The concept of “mobility” is frequently associated with the idea of growth, development and progress. It has a positive connotation that pushes people to ask for more mobility in terms of the ability to cover longer distances. How many destinations can we reach from a given location? How long does it take? And, most of all, how many different means of transportation can we use?
We keep on pursuing endless growth with many repercussions on both public and private transport means. In fact, while strategies and policies seeking to improve economic development usually end up increasing transport connectivity, their programs often miss to consider side effects like the rise of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere. As a result, today some of the biggest conurbations in the world have reached alarming air pollution levels that put people’s health at risk. Implications for future living trends have resulted in some remarkable case studies in urban de-carbonization where the use of private car has got discouraged by the efficient network of public transport and cycle paths.
In any case, whether we carbonize or de-carbonize the environment, we are all trapped in a system that forces us to keep on moving. Movement of goods. Movement of people. We continue to invest in high-speed transports and efficient logistics and we rather ask ourselves if there is a limit for that. When we increase mobility, we are actually increasing the ability for people to reach services and activities, in other words, accessibility.
There are several factors that improve accessibility. Some of them have already been mentioned since they are related to transport means. In particular, it is important to consider general vehicle’s conditions like security and speed, or the variety of transport means available as well as their frequency. To sum up, we improve accessibility when people are given the choice to decide, among the many viable solutions, the one that fits their needs. Besides, there is another element that influences accessibility: geographical proximity. In other words, the possibility to easily access services and activities in short walking distances.
Unfortunately, this last factor is not given enough attention. It is different from the previous ones because it requires a deeper understanding of the meaning of accessibility. In fact, in contrast to the zoning approach that is based on the assumption of exclusivity (each area is suitable for only one type of human activity), the geographical proximity factor promotes a polycentric city model that operates on two directions: centrality and network mobility. Services are distributed on urban territories according to space-time accessibility measures leading some neglected areas to be revitalized and abandoned infrastructure to be reused.
Long distance mobility is somehow imposed in those city models that concentrate within their centres the main services while keeping the residential quarters on the outskirts. Flux of people moving at the same time towards the same directions that generate congested roads and overcrowded public transports in just one of the two directions.
Improving the most crowded paths with more efficient public transports (i.e. high speed connections) is not the only solution to solve the problem. A good proposal would be to intervene on the root causes that generate traffic congestion by redistributing some services and activities on the territory in a way that would reduce the need for people to move that frequently.
At the same time, measures to promote geographical proximity should also consider energy efficiency policies. Among them, localize new services on areas already connected to the existent infrastructure instead of isolated plots as recommended by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), one of the most popular green certification used worldwide.