Finding your way around
Are you confused or not dot com?
On a couple of occasions recently I’ve been stopped in the street by elderly people who’ve been completely confused about where they are and the way to get to their intended destination. The added problem in trying to guide them out of their dilemma has been their own frailty and confused state of mind.
These occurrences set me thinking about the issue of the city and how easy or otherwise it is for strangers to find their way around, or indeed to know where their destination actually is. If you’re a local in the area then familiarity with your surrounds, where everything is and how to get there stands you in good stead – at least until frailty itself kicks in. If not then help is needed to get around and this can vary widely from place to place.
When a stranger arrives by plane, train, coach etc. the easy, but maybe expensive, solution is to hail a taxi, tell the driver the destination and then sit back. If the taxi is not an appropriate option then a mixture of other, possibly stressful and confusing, scenarios come into play.
- Can the hotel, conference centre, shop or other destination be located on a map that can be understood?
- Is there an appropriate train, metro, bus, tram, trolley or water bus route to use?
- Can the use of these systems be readily understood – tickets and where they go especially?
- Is the driving route clear and well signed with convenient, easy to locate parking up facilities?
- Is the journey walkable and safe with good guidance?
Whenever I go on a journey to an unfamiliar city I set myself the task of finding out in advance how to get around from point of entry to where I wish to go. Much of this exercise uses the internet but I never cease to be amazed how the information I can gather in varies from one place to another. Sometimes I seem to be able to answer all the questions I’ve set out above at the click of a few buttons so that I feel I can tackle the place as well as a local can. On other occasions the information sits at the back of hard to use out of date web sites, or is just not available and lies beyond the reach of the super highway.
It’s often also the case in my experience that when I arrive at a place that doesn’t seem to embrace the super highway the ‘on the ground’ advice is also scant and confusing. But for those areas that have been savvy enough to offer good advance advice over the internet the ‘on the ground’ welcome is also there backed up with good clear guidance throughout the city.
Whatever the experience I do have to say that the vast majority of cities I’ve visited have quite reasonable public systems to get people around. The problem has been finding them and understanding how to use them.
5 years ago I visited Porto Alegre in Brazil for the 54th IFHP Congress. The only information I could receive as to the location of the event was that it was at PUCRS. So if you want a little exercise – see how many clicks are needed to find your way from Porto Alegre airport to and from PUCRS without resorting to a taxi.