20 Jan 2022

More courage for people- and planet-centred urban futures

The covid-19 pandemic has, in many ways, uprooted our everyday practices and habits, and in many ways also encouraged reflection on some of our fundamental values. Among others, also in the field of mobility. Can cities manage to maintain the calmer traffic that we experienced during the (partial) lockdowns? Some European capitals are consolidating and expanding the impromptu cycling networks that spawned during the pandemic (Paris), while others are setting up executive agencies to guide, fund, monitor and evaluate local councils according to their suitability for walking and cycling (Active Travel England).

Infrastructure, spatial planning, financial incentives, education and awareness, carrot or stick – what will be essential for the transition to more sustainable forms of urban mobility? And what role can or should the human habits, practices, values ​​and needs play in this? On Monday, 17 January 2022, we organised an online consultation event A People- and Planet-Centred Urban Mobility, as part of the Urban GoodCamp project (UCAMP). The event focused on identifying the existing experiences, best practices, and challenges for transforming mobility practices in Ljubljana.

The consultation event brought together experts on mobility from diverse sectors, including local administration, research, higher education, business, and non-governmental sector. The initial presentation of the project and event aims was presented by Dr Sara Arko (IRI UL), and the keynote address by Assoc Prof Dr Dan Podjed (ZRC SAZU) was followed by a lively exchange between (in alphabetical order): Marjeta Benčina (Focus Association for Sustainable Development), Matej Gojčič (Regional Development Agency of the Ljubljana Urban Region), mag. Nela Halilović (Institute for Spatial Policies), Marko Javornik (M8Lab), dr. Alenka Mauko Pranjič (KIC Urban Mobility; Slovenian National Building and Civil Engineering Institute), Robert Podlipnik (Endava), Dr Sabina Popit (City of Ljubljana), Assoc Prof Dr Jaka Repič (University of Ljubljana) and the students of the Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology (University of Ljubljana), who participate in the Active8-Planet project.

The developments and initiatives envisaged on the EU’s path to sustainable urban mobility are primarily aimed at improving air quality, reducing noise, eliminating traffic congestions and improving safety, as well as many other positive social and economic effects. Despite various projects that have improved mobility in Ljubljana in recent years, the city still faces challenges.

These are, on the one hand, related to decades of adapting the infrastructure and spatial planning to the private automobile as the primary mode of transportation. Although many Ljubljana residents use active travel modes to move around the city, i.e., walking and cycling, at least 130,000 daily visitors come to Ljubljana every day for education or work. At the same time, alternatives to passenger cars are insufficient (bus or rail connections, P + R and city bus capacities, optimally designed bicycle paths, etc.). Real estate prices in the city are contributing to the phenomenon of urban sprawl, while these suburban neighbourhoods likewise rarely offer an attractive or efficient alternative mode of transport to the city in terms of time or cost, for instance. Ljubljana is also lagging behind in the digitalisation of mobility, with the exception of the more recently available shared mobility service. An important challenge in transforming urban mobility is also the number and diversity of stakeholders involved, and in addition, some otherwise effective measures would probably not be readily accepted by the public. Despite awareness and principled commitments to the transition to sustainable forms of mobility, there is also an emerging trend of giant SUVs – they are staring at us from billboards, promising freedom, comfort, dynamic and safety. Just how can we resist them?

The key message of the consultation event is that radical transformation of mobility will also require courage. We can try to incrementally change our own mobility habits and practices (for example, try to live in a city without owning a car), and above all, courage should guide planning and strategic decision on a systemic level. We can design and implement services, solutions and strategies more successfully if we take into account the fact that mobility is primarily a social practice and not only a technological challenge.

The event was part of the Urban GoodCamp project, which aims to empower higher education institutions and their urban stakeholders to tackle pressing urban challenges by creating and actively engaging urban communities of practice, developing, and implementing multidisciplinary learning interventions for university students, young researchers and lifelong learners to develop real-life solutions to pressing urban challenges. The consultation event was also the first step of the People- and Planet-Centred Sustainable Mobility Network. (Interested in more? Contact us.)