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What if we gave up on cars?

Keeping up with our Summit Insider news series, we’ve asked Henriette Vamberg of Gehl and Vijay Jagannathan of CityNet to discuss the possibility to give up on cars in urban areas. Keep reading to find out their views on how the public transport sector can inspire people to leave privately owned cars behind!



This article is an extract from our PTI Magazine 2/2019. Keep reading to get your special sneak peek at the soon to be released second PTI issue for 2019! 


Henriette Vamberg, Partner and Managing Director at Gehl, a global urban research and design consultancy, says that the topic of cars and mobility tends to inspire a polarised discussion. “There’s a tendency for the discussion to go into either ‘cars in’ or ‘cars out’. The solution is somewhere in between.”

In evaluating the relationship between the built environment and people’s quality of life, she said the ultimate goal is to offer a mobility palette that fits the unique needs of residents.

“[At Gehl] we create solutions that make it interesting for people to leave the car behind,” she said. “We don’t want people prevented from using them, but cities where they choose not to”. In order to facilitate a broader range of choices, she said that cities need to continue working to control urban density and consider the overall user experience.


Thinking like developers

Henriette explained that these considerations make the transport sector much more complex than in the past. In Scandinavian cities, train service companies are examining the available land around stations. “They’re finding themselves acting more like developers, and that’s a big transition. It’s an awakening that it’s not as simple as it used to be.”


Change is happening

Regardless of their stage of transport development, cities are considering other options. Henriette said that an alternative vision is emerging even in cities like Moscow, where Gehl completed work in 2012. After decades of widening streets for parking and traffic, the city centre was deteriorating. “Since then, the city has made great strides and begun putting roads on a diet. They’re taking out some lanes and utilising them for wider pavements, bike tracks, public transit corridors, more available public space, getting parking off pavements. It’s a significant clean-up.”


Where cars are aspirational

Vijay Jagannathan, Secretary General of CITYNET, an association of urban stakeholders committed to sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific region, sees a similar dialogue rapidly advancing in cities there.

“What the US and Europe achieved in 150 years is happening here in five years with a sudden burst of prosperity”, he said. “Through this major transition, the number one issue in all cities is traffic. It’s completely out of sync with the urban design and road network. Being able to breathe, health risk to our children – all these things are leading to the sense that something must be done”.


Solutions are not the same as the West

Vijay explained that in Hong Kong, Seoul, and dense cities across China and India, authorities are efficiently capturing value from the areas surrounding mass transport systems. But for the majority of cities across the region, metro and light rail solutions are less likely.

“On a political level these solutions are attractive, but aspiration has nothing to do with the realities they face,” he said. “There’s talk of smart cities in many places, but little attention to the basic issues of urban design. On the other hand, transport systems were not even aspirational ten years ago. The good news is that there’s a gradual increase in interest in getting things right”.


Street-level livelihoods

An important challenge to developing more sustainable cities is for authorities and developers not to be distracted by their desire for metros and light rail. Vijay explained that when commercial interests push for redevelopment of a city square, a good governance system is critical to avoid overlooking an essential constituency: the people who make their living there.

“Over the last 20 to 30 years, public spaces in cities in south Asia have become extremely important as a source of income for the poor, and redevelopment affects the livelihood of lots and lots of people”.

Vijay said that shared mobility has potential to alleviate some of these problems. “In India I find it fascinating how easy it is to get an Uber or something similar. People are beginning to appreciate that and understand that it’s OK to leave their car and take one of these shared mobility solutions”.

As Vijay noted, public transport stakeholders must continue painting a picture of future cities to capture imaginations. “People complain about what they’re not sure of, and they hang on to what they are sure of. It’s a communications task. We need to keep explaining.”


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