Resilient transportation in a pandemic: can coronavirus push for more sustainable mobility?

Resilient transportation in a pandemic: can coronavirus push for more sustainable mobility?

The question of how we will inhabit cities after COVID-19 has popped amongst most urban planners, as we all question urban dynamics and see the pandemic as an opportunity to reshape not only the way we inhabit cities, but also how we move in them.

Since the first images from an isolated Wuhan to the photos of empty streets in New York, the media have shared powerful images that invite urban enthusiasts to question the use of street space generally dominated by cars.

The disruption of our everyday lives brought a perfect momentum for urbanists to push forward a sustainable mobility agenda as many people worked from home, micro-mobility became the only type of mobility for many, and even the World Health Organisation encouraged people to consider riding bikes and walking whenever feasible.

Technical guidance for mobility published by the World Health Organisation

Since public transportation and cab services are still considered risky spaces for infection, local governments decided to pedestrianise streets and broaden bike lanes in cities such as New York, Berlin, Milan, Bogota, Barcelona, Mexico City, Paris, Vienna, Sydney and Brussels.

Planners and local governments have described it as a moment for mobility to change, an approach that is still to be tested once the social distancing restrictions are lifted, and the use of walking and biking is tested versus motorised transportation such as motorbikes and cars.

Car affluence dropped to almost 40% in most major cities; some cities adopted temporary measures implementing pop-up bike lanes while others fast-tracked bike paths scheduled in the pre-corona city planning.

Percentage of city movement in comparison to usual in the European cities of Paris, Milan and Berlin during February and March 2020. Source: City Mapper Mobility Index.

City mobility adapting to a health crisis

One of the most relevant examples of city mobility adapted to the health crisis is Paris. The region plans to invest 300 million euros in building 650 kilometres of pop-up and pre-planned cycleway infrastructure. In an overnight operation street workers blocked traffic and painted bike icons turning streets into safe streets for biking.

Coronavirus lockdown and the decrease in car traffic accelerated the implementation of the “Plan Vélo” which is part of major Anne Hidalgo’s promise to turn every street in Paris cycle-friendly by 2024.

Berlin introduced 20 kilometres of pop-up bike lanes, as Berlin Roads and Parks Department official Felix Weisbrich called this a “pandemic-resilient infrastructure.” As the pandemic has accelerated the discussions in districts and municipal parliaments, public officials can push for urban infrastructure to be implemented ata faster speed than what the bouroucratic procedure would usually take.


Pop-up bike lane in Kottbusser Damm, Berlin. Source: author

The city of Milan implemented the “Strade Aperte” plan which contemplated the transformation of 35 kilometres of city streets into either pedestrian or cyclists roads. The Italian government issued bike-friendly traffic rules and promised people in bigger cities to provide a subsidy of up to 60 per cent of the price for the purchase of bicycles and e-scooters, up to a maximum of 500 euros.

Brussels planned to build a total of 40 kilometers of new cycle lanes. While the British government announced an emergency plan of 250 million pounds to set up pop-up bike lanes, safer junctions and cycle-only corridors.

Finally, Bogotá is one of the cities with the largest pop-up cycling lanes expansion during the pandemic crisis as the city implemented 80km of temporary in-street bikeways to supplement 550 km existing bike paths.

The pop-up infrastructure like removable tape and mobile signs not only makes it easier for people riding bikes to keep self-distancing, but it also encourages people who would not cycle regularly to explore new ways of transportation in a more comfortable space.

What about cars?

The adaptation to COVID-19 is not always sustainable and resilient. The sanitary measures present a risk as cars represent a tool for isolated mobility. Car-centric cities may continue to be so as car use increases.

As there is a higher demand for activities to restart under social distancing conditions, many cities in Europe started embracing drive-in culture not only for food but also for churches, cinemas and even concerts. 

Examples of drive-in entertainment alternatives take place in the outskirts of cities as it is the case in Lithuania and Denmark. German car cinemas became popular near Cologne, and the city of Schüttorf close to the border of Germany and the Netherlands hosted a party in a drive-in club where the performer invited people to “honk if they were having a good time”.

In the United States, famous for its drive-in culture,  a strip club continued operation under  this new modality that would allow people to keep distance as the attendees stayed inside their cars.

While drive-ins help entertainment industries to cope with the closures imposed by the sanitary restrictions, there is a risk, especially in the suburbs, to develop an even more motorised culture and a lifestyle that is more dependable on cars. 

What can urban planning learn from past epidemics?

One of the first examples of a city adapting to an epidemic is the cholera outbreak mapped by John Snow which encouraged cities to establish higher hygiene standards and prompted the relevance of statistical data in city planning.

However, more recent outbreaks like the case of SARS epidemic that affected cities in China, South East Asia and Canada highlighted the vulnerability of dense cities to become arenas for a fast spread of the virus. Although the use of public transportation was reduced in cities like Taipei, -the daily ridership of public transportation decreased to 50% during the peak of the 2003 SARS period–  there is no significant evidence of a shift toward sustainable transportation. The SARS epidemic provided more examples of social control and exceptionalism than examples of sustainable transportation.

In the case of Covid-19, even if urbanists hope for the outbreak to be a significant opportunity to design more sustainable cities in the “new normality”, and car sales have drastically dropped, there is hope in the car industry for sales to rise once the distance regulations are eased since people will opt for a car to comply with social distancing rules.

In Korea and China the fears of contracting the Coronavirus have already shown an increase in the sales of cars and in the United States, according to the IBM study  on Consumer Behavior Alterations, “More than 20 percent of respondents who regularly used buses, subways or trains now said they no longer would, and another 28 percent said they will likely use public transportation less often.”.

In addition, they claim that “more than 17 percent of people surveyed said that they intend to use their personal vehicle more as a result of COVID-19, with approximately 1 in 4 saying they will use it as their exclusive mode of transportation going forward.” .   

In this matter, public transportation might be the most affected in terms of revenue, New York City metro system reported its worst financial crisis as their ridership decreased by 90%, while London Underground put one quarter of its staff in furlough as it has only been used at a 5% of its capacity for the past months.  Even after the social distancing measures are eased, public transport might be considered more hazardous than other means of transportation and be the most affected financially.

Can city mobility restart in a resilient way?

After the biggest part of the crisis has passed and we will inhabit cities with eased sanitary restrictions is still uncertain whether mobility patterns will be affected in a permanent way. Further data will show if the coronavirus pandemic did encourage the creation of instruments for the implementations of sustainable mobility or it  perpetuated a car centered approach.

So far, at a medium-term, the relevance of longer-trips has been questioned, and work from home acquired significance as an alternative to commutes. Trips are expected to be carried out mostly by walking, cycling and driving a personal car and the investment in cycling infrastructure will remain as a long-term outcome of this pandemic.


A woman biking through Schillingbrücke in Berlin. Source: author.

The learning outcomes of this experience can also have a long-term impact as they will be documented in guidelines and the experience will set a precedent for critical and resilient responses for local governments.  For instance, the guide for temporary bike lanes titled “Making a safe space for cycling in 10 days”, developed by the consultancy Mobicon, delineates what should the first relevant action should include to keep safe distance while boosting more sustainable commutes.

The restoration of activities in dense cities might not bring an automatic radical change in mobility behaviour and policy but, despite the circumstances, life under social distancing became an actual experimental period that many urbanists have dreamed of and many citizens had not experimented before.

The relevant question now is whether we will be able to maintain partially closed streets and broader bike lanes after lockdown restrictions are lifted once cities get through this moment, hoping for planners, public officials and citizens to recognise the perks of having more room and infrastructure for alternative mobility.

Innovation in the legal sector, between legal design and legal tech

Innovation in the legal sector, between legal design and legal tech

The legal sector, considered as a system made of codes and laws that are not always easy to read, often interfaces with people’s lives. Due to the complexity of bureaucracy and legal language, defined by many authors as an intricate labyrinth of notions, paragraphs and articles, people feel inadequate and very often disoriented. In response to these difficulties, the idea has emerged that the legal system should be redefined in order to make it intelligible to everyone by employing a more linear and clear language. This process of legal innovation was developed through two important legal profiles: legal design and legal tech.

Indeed, the legal discipline has tried to improve the comprehensibility of legal language by abandoning, albeit partially, the so-called “scriptorum” of classical scholars through the use of Legal Design. In fact, the  main purpose of this new legal instrument in the hands of new professional figures in the legal field was to limit the use of all technical terms, complex concepts and a particularly articulated syntax in order to facilitate the understandability of rules or contracts, taking into account the difficulty and needs of all relevant parties.

According to the Legal Design Lab of Stanford University, the notion of “design” indicates not only a simple aesthetic design, but also a completely new and innovative methodology that aims at creating intuitive results and legal tools through the employment of icons, graphic signs and argumentative maps in order to make law more transparent and understandable. The legal document is reshaped by resorting to illustrations and schemes, only the essential parts remain, in order to enable people who are not familiar with the legal sector to interact with the latter and understand it in the best way possible.

In Italy, the Bruno Kessler Foundation of Trento developed a project named “SIMPATICO” with the aim of simplifying legal language through the employment of artificial intelligence. The process created by the Foundation is structured around the prior analysis of the text and its consequent translation and adaptation to the needs and factual knowledge of the user, in order to achieve a final objective: to make the document comprehensible and decipherable by the reader. It has been recognized that digital development, which has been raging in every sector of the economy for over a decade, has also revolutionized the world of law and legal services, that more and more employ digital, fast, easy to understand and innovative systems.

Nowadays, legal professionals begin to be familiar with artificial intelligence, algorithms and machine learning, as these tools enable them to combine legal skills with innovative and highly technological solutions. In this context, professionals feel the continuous and growing need to respond to and satisfy new needs, including the reduction of time frames and the simplification of procedures that have always been cumbersome.

According to Claudia Sandei, head of the Innovation Technology Law Lab (IITL) of Padova University, the figure of the legal professional is going to change in the next decade, as he will  acquire competences and skills that will allow him to perform efficiently in the digital sector.

The early forms of legal tech were conceived at the end of 2000s, with the purpose of improving all the activities performed by law firms, including: acquisition of customers; monitoring of workflow; restructuring of  information architecture; use of online space and cloud; as well as speeding up the management of relations with clients and institutions. 

The rise of technology in the legal profession, in the form of legal tech, fintech and insurtech, also represents an industrial trend in technological development. In addition to the birth of tech boutiques and companies with legal in-house, new technological developments have entered the system. In 2019 there were significant decreases in the length of legal processes, originated and favored by the implementation of platforms aimed at resolving online disputes.

The United Kingdom and the United States are the prodromal example of the digitalization process of courts and tribunals. In fact, the two countries have encouraged the use of digital platforms to facilitate the performance of legal processes in a virtual way, without the need to be physically present in the courthouse. This, undoubtedly, takes on even more importance in view of the pandemic that is raging on a global level. The estimates regarding investments in the digital revolution of the legal sector show the complexity of the increasing digitalisation of law. In particular, in the two-year period 2018-2019, revenue in the legal sector, notably the one employing legal tech instruments, exceeded 10.7 billion euro.

Moreover, according to Lawgeex, a contract review platform, there are multiple types of tools relating to the world of legal technology (the platform currently estimates about thirty of them). The impact of new legal tech solutions, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and intellectual property innovation, is absolutely disruptive and without precedents. These new legal instruments not only guarantee the production of tailor-made documents, shaped according to the needs of clients and professionals, but also ensure the traceability of the various versions of each document, allowing professionals to work simultaneously on the same document.

Nowadays, it should be pointed out that, even though they may seem synonyms, there is a remarkable difference between the notion of “legaltech” and that of “lawtech”. Indeed, when we talk about legaltech, we refer to the software and technologies that legal professionals use to simplify and speed up their work; instead, the notion of “lawtech” identifies a complexity of tools available to clients (legal chatbots, online markets).

To sum up, legal technology is being developed in three main fields: 1) management of the law firm through advanced control systems, 2) management and execution of practices aimed at better administration of the same and, finally, 3) legal services to the market, as platforms serving delivery services. As legal technology continues to improve in all these areas, we can begin to imagine a future in which legal tech tools will play an increasingly central role in the lives of both professionals and clients, making the legal sector easier to understand and navigate.

#LabGovNonSiFerma #LuissNonSiFerma: La seconda attività di Sustainability online

#LabGovNonSiFerma #LuissNonSiFerma: La seconda attività di Sustainability online

Oggi si è concluso il secondo incontro delle #pilloledisostenibilità organizzato dall’Università Luiss Guido Carli, che ha promosso, durante le festività pasquali, attività online riguardanti tematiche ambientali.

La Clinica Urbana Interdisciplinare di LabGov 2020 ha aderito a questa bellissima iniziativa online organizzando due pillole di sostenibilità per rendere green questo periodo di quarantena.

In particolare, giovedì insieme ai tutor della Clinica Urbana Interdisciplinare Alessio, Julianne e Francesco abbiamo visto come realizzare un Orto in Balcone utilizzando materiali riciclati, come bottiglie di plastica e tappi di sughero, insieme ad alcuni consigli su come essere più sostenibili: “lo sapevi che anche solo cancellando le vecchie mail puoi ridurre le emissioni di CO2 nell’ambiente?”; nell’incontro di oggi invece, insieme agli altri tutor  Caterina, Lorenzo, Tommaso e Flaminia abbiamo visto come preparare del gel igienizzante per le mani, come disinfettare una mascherina e come riutilizzare rifiuti organici, che altrimenti, avrebbero un grande impatto sull’ambiente!

Per nuove iniziative, seguiteci sui nostri canali social e sulle nostre pagine.

Today ended the second meeting of #sustainabilitypills organized by Luiss Guido Carli University, which promoted, during the Easter holidays, online activities on environmental issues. The Urban Interdisciplinary Clinic of LabGov 2020 joined this beautiful online initiative by organizing two sustainability pills video tutorials to make this period of quarantine greener.


In particular, on Thursday together with the tutors of the Interdisciplinary Urban Clinic Alessio, Julianne and Francesco we saw how to create a Balcony Garden using recycled materials, such as plastic bottles and corks, together with some tips to be more sustainable: “did you know that even just by deleting spam emails you can reduce CO2 emissions into the environment? “.

In today’s meeting instead, together with other tutors, namely Caterina, Lorenzo, Tommaso and Flaminia we saw how to prepare hand sanitizing gel, how to disinfect a mask and how to transform an organic waste into beauty cosmetics.
We encourage everybody to follow this sustainability pills to reduce the negative impact that some activities have on the environment!

For new initiatives follow us on our social channels and pages.

Building a narrative for Open and Collaborative Innovation

Building a narrative for Open and Collaborative Innovation

LabGov keeps going on digitally! On March 13th from 4 to 6pm, the third workshop of the Urban Clinic will take place in a surprising way. Indeed, all the students will meet in the virtual classroom 203. The Urban Clinic will host Azzurra Spirito, community-led project designer. She will introduce the concepts of service design, design process and storytelling for a process of Open and Collaborative innovation to the LabGovers, with the scope of improving their projects. 

On Saturday 14th, we will move forward with the project, supported by Azzurra Spirito expert in project design, Elena de Nictolis Luiss Research Fellow and Alessandro Piperno, PhD student Management Luiss. The co-working will take place in the virtual classroom 305a from 10am to 5pm. Students will first work together to define the personas and the customer decision journey of their project while in the afternoon they will work in groups to create the investor pitch of their project idea.

If you are interested in finding out how our project keeps going in a digital way, follow us on our social channels Instagram, Facebook and Twitter!


Smart Forest City: A New Frontier of Urban Sustainability

Smart Forest City: A New Frontier of Urban Sustainability

The Milanese architecture firm “Stefano Boeri Architetti”, who projected the Vertical Forest in Milan, designed the plan for the first Smart Forestry City that will be based in Cancun, Mexico. It is expected to host up to 130.000 inhabitants, by replacing the project of a shopping center. The city will be built on a 5.57 km2, currently employed as a “sand quarry for hotels” (Endel 2019)[1] and 4 km2 will be reserved for green spaces. There will be about 7.500.000 plants in the project and 260.000 will be trees. With a ratio of 2.3 trees per inhabitant, the Smart Forest City “will absorb 116.000 tons of carbon dioxide with 5.800 tons of CO2 stocked per year” (Endel 2019). Public parks, private gardens, green roofs, and green facades will help create a balance within the built environment.

The city has also been imagined to be completely food and energy self-sufficient. Indeed, it will be surrounded by solar panels and agricultural fields. Water will be gathered at the entrance of the city, next to the desalination tower and dispensed by a system of navigable channels in the whole settlement up to the agricultural fields that surround the urban area[2]. Within the city, people will circulate via internal electric and semi-automatic mobility, leaving their cars outside of the city.

The Smart Forest City will also hold “a center for advanced research that could host all worldwide university departments, international organizations, and companies that deal with very important sustainability issues and the future of the planet” (Endel 2019). 

The Smart Forest City definitely promotes the idea of sustainable city. In fact, the project seems to create a perfect habitat where human beings can live in total harmony with nature within the urban space. Apparently, this sounds like a perfect solution in a scenario where urbanization is expected to rise in the next years and climate change needs to be handled with innovative solutions. Indeed, this project not only seems to support the idea of reducing urban sprawl by creating dense and compact settlements, but it also seems to avoid one of the main challenges that urban density can bring, which is the lack of green space on urban footprints. Thus, one of the main critiques to the urban density discourse has been the idea that if land is consumed for increasing urban development, areas devoted to green will be necessarily reduced. However, the Smart forest city represents an anti-sprawl and densification project able to reduce urban expansion while increasing the quantity of green within the built city. “A model that connects to the policies for reforestation and naturalization of the edges of large urban and metropolitan areas” (Kucherova and Narvaez 2018: 5)[3]. In fact, as the Stefano Boeri Architetti firm’s manifesto states[4], the reforestation of the urban environment can be an extraordinary help to improve the quality of health and life in a city. Indeed, forests and trees absorb nearly 40% of fossil fuel emissions largely produced by cities every year.

However, there are some challenges which are not self-evident when looking at these projects. First, instead of building sustainable cities or eco-cities out of nowhere, believing that higher densities are necessarily good, planners may better consider that urban design is not enough to make cities more sustainable. As Laurence Crot highlighted, Masdar City (a planned city project initiated in 2006 in the United Arab Emirates) portrayed as the world first sustainable city and the example of Abu Dhabi’s new urban vision, has soon renounced to some of its most ambitious sustainability goals (2012: 2809)[1] such as its car-free mission. Masdar City has been recently rebranded as a carbon neutral project and its previous zero-carbon commitment soon disappeared from the policy agenda. Indeed, eco-cities projects instead of representing the panacea for main environmental and urban challenges seem just able to bring a new label to neoliberal urban development plans, since they rarely innovate and seldom keep their promises of sustainability (Cugurullo 2018: 74)[2]. Another weakness associated with these brand-new urban solutions relates the issue of who could really afford to live in eco-cities or smart forestry city. In fact, density increases the price of land and in turn increases the price of housing. Moreover, reforestation means bringing new amenities in the built environment which represents a new source of housing unaffordability.

Though a project as the Smart Forest City represents a perfect solution to reduce urban sprawl and pollution by increasing green space in cities at the same time; cities are more than their urban form. So, bringing urban design solutions to make cities more sustainable will not work alone, it can only be part of the answer. In fact, as Neuman pointed out, instead of asking ourselves if urban form can produce sustainability, we should question whether the processes of building cities, living, consuming and producing in cities are actually sustainable[7].


FOOTNOTES

[1]Edel, D. (2019), Smart Forest City Cancun Design Is First 100% Renewable Circular Economy City, Available from: https://www-intelligentliving-co.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.intelligentliving.co/amp/smart-forest-city-cancun-first-renewable-circular-economy-city

[2] Stefano Boeri Architetti (2019), Smart Forest City Cancun, Press release available from: https://www.stefanoboeriarchitetti.net/en/urban-forestry/

[3]Kucherova, A. and Narvaez, H. (2018), Urban Forest Revolution, E3S Web of Conferences 33, 01013, pp. 1-11. 

[4]Stefano Boeri Architetti (2019), Smart Forest City Cancun, Press release available from: https://www.stefanoboeriarchitetti.net/en/urban-forestry/

[5]Crot, L. (2012), Planning for Sustainability in Non-democratic Polities: The Case of Masdar City, Urban Studies 50(13), pp. 2809–2825. 

[6]Cugurullo, F. (2018), Exposing smart cities and eco-cities: Frankenstein urbanism and the sustainability challenges of the experimental city, Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space 2018, Vol. 50(1), pp. 73–92.

[7]Neuman, M. (2005), The Compact City Fallacy, Journal of Planning Education and Research 25, pp. 11-26