By Andrew Elvish
Earlier this year, a group of public and private organizations —including Transportation America, Natural Resource Defense Council, Uber, and cityway— got together to establish a set of Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities. Essentially, the group put together 10 principles that they feel should guide urban decision making for the future.
Notably, the list includes planning cities and mobility together, prioritizing people over vehicles, engaging with all stakeholders, and working toward creating greater connectivity. In addition, they also feel that the infrastructure itself must enable interoperability and innovation while ensuring privacy, security, and accountability.
What’s particularly interesting for me is that this demonstrates a clear shift in the way we think about urban development. These leaders in transportation are recognizing that we must be proactive in the way we shape our environments and that the decisions we make today about how people and vehicles will get around can impact the livability of our cities in the future.
As the member of a team that has been thinking about these same principles for a long time, I have some insight into some of the challenges and solutions they can provide. One of the biggest comes from the fact that, in almost every case, we are not building a new city—we’re reimaging an old one.
Making informed decisions to keep people moving
When stakeholders come together to start planning, one of their key concerns is frequently how to preserve what is working about an existing urban space. The city of Amsterdam is a great example.
With its canals, unique architecture, and UNESCO-protected city center, Amsterdam is, in many ways, a 16th century city with 21st century concerns. Like most cities of the world, Amsterdam’s population is increasing steadily and, in addition, it attracts millions of tourists every year. In fact, a recent evaluation of their tourism policy forecasts that, by 2025, 23 million people will visit the city annually.
One of their biggest challenges is maintaining a high quality of life for local residents while also welcoming millions of tourists every year. Obviously, Amsterdam was not built to accommodate vehicular traffic, and it would alter the city in damaging ways to simply run roadways through the downtown center.
To meet the pressing mobility needs of locals and visitors alike, the city is implementing a new Noord/Zuid (North/South) metro line and improving ring-roads to facilitate movement, thereby alleviating some of the congestion at the center and helping new neighborhoods develop and thrive.
Many of these improvements have been developed by working with data from a wide —and not always typical— variety of sources. In this case, the information collected through traffic studies was augmented with anonymized data from mobile carriers and tourist pattern data from local museum card programs. This allowed the city to develop plans that took both vehicular and foot traffic patterns into account.
Working together to secure large-scale events
In addition to improving daily life for citizens, cities are also going to have to manage large-scale special events. Tokyo is set to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, and it provides an interesting case study on what large urban centers will have to do in order to host the world for a few weeks at a time.
Home to 13-million, people in Tokyo are in constant contact with one another. This is one of the reasons both residents and tourists feel so safe there. It has an around-the-clock sense of urban surveillance. But, in many ways, security in Tokyo is a local concern. With its collection of 23 wards, 26 cities, five towns, and eight villages, Tokyo is going to have to increase its collaboration among stakeholders to ensure the success of the 2020 Games.
Technology can play a significant role here. Deploying systems that have collaboration built-in will help bring stakeholders together. And, as with Amsterdam, using the data they are already collecting with their connected sensors will help them meet the real-world needs of their businesses, municipal governments, and citizens alike.
Whether we are talking about old established cities or newly expanding ones, creating vibrant, smart, urban spaces that are truly welcoming requires that we pay close attention to what people and businesses need now.
Then, building on this understanding, we have to develop infrastructure that allows stakeholders to come together and embrace new forms of technology and ways of working. All the while, we must never lose sight of the importance of ensuring privacy, security, and accountability, especially as we adapt to our ever-changing world.
About The Author
Andrew Elvish is a columnist, explorer, and the Vice President of Marketing and Product Management at Genetec. Andrew has over 20 years’ experience in the software industry and will surprise you with his knowledge of great restaurants all over the world.