dangerous word watch: integrated, integration

Whenever someone in a planning or transport field tells you they work on "integration" or "integrated x", ask them:  "Integration of what with what, exactly?"

Integrated and integration carry a root meaning of things that are normally separate being combined or dealt with together.  Thus we speak of integrating transport and land use, integrating two adjacent transit networks, or integrating functions within an organization (as in the term vertical integration).  

Because we've all been taught to fear silos, which are areas of activity dealt with in isolation, we are supposed to love the word integrated, which implies somehow that this problem has been overcome.  

But communities have to choose between different integrations. 

For example, recently, I was dealing with a city that controls its own transit system, and that was wondering if its service should be integrated with its suburban transit agencies.  This would have required giving up city control of the agency to a regional authority.

But this idea would also disintegrate.  Specifically, it would prevent the integration of the city's transit thinking with the city's thinking about traffic, parking, and land use.  Whereas a city government can plan all these interdependent things together, they often find it easier to deliver great transit outcomes than a city that must rely on a regional transit agency can.  It is too easy, in a city's politics, for a regional transit agency to be seen as Other, not part of the city in a bureaucratic sense and thus prone to neglect or exclusion when the city sets its own priorities.  After all, we all prefer to think about things we control rather than things we don't.

I'm not expressing an abstract view about whether city control or regional agencies is the right way to organize transit.  The answer is different in different places.

But I am warning about the word integrated, when used without clear reference to which specific silo walls are being broken down.  If you're not clear about that, and you don't demand clarity from others who use the word, integration may not give you the specific integration that matters most to you.  

Even integration can be a silo.


One Response to dangerous word watch: integrated, integration

  1. some guy July 23, 2017 at 3:37 pm #

    I do not agree with your claim at all.

    In Nuremberg (a city of some 500 000 people) there are several modes of transportation. There is the U-Bahn (subway), the Straßenbahn (streetcar / light rail) the S-Bahn (all day commuter rail) and of course buses feeding all those systems.

    You can get integrated VGN tickets in all of them and the tickets of Deutsche Bahn are also valid (e.g. the Ländertickets)

    So you can say the system is not only integrated, but comprehensively integrated. To a rider it would even appear seamless.

    Yet who runs public transport in Nuremberg? VAG – owned and controlled by the city.

    And it is the city that decides whether new subway or light rail lines are built and where.

    Integration need not mean loss of control. But it does make rides much less painful if they cross municipal lines