Session Digest: Urban Mobility Reimagined

The pandemic has caused a paradigm shift in the way people move. New work habits and a preference for proximity have increased the popularity of electric and micro-mobility solutions in cities around the world. This shift has caused professionals and consumers alike to start asking: What will tomorrow’s urban landscapes look like? And what are the implications in terms of mobility? We sat down with a panel of mobility experts during VivaTech to discuss the evolving mobility trends and how urbanists and service providers can work together to achieve efficient and green urban mobility.

The discussion started off with an introduction to urban mobility with Ellen Dunham-Jones, Professor and Director of the MS in Urban Design at the Georgia Institute of Technology and was followed by a panel made up of Sampo Hietanen, founder and CEO of MAAS Global; Lawrence Leuschner, CEO and Co-founder of Tier Mobility; Oren Ezer, CEO of Electreon; and Alexander D’Orsogna, Head of Business Development at Volocopter.

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When it comes to changing how we move and what the future holds for the mobility industry, our experts invited us to look back at how our cities have evolved into their present-day set up. Up until the invention of the automobile, cities and towns were built mainly around town halls, religious buildings, and gathering places. But over the decades following the marvelous invention of the car, cities have evolved to include more and more space for vehicles and less space for pedestrians and bike-users. And our public actions have changed in reaction to these spaces as well. “People are no longer the friendly neighbor type; we are now competitors on the road, battling for road space and for parking space,” stated Dunham.

What used to be a pleasant stroll down the road, has now become a stressful and tiresome drive. As Leuschner put it, driving in a city is not safe, it’s loud, it’s not joyful, you are always in traffic jams, and it’s 10x more polluting than a bike. “We are trying to emphasize the idea that using a car in a city is pointless. Obviously in the countryside it is different, and even necessary, but for cities, there are better options. Driving a two-wheeler is much more practical.”

So this begs the question, why do we still use cars in cities? With a plethora of public transportation and ever more popular micro-mobility options, it seems the “need” for a car within a city should be dwindling.

Hietanen weighed in to talk about this dependence on cars. “Everywhere I go, all these cities want to reinvent the city, less cars, make it better for the environment, more sustainable, etc. But no one dares to ask the question ‘What would it take, for all of you, to give up your personal car?’ Is there something better? The car has dominated the market for 100 years because it’s not just a car, it’s a symbol of freedom. Your personal freedom. Being able to go anywhere, anytime, on a whim. So if we aren’t trying to tackle this or find a solution, we’re just kind of skirting around the real problem. And this is the biggest problem to solve for our cities, for our economic growth, for sustainability.”

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