Take a walk on the wild side

San Diego is giving new meaning to the idea of cross-border cooperation.  After 20 years of discussion and planning, the airport in SD is now constructing a 525 foot pedestrian bridge to the Tijuana airport, allowing ticketed passengers to pay a small fee and clear customs directly in the airport rather than the usual route of hiring a taxi to take you to the usual border crossing (note: taxi drivers are not happy with this project).

The idea first came about when the South County Economic Development Council surveyed the Tijuana airport parking lot and found that many US citizens were using the Tijuana airport as a cross-border commuter lot.  The council originally proposed a terminal where planes could taxi on both sides of the border, but that apparently was too problematic. The pedestrian bridge project is being funded by private investors from both the US and Mexico, although they still need to figure out how to cover costs like paying for customs agents.

The benefits to Mexico are debatable.  The mayor is actually on record saying that travelers can now bypass Tijuana completely and go direct to San Diego (it seems the opposite argument would also be true, but perhaps that’s not what most travelers are looking for).

The director of the Tijuana airport, Guillermo Villalba, disagrees, arguing that there are numerous benefits to the plan, namely that it will send “a message that the border region is prosperous and safe, will attract more business to the border region, will put Tijuana on the world map, attracting investment, tourism and economic development that will benefit not only Tijuana but the state and the entire border region.”  

I’m not sure I agree with the director about the message this project is sending with regards to TJ, but I do agree that it will give the city a lot of publicity given the uniqueness of the plan.  It will be interesting to see how well the bridge works and what kind of effects it will have on both cities.

“The friendliest slum in the world”

What do slum residents think about the increasing popularity of slum tourism?  Jason Patinkin, on Informal City Dialogues, tries to find out first hand in Nairobi.

First he searches for a tour and finds that there are several to choose from.  The advertise with promises such as “The friendliest slum in the world,” “Raw” and “eye-opening,” as well as assurances that the money spent on the tour will help the local community.

After a 4-hour walking tour in Kibera, Jason returns the next day to interview residents about their feelings towards these tours.   While far from scientific or comprehensive, he reports some interesting findings:

1. Most residents don’t like having their pictures taken, even after guides explained that there was no ulterior motive behind it.  The reasons they cited are (a) it was offensive, “equating people to animals;” (b) the photos might be used for profit without the locals receiving a portion; and (c) the photos might be “used to scam would-be donors into giving money to fake aid programs.”  The last one was the most surprising to me.

2. Not surprisingly, the people who directly profited from the arrangement seemed happy with it.  He finds that employees at the curio workshop (one of the stops on the tour) actually pay a percentage to the guides.  Jason finds this to be exploitative, but the members reassure him that they are happy with the system.

3. Even those who did not directly profit had a positive image of the tours.  Jason writes: “To Frederick Otieno, 28, who sells water and washes cars with a youth group, tourists mean potential donors. “When muzungu (white people) go to see animals, it is mostly the government that benefits,” he said. “We’d rather prefer that the muzungu comes to see us because they [might] come and fund a school here.” Otieno’s hope isn’t so far-fetched. In some blocks of this Kibera neighborhood, almost every other storefront is a local or foreign NGO, and volunteers and interns flock to the area every summer.”

Personally I feel way more comfortable on a photo tour of wildlife than I do people.