Taking a train, whether it’s the Tube in London, the Metro in Paris, or the “el” in Chicago, is not just public transportation—it’s a bit of culture, too. Violin players, brass bands, and acrobats provide spontaneous cultural experiences for transport patrons. Hallways are adorned with advertisements for concerts, plays, and other events. Being in a train station tells you what is happening in a city without going online. Even the entry ways are an opportunity to engage–think of the Abbesses stop on the Paris Metro. Designed by Hector Guimard, the entrance is one of the most iconic sites in the city. And the energy is amazing as people dash in every direction to make their trains.
In the midst of the hustle, there are opportunities for establishing connections. Fellow tourists sorting out the right path to get to a famed attraction or conversations between riders about news headlines on the train: these are neighborly interactions amongst people that are not neighbors.
A few years ago, as part of a United Way volunteer program “Read for the Record”, I read Snowy Day, the 1962 book by Ezra Jack Keats, to a group of pre-school students. None had seen snow and given that we live in Miami, we talked about sand instead. And to my great surprise and sadness, most of the preschoolers had never seen the beach. Sand was as strange to them as snow. How is that possible?
How might a proper, comprehensive train system open the eyes and enhance the life experience of future generations of Miamians? Beyond a solution that addresses traffic congestion and/or business owner concerns about their employees’ commuting times, how might public transportation be a philanthropic enterprise designed to increase civic engagement and cultural experiences? In a city with a dramatic wealth gap, how could we use transportation to create a more egalitarian society? To allow more of our citizens to have the Miami experience that attracts so many visitors each year.
Having just returned from a trip in Europe, riding the trains was an adventure. It’s problem solving, time management, and a bit of public relations in every ride. In London, “mind the gap” was the common refrain from the overhead announcements. So courteous and thoughtful. Certainly, we were also warned to “beware of pickpockets”, so nothing is perfect.
Let’s get our busy professionals to their offices downtown and in Doral. Let’s ease the commute from points west so that families can access home ownership and travel quickly to their jobs. And by all means, let’s make another case to our visionary philanthropists and civic leaders: Ensuring that all of our kids can hear a brass band in the train station and make a trip to our beautiful beaches is worth funding, too.