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Thursday
Mar302017

How Will Mobility's Future Impact Our Cities?

Image © Jindong H.

This blog piece is based on a Q+A discussion held with Gensler designers Richard Jacob, Michaela Winter-Taylor and Kenneth Allan. It is the first in a series of blog posts that charts the teams’ research and findings as they delve deeper into the future of mobility.

Transportation and mobility are the lifeblood of our cities that form the very real and physical backbone of our increasingly digital economies, but they also come with a downside: noise, congestion, pollution and safety issues. In our pursuit for the holy grail of sustainable, clean, reliable, safe and affordable mobility, will the reality of what’s available ever match our dreams and aspirations?

I believe the next evolution for mobility will be a dramatic one, affecting not only how we get around our cities, but also how our cities are structured in response to that evolutionary shift in transportation.

How will our lives be changed by new modes of transportation?

Our lives are hugely impacted by the notion of personal freedom, and car ownership plays a big part in that. In a move towards autonomous driving, would we need to drive anymore? Would we bother learning to drive? Would the act of driving become a recreational pursuit? These changes could affect our societies, social structures and cities. Roads are currently paid for by a road tax, where drivers pay a tariff based on the type of vehicle driven. If there are fewer drivers on the road how would this funding method be charged in a fair way to ensure that those who use the road pay for what they use?

What technologies will drive those changes?

Technology not only changes our modes of transport, but also impacts how we interact with and view transportation. Conceptually, transport as a service has the power to revolutionise our relationship with mobility. The potential for an increasingly interactive, personalised service-led transport system is huge.

An integrated transport system could be linked seamlessly with applications to create full itineraries and travel plans and even generate all the tickets for the whole journey, no matter the mode of transport. Using apps, GPS, accelerometers, and the like, it could ensure that we pay not only the right fares and taxes, but also calculate the best routes, timings and traffic—all whilst ensuring prime sight-seeing opportunities along the way.

Image © Gensler

Algorithms can learn how we like to travel and deliver information on the journey as well. Service also means a level of interaction and communication with the transport itself. With advanced Artificial Intelligence, automated transport systems could deliver that interaction. Imagine buses that can tell us the weather and the latest movies reviews! Every journey would be a unique journey, mapped out via technology that directly responds to each traveller’s needs in a personal way.

How will these changes transform the cities where we live?

The future of mobility also affects the millions of goods, parcels, stock and waste that is moved around our cities daily. The bulk of emissions and traffic are caused by the moving of these items, and the harmful impacts are most profoundly felt in our city centres. The atomisation of transport and freight aims to create a level of super-efficiency through higher capacity on the existing transport networks, but does this only work if human error is removed as one of the variables?

The use of drones and autonomous vehicles can free up the transport network, reducing traffic and having a positive impact on air quality. This is good news for all, but what about the negative impacts on logistics and haulage firms? Will employees be redeployed on other tasks, like what we are seeing on the London Underground and wider U.K. rail network? Such changes in our working populations must be considered, and viable alternative job opportunities must be created as technology begins to whittle away at more traditional forms of employment that rely on huge resources of low-paid and low-skilled workers.

Our goal is to further understand how the city and its culture will change because of these advancements in technology, to anticipate the good, but also the bad and develop methods to mitigate their impact and ensure that our urban environments are design to meet these challenges and succeed.

Richard Jacob is an award-winning architect and designer who has worked on high profile projects both in the U.K. and internationally, using his experience and geographic knowledge to provide fresh new insight and perspectives to each project he touches. He’s passionate about engaging with clients, other designers, contractors and suppliers through collaboration and open dialogue to create the best possible design solution for all. Contact him at richard_jacob@gensler.com.