes success when this policy is transferred is really fascinating to me.
Dorina Pojani (24m 28s):
I mean, look Jeff, this is a broader problem than Southeast Asia. I feel like a lot of countries implement transport policies that are completely gutless. There is this overreliance on technology hoping that technology will fix all of our problems, hoping that by replacing cars with conventional cars, with e cars, all the problems will go away. Or hoping that driverless cars will be the solution of the future. But I’m a radical myself. I mean, for me, the benchmark be the car pay city, why not? And no country is willing to even put that on the table.
Dorina Pojani (25m 11s):
No country is willing to sell city, even no city is willing to say, look, we’ll allocate half of our road space to bicycles and other micro mobility vehicles and only half will be, will be left for motorized vehicles and it’ll be buses and cars having to share the motorized space. But we never see anything radical like that ever. So that’s part of the problem. I mean the solutions will get implemented, only scratch the surface every time, whether it’s in Southeast Asia or the United States for that matter.
Jeff Wood (25m 45s):
I think there’s two things that are really interesting about that. The first is the grass is always greener mentality. You know, oh, we see what’s going on in Japan and we like that you don’t have to have a car and you can get around on the train system and you know, business people take it to 10 meetings and we can only go to two meetings a day. But then there’s also the local kind of, I don’t wanna say lack of ambition cuz that’s not it. It’s more like, oh, England took 40 years to do their congestion cordon and we don’t, you know, we couldn’t do, that’s too long. There’s no real kind of spark of, of revolution I guess. Like you were mentioning being a radical to get where Singapore is, to get where Japan is because you know, it took so long and political structures aren’t there, et cetera. So, you know, I think people maybe get stuck in thinking that it’s not possible because of the hierarchies internally or the politics of the country that they’re sitting in.
Jeff Wood (26m 32s):
And it’s really interesting and somewhat sad. And it happens here too. I’m not saying it’s just Southeast Asia, obviously there’s folks that say, oh well we can’t do that because we are a car country, right? And so I think that that’s one of the, the interesting frustrating things. The grass is always greener, but also we could do it, but it would take a long time and a lot of work
Dorina Pojani (26m 49s):
Well in planning. I feel like for many, many years incrementalism has ruled the day. So the politics of modeling through things, maybe implementing some at ho policies here and there, just fixing things only when they’re broken. Not rocking the boat, trying to maintain the status quo for political reasons. But I think now that we face this existential crisis brought about by climate change, we actually all need to adopt more radical thinking. There is no other way around it.
Dorina Pojani (27m 29s):
We can’t expect to still apply 1950 solutions, car-based sort of solutions to the 21st century city. That’s just not going to work. I mean, we need to get past that as society, and I mean as human society, I don’t mean Southeast Asian society or trans society or US society. Humans just need to find different ways to get around cities that are larger and larger now and more and more congested and polluted.
Jeff Wood (28m 0s):
One of the quotes that I appreciated from one of the locals discussing with you transportation policy was they wanted to hear not just about the successes, but the failures and the ideas get passed along. And like you said on the internet in in books, in, you know, shiny pamphlets and things like that of the final result. But they wanted to know, a, the process, but also B wanted to know how something failed. So there was somebody who went to Melbourne and looked at their bike share who, which I, I guess spectacularly failed, I’m not super familiar, but it seemed like that was the, in the intonation of that, did you get a lot of that where people were like, oh, I wanna look at failures, not just successes?
Dorina Pojani (28m 39s):
Yes, most of the time I have to say, people do want to look at successes. Innovation and success is attractive. I guess as humans, that’s what we’re required to aspire to look at the greener grass on the other side, like, like you were saying before. But there were some people that were willing to dig deeper and they expressly said that failure was just as important as success in the learning process. And that’s an issue we see not just in transport and in policy transfer processes, but it’s a broader problem in science and scientific publications where studies that report positive results, good results get published and the ones with negative results just get shelved.
Dorina Pojani (29m 25s):
So that’s a broader issue. That’s how the world thinks that only positive stuff measures and yes, we need to get past that. I mean we, we need to learn about failures as well. And you mentioned the case of Melbourne. Yes. The first bike share scheme there, the dock list bike share scheme failed cause of the vandalism. So it got launched with quite a lot of fanfare, but then the city started to find these bikes hanging on trees and at the bottom of the river and blocking pathways. So then they had to, to stop the scheme. For other cities, it was important to know all of that because eventually then solutions were invented to the problem of vandalism.
Dorina Pojani (30m 9s):
For example, Singapore came up with this geofencing system, which is an invisible fence around the bike, which forces you to park in the correct places rather than just dump a bike in public space and litter.
Jeff Wood (30m 24s):
I feel like there’s a lot of bikes at the bottom of rivers around the world. Dallas had a similar problem. People vandalizing bikes, obviously it’s not necessarily a Melbourne problem, but it’s an international issue.
Dorina Pojani (30m 35s):
Absolutely. I mean congestion is an international issue as well,
Jeff Wood (30m 39s):
Of course. Well there’s a lot of discussion about international investment and mentioned earlier, you know, the World Bank in UN and others. Are these seen as positive organizations to these cities in terms of the policy transfer, in terms of what they’re bringing to these countries and the ideas that they’re bringing or even the money that they’re bringing?
Dorina Pojani (30m 59s):
There are different levels of acceptance of international assistance. I feel like in the region I studied the Philippines was still more dependent on international bias. Manila, the capital of Philippines is the headquarters of the Asian Development Bank that has very strong transport sector that provides advice not just in the Philippines but throughout the region. So they seem to be still very reliant on the A, d B. The other countries, they were more critical of international assistance because they’ve had a fair amount of it throughout the years and they realize that sometimes it has worked, but other times it hasn’t worked so well.
Dorina Pojani (31m 50s):
And often it has come at a cost to, for example, locals felt that they’ve spent so much time explaining the local culture to the foreign advisors that there was almost like all this emotional labor that they had to take on to make things work for the international advisor. And that was stuff they weren’t getting paid for of course. So some of them were not willing to do that so much anymore. They were less fascinated with foreigners. I guess
Jeff Wood (32m 22s):
I was also interested to hear that major outside investors don’t want to deal with urban transport issues, city transport issues. They’d rather go and build a road somewhere because of, you know, maybe it’s be a better payback in terms of the money that they get back, they get tolls or something along those lines. Is there any pushback on these ideas? You know, the ideas that are kind of generally more neoliberal in their, in their implementation, in their approach than say some of the just, we’re here to try to ease congestion. Our cities should do this even if it doesn’t make money.
Dorina Pojani (32m 51s):
Yeah, it’s a complex issue. I mean, if things don’t make money then they don’t get implemented. That’s a general sense I got from the research. Cities are very complex settings for investors because, well let’s, let’s take the example of rail, right? You’re going into a city, mega city, southeast Asian, mega city, and you want to implement rail. That means that you have to appropriate a lot of properties all along the route that you’re going to to select. And some people will be at the loss people who have lived in those areas for, for a long time. So then you need to compensate all those people.
Dorina Pojani (33m 32s):
But some will not accept even market level compensation because they’re emotionally attached to their home or their property or whatever they have. So these processes can take a very long time in more authoritarian context like Singapore for example, and perhaps even Hong Kong, some extent the states could sort of enhance and make things happen quickly in China as well. But there are countries in Southeast Asia that have a longstanding tradition of market and not public participation, but I should say rights of property owners.
Dorina Pojani (34m 12s):
Thailand is one of those countries where people can say no to selling their property. And so then that can Indonesia is the same. So then processes can drag on for years and years and investors aren’t willing to to wait that long sometimes. That’s why it’s good if the government is involved in this processes enact the, as a coordinator, it’s one reason why things happen easier in European countries that have this tradition of public land ownership, say places like Amsterdam or Helsinki or even Vienna, the municipalities themselves own quite a lot of the urban land and they can use it for transport projects more easily.
Dorina Pojani (34m 59s):
It’s the land ownership is very fragmented then it takes ages to get anything done.
Jeff Wood (35m 5s):
Yeah, I mean it, it makes sense. And that’s, you know, one of the things here also, you know, alignments and things that seem like some of the countries, the production and construction of, of transit projects was what’s easy, not what’s useful. And I think that’s a frustrating thing here in the United States as well. What was the most interesting interview you did for this book?
Dorina Pojani (35m 23s):
Most interesting interview. I couldn’t say. I think they were all very interesting and they all provided sort of a different piece of the puzzle.
Jeff Wood (35m 34s):
Was there anybody that stood out? Was there any response that stood out to you?
Dorina Pojani (35m 38s):
Perhaps the one that I quoted at the very beginning of the book, someone that was very, very frustrated at the local transport with someone in Thailand. And he felt that transport was not just a technical issue, was something that was actually affecting the physical and mental health of the population. So I quoted this person in at length because I felt that he was truly expressing what many, many people feel in those countries. That’s how I felt too when I visited actually
Jeff Wood (36m 15s):
Just kind of a drain. Yes, from the traffic and the, the congestion.
Dorina Pojani (36m 20s):
Yes, exactly. I’ve heard that a drain and an overwhelm. And I want to reiterate, I mean these are beautiful places. Like you go to Bangkok and it has this wonderful monuments, it just takes ages to get to those places. Transport makes life very, very difficult.
Jeff Wood (36m 39s):
You also mentioned a conflict between planners and engineers in these cities, and I thought that that was interesting as well. And you kind of hinted at it in your discussion of your own journey in life from being an architect to wanting to know more about urban planning. I’m curious how that affects how things are done and how policies get transferred to and from these places.
Dorina Pojani (36m 59s):
Well look, transport historically, not just in Southeast Asia, but in other places, has been dominated by engineers. It’s only in the past few decades that things are changing more in favor of planners who care about things like quality of life, the psychology of transport, aesthetics and so on. As opposed to focusing just on hard infrastructure, traffic flows, et cetera, et cetera. So there is that legacy still happening in those places and in some cases it stands in the way of transport sustainability, I have to say.
Jeff Wood (37m 37s):
What did you get out of the book? Obviously you took away everything in the book because you wrote it and shared it, but is there anything specific that you know, felt new or stood out to you that you took away after writing this?
Dorina Pojani (37m 49s):
I felt that because of the cultural tradition of this region, I mean we’re talking about a hierarchical region and also patriarchal region to some extent, very dominated by men and engineers and these social hierarchies with sort of powerful men on top running the place as a feminist scholar, I would like to destroy those hierarchies, but then realistically I understand that’s not possible. One has to sort of go with the grain to make things happen. So one takeaway for people that go in the region to provide advice or to work in the region is to get on board as soon as possible.
Dorina Pojani (38m 38s):
Powerful local politicians, that’s very important. If projects don’t have a patron, someone that will speak up for them, say on a rail project or maybe even a bicycle lane, if the local mayor or the local governor or some powerful council member doesn’t support that project, it simply will not happen. So that’s the first step. Projects need to be sold to powerful politicians, maybe in terms that are as simple as do this and this will make you famous, you’ll just be entered. That’s
Jeff Wood (39m 15s):
Dorina Pojani (39m 15s):
Have to sell it, huh? Planning. Yes. Yes. That’s the way to sell it. I mean, you’ll be entered in the urban planning books forever and you’ll be written up in the international newspapers that that could be a way to sell things. And some of the countries, they even have traditional rulers, like Indonesia has this dual system. I mean they, they have the government similar to the west, but then some regions, they have a soan as well that has a lot of local power. Maybe it’s not formal power, but might have a lot of informal power of a traditional power and the population. So those kinds of people need to be brought on board. However, there is a caveat.
Dorina Pojani (39m 58s):
If a project hinges on the power of a single individual, that means that the project faces the risk of being discontinued, should that individual or out of favor. And that happens too, individual, you can be a very powerful governor and then you can be bloated out, you can end up in jail. Even sometimes there, there have been cases. So there is that risk as well. Yeah. So to deal with that risk, there needs to be a buy-in by the local population as well, so that once a project has been pushed, a sustainable transport project, it’ll be supported broadly by the local population.
Dorina Pojani (40m 45s):
So that if, when, when, if that politician disappears from the scene, then the people demand it.
Jeff Wood (40m 52s):
Yeah, well I thought, you know, in reading the book, it didn’t feel like it was just about Southeast Asia. It felt like it was about us generally around the world. And so I, I really appreciated that. I, I love learning about Southeast Asia. I don’t know very much about it. So it’s good to learn, especially from the local experts, what they’re thinking and what works and what doesn’t work. But I found that there was a lot of interesting tidbits that I think that everybody else can follow. I also like the structure that you set up. So the sixties drives why people are doing it. Drivers who was doing it, description of what was happening, direction of transfer, which way it was going from who and to where the deterrents, which kept things from actually happening. And finally, you know, how much things were actually getting implemented, the degree of transfer.
Jeff Wood (41m 34s):
I think the structure can be used by everyone. Obviously it’s, it’s something that you’ve set up for this topic of policy transfer. It’s something that can be used by everybody. And so I think that’s really great too. What’s been the response so far? What have people shared with you about reading it and digesting it?
Dorina Pojani (41m 49s):
It’s been very, very important for me to check with people from Southeast Asia itself and ask them whether the book resonates or not, is that foreigners have read it. And they found it fascinating. They felt like they, they learned a lot from it, but it was super important to me to make sure that locals found founded relevant as well. And they felt like it truly reflected what’s happening in their countries as opposed to some foreigner coming there and, you know, telling them what they’re like. That that would be very arrogant and not very good at all. And that wasn’t my intention, but the response from local people has been very positive so far.
Dorina Pojani (42m 32s):
Anytime I’ve given a presentation to people either from Indonesia or Malaysia or the Philippines or Thailand, even other countries that were not included, Cambodia, Vietnam, and I’ve, I’ve asked them, well, do you feel like that’s how it works? Is the book telling the truth? And they’ve, they’ve said yes. They feel that’s exactly how things have been going. Sometimes they might share their own experiences if they were not people that were interviewed for the book, they’ll say, well I actually work for that organization as well. And that’s exactly how I felt when I worked there. So that, that’s been wonderful to hear that the book is a true representation of the scene of the ground.
Jeff Wood (43m 13s):
That’s awesome. Well, the book is Planning for Sustainable Urban Transport in Southeast Asia, policy Transfer, diffusion and Mobility, A focus on Policy transfer specifically. Where can folks find it if they wanna get a copy of the
Dorina Pojani (43m 25s):
Book? All the usual places? Amazon for the publisher itself. Springer
Jeff Wood (43m 30s):
Springer publisher. Yeah, the publisher’s probably best. It might be available at bookshop or other local bookstores if you ask for it. Where can folks find you if you wish to be found?
Dorina Pojani (43m 40s):
I’m all over the internet if they, if they search for me. Yeah, please do get in touch. If you have questions about the book or anything transport related, send me an email, uq edu au.
Jeff Wood (43m 57s):
Awesome. Well Dorina, thanks for joining us. We really appreciate your time.
Dorina Pojani (44m 0s):
Thanks for having me. It’s been great.