22.–23.05.2024 #polismobility

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About urbanism from below and social mobility behaviour

From the abstract to the concrete

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Martha Wanat and Prof. Stephan Jansen talk in an interview about urbanism from below and the need to move from the abstract to the concrete in order to master the mobility revolution.

Martha Wanat and Prof. Stephan A. Jansen © privat

In conversation with Martha Wanat & Prof. Stephan A. Jansen, MOND - Mobility New Designs

Ms. Wanat, Prof. Jansen, mobility is a very multifaceted, very multi-layered subject area with many dimensions, especially a social one and also a political one. But it also has, if you will, a moral, ethical one. Ms. Wanat, you describe yourself as a political entrepreneur. With MOND - Mobility New Designs, you advise municipalities and companies on mobility concepts and solutions. Would you say that the issue of urban mobility - particularly with regard to the challenges of climate change, housing shortages, access to education and health - is also, to put it bluntly, a process of redistribution, even a distribution struggle?

Wanat: Absolutely. Mobility is about social justice in complex ways. It is essentially political because it has a direct impact on society, such as on our health in the city. There are certain determinants of health, such as the level of education, the economic or hygienic situation, and the housing situation, which therefore determine how exposed one is to noise and dirt. Most affluent households are often located on the outskirts or outside the city, away from main roads - or, as in the case of Berlin, even in the Uckermark, in the countryside. For the majority of people in the city, this is not at all possible financially and because of their work and family structure.

It is obvious that the market alone will not succeed in ensuring social justice, participation and climate protection in a way that is even remotely adequate. Health policy is only one of many dimensions of mobility that can no longer be ignored. Here, business and politics must enter into an ecosystemic collaboration and develop intersectoral innovations as solutions to the complex challenges we face as a society. For example, I am in the "Corporate Responsibility Network" of the Berlin Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Here, we are developing very concrete strategies for Berlin's business community to make the topic of sustainability more accessible, understandable and also implementable, and also to show that sustainable business models can be more profitable than contrary ones.

Since the first lockdown, it has been observable that cities around the world are using the momentum to initiate radical changes that give people back more public space. This includes creating green play and recreation spaces; and if only pocket parks, to avoid urban overheating like we've seen in recent years. This is just as much a part of a mobility turnaround as a micromobility infrastructure or as the expansion of public transport. The question of where things are headed is no longer negotiable.

Keyword: public transport expansion. Can the latter do the job in view of funding shortfalls? Should the private sector do it? You just mentioned that we can't just leave it up to the market to implement the mobility revolution. So how should we go about it?

Wanat: It can only be done together. In the area of company mobility, employers should start providing mobility budgets that can be individually designed and offer the flexibility that employees need and want. There are now many examples of support and cooperation between municipalities and local businesses, such as in Dortmund, where prototype job tickets are issued and then tested to see who uses them and with what intensity. Climate-neutral company mobility, which paradoxically does not include commuting in terms of tax law, is an immensely powerful lever. What is needed are alternatives such as attractive micromobility and those budgets that are financed via the employer and also given preferential tax treatment.

Jansen: When we talk about mobility turnaround and public transport, we talk about one thing above all in research and consulting: area justice. And in cities that are becoming more densely populated, we are talking about self-activating mobility, since this consumes significantly less space - to the benefit of car traffic, which is otherwise comparatively more and more immobile. In the area equity issue, we must therefore shape the modal split - all together. And here, the car will have to give way to central public transport, cycling and pedestrian accessibility. There is no alternative to this, and it is indisputable - whether in science, urban development, or even among motorists themselves. But the truth about public transportation also means that its quality must be improved.

The keyword here is the quality of public transportation. If we look at rural areas, it's more a question of quantity, because the bus simply runs too infrequently and people are dependent on their cars. What solutions can be found here in the future?

Jansen: We really do need more comfort, more frequency, more data, quality in local public transportation. It's completely irrelevant where that is. But when we talk about rural areas, we are of course not talking about classic local transport concepts, but digitally smarter intermodal transport. We can't make the mistake of simply running more trains through the area with more empty wagons; instead, digitization will mean data-based on-demand transport. Call-sharing cabs to discos already existed in the past in rural areas, where it was still called disco. So in principle, we are talking about the renaissance of data-based ride-sharing services. There can be cost-saving effects here. Our approach here at MOND is: the urbanization of the village and the villageization of the city. The latter is simple: 15-minute towns and clear neighborhood management in settlement. With the urbanization of the village, we are concerned with "social mobility hubs" as transit locations with a quality of stay of an urban character. So it's about mobile, socially empowering urban structures from inclusive mobility services to health kiosks, mobile doctor's offices, mobile shopping options, packing stations and other services that also strongly affect rural areas in terms of living environment.

Wanat: There are already many projects, be they municipal or cooperative, that are testing precisely these kinds of on-call buses and have also established them in the meantime. But you have to differentiate between urban and rural areas. These are two different social, cultural and behavioral worlds. City dwellers, for example, appreciate the anonymity of the city and therefore like to drive individually. There must therefore be appropriate alternatives to the car; and here the electric bicycle, like other means of micromobility, is just one part of the solution. In the countryside, for example, people are more willing to travel as part of a community concept. This and much more must be taken into account when designing mobility. Every location - whether it's a suburban area or a central station in the city center - has a context that already has an infrastructure and mobility behavior, and thus very individual resources and potential. This connecting local and needs-specific approach is very important.

Jansen: By the way, continuing to populate rural areas is not feasible, because we need them for more sustainable agriculture and cannot afford any more sealing.

When a company gets into trouble, it brings in an external consultant who first approaches the corporate culture and then the transformation of the organizational structure. Who can be this advisor for our company in terms of mobility?

Wanat: Basically all players, but in cooperation and co-creation. Infrastructural changes, such as a ten-minute detour due to a road closure, have an immediate effect on mobility behavior. However, this does not mean that acceptance for the new is also there. This can only be achieved through moderated participation and networking formats in which various actors come together, work out solutions and repeatedly put the relevant topics on the agenda. Citizens' councils are one example. Here, design parameters are first set, i.e., fundamental goals and guidelines for the projects. There is enough room for maneuver between the parameters so that citizens can help shape what the traffic-calmed neighborhood will ultimately look like, for example. This is very important, because only after this phase of joint conceptualization is there acceptance and the added quality of life is understood and lived. Many cities now have the format of interdisciplinary reallabs, which bring together players from science, business, local politics and civil society.

Jansen: At my professorship for Urban Innovation at the Berlin University of the Arts and at MOND, we are precisely at this interface. From this perspective, the answer to your question "Who can change a societal mobility behavior?" is the awkward as well as cooperation-forcing answer: "Only society itself!"

We call this "urbanism from below." Cities must normatively and regulatively enforce this "urbanism from below" themselves from above. This countercurrent planning is weakly developed in Germany. Only, it has to start now - between clear edge and participation.

In concrete terms, we at MOND are starting with mobility needs analyses and residents' workshops as a "human centered design". Here we take into account regional, topographical, demographic, biographical phases. We then evaluate the mobility needs with a view to infrastructure. Then we develop solutions in the context of local residents that actually result in win-win situations, i.e., that local residents have collateral benefits from new company settlements and do not have to bear the collateral damage of further settlements: better infrastructure or access to mobility stations, for example.

So it is elementary for the mobility turnaround to show the personal and/or immediate benefits - to move from the abstract to the concrete?

Jansen: Definitely. There are three drivers for companies and municipalities alike in the new mobility: CO2, complexity and costs. The good thing is that a mobility turnaround is always a win in all three dimensions. And the individual, corporate and health system benefits of self-activated mobility are just on top of that. Our job at MOND: to show the gains for each stakeholder. In addition to various analyses, we make it so concrete that we organize Mobility Test Days, for example. That means we come to the site with mobility resources and start - in the strict sense of the word - a "learning journey." In concrete terms, this is then about the individual route.

Wanat: The problem is also that the topic of mobility always appears very abstract in the media presence or in the political discussion, because it is supposedly about future technologies. Hopes are pinned on the day after tomorrow, so to speak. So it is easy not to act today. For me, it's about the opposite; creating awareness in the sense of realizing that we're not in the traffic jam, we are the traffic jam. So we - the different actors in society - need to start talking to each other to avoid the congestion. It is crucial to understand that mobility is fundamentally very concrete and not abstract. We have to learn to deal with this concrete - and the best way to do that is with those who are affected by it.

What conclusions do you draw from your needs analyses, in turn, about actual needs and requirements, also with regard to - without wanting to serve clichés - gender-specific life realities, social structures?

Wanat: There are indeed very serious differences, and it is not a cliché that women are mobile in the city differently than men. For women, this is called trip chaining, i.e. the chaining together of different stations, which has to do primarily with family logistics: Taking kids to daycare, then job, then free time, then kids to free time, then back again, shopping, and so on. For men, it is - still predominantly - much simpler: They always drive one way there and back, so to speak, in star transports, and according to studies, they link up less frequently. We need more neighborly transportation, but also pooling possibilities, for example, to manage the transportation of many children living in one neighborhood to daycare. For this, the infrastructure must be safe - for children as well as for women. Because women decide for safety - factually and perceived. Both are equally important. It must be safe and women must feel safe. This should be supported by the local authorities in its implementation.

Jansen: Anthropocentric transport policy almost always means a male-dominated transport policy and thus also male transport infrastructure. Quantitatively, one can clearly say a lot based on studies: 1. women walk more than men. But men have more pedometers. That says it all. 2. women use buses and trains more than men. 3. men drive cars more often than women, and much more unnecessarily and for longer. 3. women are much more often passengers. 4. men ride more bicycle kilometers than women, but only when the infrastructure is poor. As soon as this is safe, women cycle more than men. 5. When it comes to new mobility services, men actually also use them more than women - in addition. Above all, this means that women rely more on self-movement than on technology. This means - to return to the trip-chaining aspect - that women think significantly more than men about travel routes, times of day and the connection of occasions. The interesting thing is that all statistics show that child and shopping transportation is actually predominantly female, without any national-cultural difference. Data collection and transportation planning need to be more responsive to this aspect of inclusive infrastructure. And then we continue with the kids and the fit oldies right away ...

A strong plea for more female perspectives in urban and transportation planning. Would the exclusively female perspective be fundamentally more meaningful for society as a whole?

Wanat: We need to translate what women are already successfully implementing and able to do in terms of networked thinking and behavior into a large dimension, an urban perspective. It is evident that when women lead a city - as is already the case globally in various contexts - more actors are involved in the development process and this has enormous positive effects on social justice, climate and health. In short, it needs everyone to be involved, because it's about collective behavior change.

Jansen: At the end of the day, we have very similar perspectives on a successful, healthy city. It's just that men have a windshield perspective on their world. Women tend to have a windshield perspective on their world. There needs to be a shift in perspective here, but it's happening now. We're finally entering a phase beyond ideology, because we men don't think safety and nature and self-activity are so bad either.

Wanat: You can tell a livable city by how comfortable you feel in it. Most of what we subsume under the mobility turnaround has less to do with new technology than with the physical design of the city, in which not only nature but also the gap as a creative space plays a major psychological role. The crucial question is: How do we need to move in it to feel comfortable and healthy? These are two parameters that are crucial and have nothing to do with gender. Be it old people or children who are disadvantaged and endangered by the current mobility situation: In cities, it is important to create places where people enjoy spending time, can relax and are safe. Mobility is the decisive limiting or enabling factor here.

Jansen: It's about mobility and space, mobility and time, mobility and cost, mobility and noise, gender and milieu and participation. The sound of cities, the smell of cities - these are dimensions that are perceived subliminally, and not through the windshield in the car. There is a tinted world, filtered air, tinny bass. The car is too often a cognition-constricting machine - and also leads to massive sensory loss. Historically, we have moved well differently in ancient Rome, and even in Cologne. Cities are growing, dynamic entities that can only be formatted by civic development, together with the city and companies, in order to be able to map the respective new functions. And that's something that really doesn't come off the assembly line, because up to now there have only been cars.

Thank you very much for the interesting interview.

Martha Wanat © privat

Martha Wanat © privat

Martha Marisa Wanat is a political entrepreneur, book author, singer and managing partner of the mobility consultancy "MOND - Mobility New Designs". She studied economics, political science and cultural studies at Zeppelin University.

Prof. Stephan A. Jansen © privat

Prof. Stephan A. Jansen © privat

Prof. Dr. Stephan A. Jansen is Co-Managing Director of BICICLI & MOND, Professor for Urban Innovation - Digitalization, Health and Mobility - at the University of the Arts, Berlin, long-standing scientific advisor to the German federal governments and author for "brand eins".

"It is obvious that the market alone will not succeed in ensuring social justice, participation and climate protection in a way that is even remotely adequate."

Martha Wanat

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