3 Ideas to Make Urban Mobility Solutions Work

By Chris Ryan
August 16, 2012
Corporate Citizenship Center

If you were planning the city of tomorrow, what kind of transportation options would you include? Would you build in a New York City-style metro? How about a cheaper, more flexible rapid bus system?

Now, instead of starting from scratch, imagine you had to plan for the future of an existing city. How would you deal with the legacy systems and outdated infrastructure? Would you try to completely change the way people move around or just strive to maximize the efficiency of current options?

Let’s make it a little more complicated. Instead of just working by yourself, imagine that you had to work with a large group on this plan. A group with a diverse set of backgrounds, experiences, and values. How would you accommodate the multitude of perspectives, but still emerge with a cohesive plan? How would you balance such diverse goals as strong economic growth, social cohesion, and respect for traditions?

If this set of questions seems daunting and complex, you can start to appreciate the challenge facing the attendees of the upcoming World Urban Forum. The event, occurring next Month in Naples, Italy, will seek to discuss the urban future. While most agree that cities will be incredibly important for our future prosperity, there are many opinions about how the ideal city would function. The event will be a forum to hear these numerous views and to share best practices.

In preparation, the National Building Museum, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, UN Habitat, and other groups, convened a briefing on August 15th to discuss the intersection of urban mobility, energy, and environment. The session will also prepare the U.S. contingent before the actual event in Naples.

The event was a great discussion of mobility ideas from such speakers as Congressman James Oberstar, Trisha Miller from HUD, and Heidi Crebo-Rediker, the Chief Economist of the State Department. Much of the conversation revolved around the following ideas: 

Focus on Holistic Solutions: For mobility solutions to truly make a difference, they have to take into account factors ranging from affordable housing to ease of use. Any solution that concentrates too much on a single goal will not succeed in providing adequate mobility for cities as a whole.

Developed Countries Can Learn from Developing Countries: While on the outset one might assume that established cities like London, New York, or Tokyo should be templates for tomorrow’s mega-cities, there are many examples of ingenious solutions to mobility challenges that come from the developing world. For example, Tata Motor Company has created a variety of inexpensive, small automobiles for the Indian market that could have applications for high density cities in the developed world. 

The Business Sector Can Serve as a Catalyst to Get Major Projects Rolling: Congressman Oberstar pointed out that ‘the private sector is significantly ahead of governments when it comes to supporting and implementing creative solutions’. He gave the example of businesses in Dallas committing to investing in the areas surrounding the stations of the DART metro system – before they were even built. This support proved crucial for moving the project, and benefited the business community through increased sales once the system had been completed.

BCLC will also be sending a representative with the U.S. contingent to Naples next month for the World Urban Forum, so please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have ideas or suggestions about cities before then.