New challenges to promote liveable cities
The quality of public transports should be one of the primary issues to be solved in the path towards a more sustainable development of urban areas. Since the majority of the world’s population is currently living in cities that generate on the whole roughly 80% of the world’s GDP, every improvement on urbanized territories can have important repercussions on societies as well as on the global economy. In this context, public transports can play an important role as it was stated in the New Urban Agenda adopted last October in Quito at the end of the United Nations Habitat III conference.
The main aim of the Agenda is to promote “a city for all” where everyone can “enjoy equal rights and opportunities”. Heads of state and high representatives that gathered at the UN Conference agreed on the importance to readdress the way cities are currently planned, developed and managed. Inequalities in all its forms need to be solved through a more inclusive and sustainable economic growth. From women empowerment to human health and well-being, the outcome document of the conference includes a long list of commitments to reach the above-mentioned goal. Among them a few interesting points on transports and mobility.
Strengthening connections from cities to their surroundings and the other way around is of paramount importance. Interactions between the two through more efficient transport networks can facilitate public and private investments that eventually increase productivity and property values as well as business and livelihood opportunities. In this context, planning instruments should serve as a means to identify urban and rural potentials and maximize them in a way that benefit people and their territories, while preventing urban sprawl and marginalization.
All of this can happen through a new concept of mobility, different from the one we have been accustomed to over the past decades. Enhancing urban transports have often been associated with the idea of providing citizens with the means to reach central areas where markets, schools, workplaces, etc. are located. Building more highways or tunnels has since been the response to face the issue of urban mobility while, on the contrary, the problem has worsen, increasing the urban sprawl phenomenon. In fact, more infrastructure has eased the connection with peripheral areas that in turn have increased the use of cars leading to traffic congestion that eventually has called for more infrastructure like in a vicious circle. Furthermore, people are forced to spend a ridiculous amount of their spare time stuck in the traffic jam, thus affecting the quality of their life.
Measures towards more liveable cities for everyone can’t ignore all of this. Mobility is not just a matter of better transports, but also an issue of managing the movement of people and overcome its constraints. Instead of limiting all sorts of services and more attractive activities to the most central locations, new design approaches should encourage mixed-land use. In this way, residents will easily satisfy their needs within walkable or, in any case, reduced distances.
Besides the concept of proximity as a response to congested infrastructures, there can be different or less obvious and more effective solutions to create liveable cities. As an example, in UK there is a five-year programme called “The Liveable Cities Project” that is undertaking a research to develop a method to measure how cities operate and perform in order to develop radical solutions that will reduce carbon emissions in three cities: Birmingham, Lancaster and Southampton. A few months ago, the Liveable Cities team hosted a workshop with UCL researcher, Dr Jamie O’Brien, to learn more about his research on movement patterns since, as they say, understanding the daily flux of people and goods can open to different network strategies. The workshop focused on consumption journeys and participants were asked to map their movements. They eventually produced interesting research designs that might bring new research proposals and, hopefully, will generate new discoveries in the future.