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.

Open Heritage project: third co-planning session

Open Heritage project: third co-planning session

Saturday 06 March at the Dopotutto Beer&Food Experience the third session of the co-design lab of the Local Action Plan of the Rome Collaboratory took place.

After a brief presentation of the activities defined during the weekly teamwork meetings, the session started. The participants, divided in groups according to the activities that they are developing, finalized the business plan and identified the stakeholders to be engaged in the sustainable tourism platform.

The Bike Tours group analyzed the documents needed to carry out the operation and discussed the possibility of including in the project an NGO that would provide technical assistance and support for the guides of the bike tours.

The Local Campaign group focused on defining an online and offline communication strategy aimed at promoting a narrative on the Heritage Site. The group also finalized the planning of the Living Memory Exhibition. The Living Memory Exhibition will include a contest of street art, photography, poetry and writing to involve the local creatives active in the district.

The Living Memory Exhibition & Heritage Site group proposed to set up a photographic exhibition in the Tunnel with musical entertainment involving local music networks such us the Popular Initiative Center of Alessandrino (CIP).

The session ended with the planning of the teamworks’ activities for the incoming week

Social Housing as a Common Good for Resilient Cities

Social Housing as a Common Good for Resilient Cities

LabGov Costa Rica began this 2019 a project of Social Housing in collaboration with the Ministry of Housing and Human Settlements, and the real estate development council. The intention of this project is to apply the Co-City methodology in a collaborative experience between the academic sector, the public sector and private stakeholders.

The idea is born from the previous social housing LabGov approach, following the work presented at Matera with Federcasa in 2018. In this past encounter in fact a series of documents[1] were generated around the idea of the “house as a common” that come to be the theoretical foundation, among others, of this project in Costa Rica.

The objective of the project is to propose a new Social Housing solution within the framework of an urban regeneration plan that integrates the design of common goods, applies the transect and mega-blocks model, reflecting the new urban values: compactness , participation, 24/7, pedestrian friendly, mixed use, and self-sufficient, in terms of consumption and production of energy, information, goods and services.

The project is promoted by the academy, under the guidance of the teacher of Urban Design courses and the Coordinators of Research and Extension of the School of Architecture at Universidad Latina, as well as those responsible for the project for the Ministry of Housing and Human Settlements. The work of those involved will be to follow up on the proposals that will be formulated through presentations, focus groups, talks and working groups to finally evaluate the possibility of applying the project.

One of the main strategies is taking advantage of land management instruments and international experiences in social housing.

For this, we are going to generate a novel proposal to solve the access to decent housing for populations in need (elderly, young people, people with disabilities) avoiding the discrimination that generate projects that are exclusively dedicated to these users; and thus respond to a new conception of the city, as was proposed in the New Urban Agenda presented in Habitat III, in Quito in 2016.

To achieve it, we propose a strategy so that the buildings offer a % of units for social housing even being designed for the middle class; this in order to reduce discrimination and integrate users’ social level and in the urban fabric.

The project implementation area is located in the center of the capital, San José, in the south area between the Sabana Metropolitan Park, and near the Pacific Railway Station, in Víquez Square, developing along a stretch of the railway line in a desolate area of particular abandonment. This is also due to the fact that originally it was an area for industrial use that no longer works as such, reason why the residential areas of south of San José have developed mostly to meet the need for workers’ residences. Although the blocks of small wooden houses are characteristic of an era and a social class, the abandonment has strongly affected this sector causing deterioration of buildings, insecurity and poor investment in public infrastructure.

The main challenge to redeem this sector is the image of the neighborhood, the anti-fame and the current absence of a real group of neighbors, who gradually moved away from the center. Despite this, the potential of this area is linked to the fact that it belongs to the historic center of the capital, is a well-served area, full of buildings that can be recovered, a use of mixed land ranging from residential, commercial, institutional and industrial past, as well as being located in one of the main axes of east-west mobility, both in private and public transport mode.

For this reason, both from the public sector, and from the private sector, there is an interest in redeeming the district, as well as intervening throughout the portion of the railway line between the Metropolitan Park and the square. This is related to certain public policies that today aim to strengthen the use of the train as an alternative transport in response to the increase in vehicular traffic.

In order to make a feasible proposal, the students started from the process of the Cheap talk and Mapping directly on site, summing up the perception of the spaces as the potential of the same with various meetings and surveys. So far, these first two stages of the “Co-City cycle” process involved more than 15 students, 3 experts in mobility and land management, a deputy minister and ministerial councilors, 2 university professors and several residents interviewed during the days (and evenings) of inspection.

Currently the project is in a Practicing phase with the support of Ministry technicians and the timely intervention of experts from the private sector – belonging to the chamber of real estate developers, working on a phase of co-creation of specific proposals of commons (both intervention, as well as new implementations) and mixed-use building development (offices, commerce, residential and public use).

It is projected to reach a more mature phase of Prototype of the master plan during the half of the current year, to then put the proposals to the test, in a Testing phase in front of a jury composed of experts in the sector, public, private sector and the civil society of the interested parties. The idea of ​​turning a university course into a research laboratory where new urbanistic and architectural ideas are put to the service of citizenship, is not new in the international experience of LabGov, but what we propose for the first time is to co-design with all the actors involved an innovative project, both on the front of the design as on the legal source, that is to say the feasibility from the executive point of view, which depends on the public institutions and the interest of the companies.


[1] Monica Bernardi, Christian Iaione, Chiara Prevete, Home Pooling: Applying co-governance to the housing sector. And “Analisi empirica dell’innovazione nel finanziamento per le infrastrutture sociali (housing)”.

Urban Clinic LabGov EDU 2019 1st community gardening session

Urban Clinic LabGov EDU 2019 1st community gardening session

Save the date: next Saturday, 9th March we will host the first EDU@LabGov community gardening session in Luiss Community Garden from 10 am to 12am.

The LabGovers will work with recycled materials in order to build a prototype that they will install in Luiss and in the city of Rome. If you are interested in following their work, follow our official social network!

During the community gardening session, the LabGovers will put into practice what they are learning during the forms in the classroom therefore it will represent ahead important footstep in the realization of their project.

The assisted gardening is not only a didactic moment but an activity of practical collaborative among the boundaries of the University Luiss Guido Carli, that then the students will experiment on the field in the city of Rome.

Stay tuned!

Save the date: Sabato 9 marzo si terrà il primo community gardening della Clinica Urbana EDU@LabGov presso l’#OrtoLuiss dalle 10:00 alle 12:00.

Durante la sessione di community gardening i LabGovers, divisi dapprima in quattro gruppi sulle diverse aree di lavoro, dovranno presentare i dati raccolti nel corso della settimana e iniziare a dar forma al loro progetto. Inizieranno quindi un laboratorio di auto-costruzione che, tramite l’utilizzo di materiali riciclati, li porterà a realizzare un prototipo che installeranno nella città di Roma. Se volete saperne di più rimanete connessi ai nostri account social ufficiali quel giorno!

L’obiettivo è mettere in pratica ciò che gli studenti stanno apprendendo durante i moduli in aula, quindi rappresenterà un importante passo avanti nella realizzazione della loro idea.

Il gardening assistito non è solo un momento didattico ma un’attività di pratica collaborativa tra le mura dell’Università Luiss Guido Carli, che poi gli studenti sperimenteranno sul campo nella città di Roma.

Restate Connessi!

“UIA innovative approaches to tackle urban poverty”: how to tackle the problem of urban poverty

“UIA innovative approaches to tackle urban poverty”: how to tackle the problem of urban poverty

UIA is a European initiative created to test new solutions and to tackle emerging urban challenges.

Some of these solutions were collected by Nils Scheffler, UIA expert for the Use-It project, in his paper “UIA innovative approaches to tackle urban poverty “.

In fact, among the difficulties faced by the various urban contexts, there is the one concerning poverty.

This article, written after the seminar on 11 October 2018, during the European Week of Regions and Cities, quotes as an example the six cities Barcelona, ​​Birmingham, Lille, Nantes, Pozzuoli, Turin, which participate in the first call for proposals on the theme of urban poverty and which are adopting, with the support of UIA, innovative solutions to tackle this problem.

 

 

One of the most interesting aspects that emerges from the article is the one concerning the Public-private-community partnerships. In these particular types of partnership there is a more specific focus on what concerns the local foundation and the local development. In fact, the various target groups have been involved in the projects since the beginning.

A good example of how the Public-private-community partnerships can be particularly effective in combating the poverty is in the Co-city project from Turin where the municipality collaborates in the governance of the Commons with the various local associations and residents through the “Pacts of collaboration “. These are described by Christian Iaione, professor at Luiss Guido Carli and expert of the Co-City project, as “legal tool through which the forms of cooperation between city inhabitants and the City administration address urban poverty through an urban commons-based approach i.e. stimulating collective use, management, ownership of urban assets, services, the way infrastructure is implemented”.