Smart Cities? No. It´s all about Mobility
100 new Smart Cities in India, Smart summits, Smart furniture… we are all fighting to have our cities up in the ranking of the Smartest Cities in the world. Ok, yes, sustainability and resilience have something to do in this package if you want to compete. Greenery, urban crops, energy efficiency, they are all values to add.
But no, the absolute key point for the future is Mobility. That´s the point. No matter how Smart you are if mobility problems are not solved. First, because, as usual with terms that get overused, Smart systems are tools to solve problems, yet they have no entity in themselves. But Mobility does, and it has a lot to say.
Yes, Mobility can be Smart too, but let´s split the two terms apart and focus on just Mobility itself. And, as a methodological proposal, lets tackle Mobility using not only the usual parameters of efficiency and functionality and lets add mood and sentiments, at least until Artificial Intelligent takes over.
People can assume inefficiency to a certain level when it’s related to work, but with the arrival of the ubiquitous office, mobility will be a major component of social relations and leisure, and delays and bad mood will not be so easily accepted then.
Also, as part of a method, let´s focus on an appropriate location for the experiment, that place where the population is growing in a range of more than 6% and like the living cells of a virus need to find a way to spread, so fast that they will solve it in unexpected manners.
This location, megalocation, might be South East Asia and its variety of Capital Cities. What´s going on over there? How are they solving Mobility? They have no time enough to think nor (except very specific cases) the resources to do it.
So, it´s being amazingly interesting. The natural spread of cities and the management of the Mobility by their inhabitants, sometimes the politicians and technicians, but not always. No time. Rush. We need to move, can’t wait.
Let’s take some examples and dissect them. May I propose Singapore, Hanoi, Manila and New Delhi (despite this latter not part of APAC). How did they solve their Mobility problems? This is incredibly interesting because it talks a lot about each country’s mindset and capability for innovation and problem solving.
Can we start with Vietnam? I like this example. Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City too. How did they solve the problems of so many cars on the streets? How did they manage? Don’t ask me if it was the relevant situation, good luck, the governants or the people themselves, but they did it. Traffic flows. How? Easy, there are NO cars. Almost no cars; only motorbikes. So, the number of lanes gets multiplied.
Next we can hop on to New Delhi. This is a good one too. There are cars, there is a mess but still traffic more or less works. Of course not very well, but they found the Indian way. Lanes are not exactly lanes, not necessarily compulsory, it’s just a hint of approximate routes. And on top on this and more interesting, their visionary mind previewed the shapes of the electric cars of the future and they created their own family of vehicles: man powered rickshaws, fuel powers rickshaws, animal powered rickshaws, freight rickshaws (note that rickshaw can mean infinite shapes), and even the Tata cars are taller than wider to be able to sneak into the traffic smoothly. The rules (the real social regulations) are not written but everybody knows. No bad mood, no problem.
Then, we have Singapore. A complete different approach. A city that flows perfectly. Well organised and with an incredible public transport. Clean and neat. But for this you need the well structured Singaporean mindset, a strong law enforcement, high taxes for cars and tools like ERP (Electronic Road Pricing). This has something to do with the mindset too. It works in Singapore, in other places it might mean a popular riot. And now, on top of this, autonomous vehicles (taller than wider again) will conquer the streets.
And last, here we have Manila. Sorry for my very good Philippine friends but, how did they solve it? How did they face this problem? Well, they just didn´t. It doesn´t work at all. This is a pity because other than strictly functionality concerns, you can love the city and its people but if you are stuck in the traffic for three hours not moving at all, you take the plane back home and your only feelings are of hatred, of a hostile city that made you feel sick and upset for hours.
So, mobility is mutating from the usual car and road image we were used to but… is it happening only in developing countries with traffic issues? Only on the roads? No again! The electric vehicles are conquering the Public Space. Maybe not that much on the roads, where electric cars designed by the usual brands still follow the shapes of the vehicles we are used to, which means 500 km autonomy, space for five people, whole lane width, protected and expensive. But there are hundreds of modalities of alien vehicles expanding on earth! Electric scooters, different shapes of Segways, bikes and pseudo-bikes, portable wheels that later run fast when on the ground, crazy inventions that don’t mind is it´s a road or a sidewalk that they are moving over.
Isn’t there a clear connection between the ways Hanoi, Delhi and others are rethinking naturally the streets/public-realm with this new ways of riding the streets with the last hypes of scootering the sidewalks? If the vehicles are not any more the same, why the hell are we keeping the usual concepts and physical cross sections of our roads? Do they have to be roads as we think of roads? Why don’t we follow the flow and try to adapt?
Partner & Managing Director at NEREI emotional intelligent.