Urban Gondolas Should Thank The Internet

There is a story of the scholar who, years ago, produced a dissertation that was loudly hailed as the best written and most valuable in a generation. A copy was reverently placed in the library files and the scholar, as an experiment, placed a crisp $20 bill among its pages. Every year he returned to the library and took down the dissertation. Every year, it fell open to the stuffed page. Every year, the $20 bill was still there, untouched.

Isaac Asimov, 1992, Asimov Laughs Again

Twenty years ago, a few people (Neumann & Bondada in particular) made an attempt to popularize cable transit and urban gondolas. The push was made by a few scholars who published papers in journals that were read only by people who followed the cable industry . . . hopefully.

More likely, no one read them at all.

Occasionally they’d make presentations at conferences that were attended almost exclusively by members of the Automated People Mover (APM) and cable industry. The associated papers would later be published in compendiums read by cable industry veterans and cable engineering scholars . . . hopefully.

PhDs wrote dissertations. Masters candidates wrote theses. Hopefully more people than just me read them. Hopefully.

More likely, these compendiums, presentations, dissertations and theses languished on library shelves around the world, collecting dust and taking up space. Some have been collected, digitized and made available to the general public. Most are just footnotes.

That’s not to say they weren’t important contributions. They were. I use them in my practice constantly. But just because something’s important doesn’t mean it’s relevant.

Twenty years ago these documents weren’t relevant because cable didn’t have a shot at the big time. Nobody cared because it was a hopeless cause.

It didn’t matter that it was a good idea then (a better idea now), the friction of distance and the transmission of knowledge was just too great to allow the obscure idea of urban gondolas to spread. Today, however, things are different:

  • Today we have Skype. Twenty years ago we had extortionist long distance charges.
  • Today we have easyJet. Twenty years ago we had air travel that was affordable to only a few.
  • Today we have Amazon, Lulu and PDFs. Twenty years ago we had to courier books around the world at an astronomical cost.
  • Today we have teleconferencing and email. Twenty years ago we had high-priced week-long conventions in far-flung exotic locations.
  • Today we have Wordpress, Twitter and Open Courseware at MIT. Twenty years ago we had hard-bound peer-reviewed journals vetted by a few gatekeepers who chose what information thrived and which died.
  • Today we have flickr. Twenty years ago we had expensive site visits and professional photographers.

Twenty years ago cable transit was hopelessly dead in the water because it was too expensive and difficult to spread such a strange idea. Now the industry is growing, exponentially year-upon-year. There’s hope now, big hope because the cost to communicate is miniscule compared to what it was. The internet enabled that.

Want proof?

Where’d you first hear about the Medellin Metrocable?

History / Research Issues / Urban Planning & Design Comments


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