Mass urbanisation and the challenge of mobility
The hunger to create smarter, more sustainable and connected cities is helping us rethink everything about urbanisation, but technological advancements need to go together with social transformation. After all, what is the purpose of technology if not to make life better for citizens? There are many (many!) companies around the world developing solutions to improve the functionality of cities, but we often underestimate the level of change needed to support mass urbanisation and the reduction of resources.
- There are 7.6 billion people on this planet and currently 54% of them live in urban areas.
- This number is expected to increase to 66% by 2050. That’s another 2.5 billion people living in urban areas by 2050.
- Cities occupy less than 3% of land use but consume 75% of global energy and resources (i.e. it takes 6 states to satisfy the resource needs of New York City).
- To support this steep growth, a high investment in infrastructure is required.
- To improve livability, larger cities are splitting into more curated neighborhoods with low-to-zero carbon transport options.
- The Paris Agreement, pledged by all nations apart from Nicaragua, Syria and the recent US withdrawal, empowers cities to play a fundamental role in keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.
- Cities have powered the world economy for centuries and now account for 80% of global GDP.
Around the world, cities are taking bold actions to lead the way towards a healthier and more sustainable future by developing innovative projects to improve mobility. After all, major cities around the world are always more congested (the average speed in Manhattan is 8 mph!) and the US alone spends over $100bn per year on road infrastructure. But cities are shifting away from auto-dependency and sustainable urban mobility (low-and zero- carbon) could save as much as US $3 trillion in urban infrastructure spending over the next 15 years. The uptake of electric vehicles is becoming the new norm, but self-driving vehicles are still in the testing stage and the shared use of cars has not yet become a mass phenomenon.
Below is a small overview of cities that are spearheading sustainable urban mobility:
- Madrid will ban all non-resident vehicles from the city centre by November 2018 and the only cars allowed will need to be zero-emission delivery vehicles, taxis and public transit. Madrid already has 3 e-car sharing schemes (Emov, Car2Go and Zity, which Renault has developed in partnership with Ferrovial, a global operator of services and infrastructure) and 4 e-scooter systems (i.e. eCooltra, YUGO).
- Oslo will implement its car ban by 2019 and has the highest number per capita of all-electric cars in the world: more than 100,000 in a country of 5.2 million people.
- Shenzhen, which in the 1980’s was a modest fishing village of 30,000 people, is now a megalopolis of 12 million. Its transit fleet has undergone a rapid transformation, now being the first city in the world to electrify 100% of its public buses. The Chinese firm that manufactured the e-buses (Build Your Dreams) has now entered the US market too, providing fleets in Los Angeles, Denver and Orlando.
- The new bus corridor on Eje 8 Sur in Mexico City will be 22 km long and serve an estimated 160,000 daily trips. It is the first e-bus project of this scale to be implemented in Latin America.
- Since 2014, Milton Keynes has been trialing a series of induction wireless charging plates for electric buses that are able to provide 2/3 of the energy consumed on a 15-mile route with just a 10-minute charge. Milton Keynes is also trialing connected and autonomous vehicles, a project called UK Autodrive, which is led by Ford, Jaguar Land Rover and Tata Motors European Technical Centre to show how cars can communicate with each other to notify drivers of available space. In addition, there is also Advanced Very Rapid Transit (AVRT), a futuristic high-speed, driverless bus system that could revolutionise public transport. However, even though the hype for Autonomous Vehicles is high, many questions still remain unanswered:
- Will they simply increase the number of vehicles on the road?
- Will they transform the way we travel by creating shared and pooling vehicles?
- What kind of metrics are we using to evaluate them (i.e. measuring people rather than vehicles? Safety & public health? Curb space management?)
- What are the security implications in terms of cyber-attacks and violation of privacy?
These are just some thoughts I compiled following two major smart city events I attended, one in Silicon Valley and one in London. The subject is incredibly broad, but one thing is evident: we need bigger, bolder and riskier ideas. More importantly, we need to act now.
by Gaia Arzilli / Innovation Scout – HB Reavis