Envision the future of your city, without old habits. What if we went back to the drawing board, what would it look like?

Jul 7, 2022

Extraction from the Cities Made for Living vision statement.

Breathing is what keeps us alive and, just as we have all now learned to breathe deeply in times of stress, many of our towns and cities are choking. United Nations data shows that in 2018, around 55% of the global population lived in urban areas. By 2030, one-third of the global population is projected to be living in cities with at least half a million other people.

The places we live in are growing before our eyes, and mobility within them often still comes with emissions, pollution, noise, congestion and many other harmful effects. Cities have a unique opportunity. As much as 72 % of the global greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to urban areas, and it’s increasing. The latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that cities essentially need to be redesigned to tackle climate change. System redesign has almost never been the focus of climate action. When it comes to transport, for decades, CO2 emission reduction efforts have mainly focused on optimising the emission performance of cars and other road transport. Now, in order to address climate change, cities around the world are faced with the task of halving emissions from the transport sector by 2030.

The positive is that redesigning urban mobility to tackle climate change comes with so many upsides. Setting a direction for greener and healthier cities makes one of the biggest challenges facing humanity into an exciting journey to the future.

Ditch historical data to think new

To move strategically towards a desirable future, we must first envision it. Instead of locking ourselves into designing the future by forecasting historical data based on the same old trends, it is now up to cities and the people who live in them to envision a future based on a new system. By conceptualising the future we want to arrive at, we can identify what we need to do today to get there.

Imagine a city where car-free zones are the default rather than a one-off oasis of calm. Imagine taking your children to school on a cargo bike, feeling safe in a well-protected cycle lane that goes on for miles, not just minutes. Imagine a city where we slow down, socialise and support sustainability instead of always dodging cars. Imagine a city where you can hop on a bike or scooter to ride safely to your local public transit station or bus stop, to your doctor or favourite café. Take some time, think about it. What does that future look like for you?

In cities made for living, we have room to breathe and clean air. They are places where walking, cycling, scooting and taking public transport are the norm and where the main thoroughfares are free of toxic traffic. This is the future we want at Voi, and we know that many others want it too. The good news is that we have the capacity to change, and policies that aim to improve wellbeing while requiring less energy and materials, and producing fewer emissions are coming into focus. We have the collective courage, and it’s time to make it happen. Let’s get everyone on board and embrace this opportunity to reimagine the places we live. So breathe… cities made for living are on their way.

Benefits of redistributing space

The first step in moving towards cities made for living is reclaiming our streets from cars. According to the OECD, 50% of public space in European cities is dedicated to cars. On average, cars are parked 95% of the day.

It’s time for people to reclaim their streets. Urban planners and local authorities can make a big impact over the course of the rest of this decade of climate action and in the future by redistributing space occupied by cars in cities. Parking spots should become ‘places to be’ and sidewalks can then become twice as wide. This creates safer places to walk, talk and socialise as well as for parks, street food vans, mobility hubs at public transport stops, outdoor gyms and sports courts. The possibilities are endless. Not only does the environment around us stand to benefit, with increased greenspaces absorbing the sound of the city and carbon emissions while reducing noise pollution and even increasing the value of surrounding real estate, but we also stand to benefit from it. Well placed plants and water can help reduce and regulate the temperature as well as our stress levels.

Shared mobility is an enabler

The most recent IPCC report on climate change mitigation put the spotlight on changing cities in order to urgently address the climate crisis. It outlines strategies for established cities as well as emerging cities to achieve large greenhouse gas emissions savings by changing their building and the way they are built, as well as supporting non-motorised public transport. The infrastructural needs of cities worldwide required to achieve a high quality of life, will be best met through energy-efficient infrastructure and services, as well as people-centred urban design.

Shared mobility can be considered as part of a public transport system if it is accessible to most transport users and does not require private ownership. Shared mobility and multimodal transport hubs integrated into public transportation systems that enable accessing places more conveniently and efficiently than ever before, will be a key part of making this future a reality. Research shows that shared mobility reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions if it substitutes for more GHG intensive travel (usually private car travel), and especially if it changes consumer

behaviour in the long run “by shifting personal transportation choices from ownership to demand-fulfilment”.

In line with societal goals

The reason these changes are taking off in so many cities across the world is that they support many of our other shared societal ambitions. From the UN 2030 agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals, to the realisation of the 15-minute city concept which was touted as a blueprint for building back better after the pandemic by C40.

By our count, over 20 large continuous car-free zones in city centres have cropped up in European cities, and many more have streets in the city centre closed off to cars seasonally. Many of these projects are using public participation to decide how the space reclaimed from cars is utilised. Innovative projects such as Park(ing) Day and Street Moves in Stockholm, have tapped into the power of people having a say over how their city is planned, and in the process have made countless more curious about what the future of our streets might hold. When people who live in the areas going car-free get a say in shaping the reclaimed space, new opportunities for living emerge.

Public support and participation are essential to building the political will to bring about cities made for living. Not only can we create a liveable future in cities we can also combat climate change at the same time. All evidence points towards us being able to redesign them to have greater transportation efficiency and accessibility, while also making them safer, more enjoyable places to travel and live in. Cities around the world have already begun making the transition, and the results for the local economies have been promising. We know, this all sounds almost too good to be true, but a lot can happen when you change your priorities.

How we envision Cities Made for Living

Together with JAJA Architects we produced renderings that showcase what cities could look like in the future. The renderings are from popular spots in cities all over Europe designed with a people first mindset, with more space for urban greening, socialising and living.

 

Carrer de Girona, Barcelona

Lark Lane, Liverpool

Triftstraße, Berlin

Ægirsgade, Copenhagen

See renders from other cities and learn more in the Vision statement.


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