Urban mobility

The resilient city.

Cities and metropolitan areas are the centres of our lives. But they are also vulnerable. The Sars-CoV-2 virus and climate change are just two examples of this. One possible solution to this problem is the “resilient city”.

Hello Mr Beer, you are a futurologist at the renowned Institute for Futures Studies and Technology Assessment in Berlin, where one of your research topics is cities and resilience. What is a “resilient” city?

Felix Beer

Resilience research is the science of the “immune system” of our society. It is mainly about overcoming unexpected crises and ideally even growing as a result of these situations. This does not just apply to individuals, but to entire social systems, particularly cities. We want to get them into a position where they can learn from stressful situations and develop in such a way that they become more future proof.

You are therefore demanding, for example in a talk in the FUTURE FORUM by BMW World, to make cities around the globe more resilient.

Whether we are dealing with COVID-19, financial crisis or climate change – what we are still perceiving to be an exceptional situation or even a state of emergency has already become a permanent part of a rapidly changing world. Uncertainty is the new normal. With increasing urbanisation, cities all over the globe are affected by these challenges – 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in urban centres by 2050. The costs for damage caused by natural disasters or extreme weather events such as torrential rain are already in the region of up to 250 billion US dollars per year. People experience these developments directly and, as a result, become anxious about the future. However, there is also plenty of scope for actively making cities more resilient. In this way they are better prepared for potential current and future threats.

What does that mean in terms of urban mobility, for example?

The corona crisis has shown how susceptible the mobility we had all been taking for granted is to external shocks. On the one hand, social distancing is restricting our freedom of movements, local public transport is used much less. On the other hand, micro-mobility has increased significantly, in particular with regard to people who have been walking or cycling, and most cities have seen much reduced traffic volumes without traffic jams for the first time in decades. People have stayed at home unless they really had to leave the house. They have explored options for organising their lives digitally. What we have seen is the “city organism” changing and adapting to the new situation in many ways, for example in terms of mobility. In many cities, footpaths were widened practically overnight and car lanes changed to “pop-up” cycle lanes. In Columbia's capital Bogota, for example, an additional 117 km of temporary cycle paths were built in order to enable more individualised mobility. In Brussels, too, 40 km of new cycle lanes were built as a result of the recent experiences. This does not mean that we should neglect other modes of transport, in particular local public transport. However, the crisis has shown how cities can respond if they are more resilient. We must utilise initiatives like these and the experiences that we have gained as a result to prepare us better for what lies ahead.

For climate change, for example!

Governments worldwide have put schemes in place to support citizens and companies who have suffered financially due to the pandemic. The G20 countries alone are planning to spend up to 20 trillion US dollars. Now, it is crucial to set the course for using this money efficiently. These subsidies must not be used as a means to return to business as usual – otherwise we will inevitably enter the next crisis. Instead, we should link these investments to our sustainability goals in order to improve our cities’ resilience for the long term. To clear the path for the sustainable mobility of the future, for example. This requires a clear focus on electric-only vehicles, among other things. Cities could provide targeted stimuli to promote electric mobility. Another example would be subsidies for citizens to go their own sustainable ways and choose for themselves if they want to invest the money in a bicycle, a small electric vehicle, or a public transport ticket. We have seen, for example with many people working from home, that digital ways of working can also be part of a viable model to make cities more flexible and sustainable.

Digitalisation also helps improve the coordination of mobility...

...which also makes a city more resilient. Platforms that can be used, for example, to organise bike or e-car sharing are a part of this, as are apps that make it easier to switch seamlessly between different modes of transport. In terms of all aspects, from costs to scheduling. Mobility-on-demand services are also a part of this overall system, of course, They make local public transport and many other mobility services more flexible because they can respond to virtual “shouts”. Many of these options can be implemented quite well via public-private partnership programmes.

Not just cities, private companies must also become more resilient.

Correct. Resilience is one of the big topics of the future for any organisation that wants to continue to develop. In this regard, BMW Group will need, for example, to focus consistently on electric vehicles or other types of mobility that are climate friendly. In addition, companies like BMW could increasingly become the face of a changing mobility and expand platforms.