BERLIN – In a series of talks with inspirational mobility leaders, we are picking the brains of some of the most influential opinion-makers in the industry. We had the chance to talk with Florian Lennert, former director of the Intelligence City Forum, and current CEO at Future Lab Berlin. Together, we discuss how to design greener cities for an ever-increasing amount of people.
At the Intelligence City Forum, you are focusing on research in the area of smart mobility, renewable energy systems, and city designs. Assuming that urbanization will continue to level up in the next 30–40 years, we will have to build cities that can house and transport roughly three billion people. How will we manage this?
As the general urban population increases, the cities we are building need to become much more efficient. In the 20th century, we built cities that were very energy-intensive and reliant on fossil fuels. As we move forward, we will need to reduce our cities’ environmental footprints. There are planetary problems that will require global responses and efforts around the Paris Agreement. But at the same time, the actual solutions to these problems will have to be developed and tested locally in cities, because they are centers for intervention.
When talking about making cities more sustainable, we also need to tackle mobility. One of the key challenges is to overcome the way our cities have been shaped by cars over the past decades. Cars are in themselves spatially and economically inefficient. So we must ask ourselves: do we need to change the engine, or substitute the fuel? Or do we need to fundamentally rethink what type of vehicles and technologies we use to move people through cities?
It is very often said that autonomous vehicles will solve our congestion problems. However, they also add vehicles on to the roads. When are autonomous vehicles just adding to our roadblocks and when are they actually helping us to decongest?
I think automation can make a valuable contribution to build more sustainable mobility networks, but we need to avoid making unsustainable systems more efficient. The answer would be a real shift; moving people away from individual private transportation to some form of shared mobility. I see three main trends that we have to take into consideration:
The dream of living in a so called “electric palace”, where renewable energy is the primary way to run vehicles, is about a century old. The dream is still here, but not that much has evolved since then. Why have we not gotten further ahead?
Yes, there was a moment in urban development at the beginning of the 20th century when scientists and people were dreaming of a city that was an electropolis. Different electrical systems were thought to become deeply connected as an integral part of the infrastructure.
Berlin was designed to provide public spaces where different forms of mobility could coexist (walking, horse riding, cycling and so on). The light rail and the electric train systems were integrated in Berlin at the turn of the century. That enabled urban development and the creation of very nice neighborhoods where people wanted to live.
The problem is that we now separate these different infrastructures completely from each other. When we want to rethink the way we can move people through cities, we need to go back to the drawing board. The questions from a century ago remains; how can we enable individual mobility through the city? And how do we combine different technologies and different modes of mobility to allow for the seamless transport of people? In this context, we need to let our eyes leave the ground and start thinking about the vertical and third dimension as well.
Can you give some concrete examples of how infrastructure and urban planning can have a positive effect on mobility, and why the city is the right place for this theater of intervention?
A key aspect of the intelligent city is to think more logically about how we run energy, water, mobility, and waste systems, and look at how to connect them and create circular economy solutions. To give you a practical example, 60% of the rubbish trucks in Berlin are driven by biogas that’s produced from the waste that they collect. Furthermore, the way we design design cities and their spatial layout needs to radically change. At the moment, we build cities that are optimized to move metal boxes around (cars), but not necessarily people.
Do you think that it is possible to get rid of the cars as status symbols, and replace them with smart transport subscriptions? Or is that just wishful — green — thinking?
If you do extensive social research on people’s attitudes regarding cars, it’s clear that a great majority of people would consider switching to more sustainable transportation if it was as efficient and seamless as their private car. Now is the time to develop systems and services that are more attractive to people than the current unsustainable ones.
We need to overcome the weird separation between public and private mobility systems. It has become abundantly evident that we need to create a digital system for mobility, and this is something that municipalities are beginning to look at intensely.
Cities need to create a framework that regulates who can use the city space for different forms of mobility services, prices and access conditions. I believe that it is an important role for cities to take, and to own these types of whitelabel platforms. These would allow both public and private providers to offer their services within an integrated and regulated system, on fair competitive grounds and where cities do not lose access to information.
How can policy incentivize or nudge a behaviour where you as an individual choose a mode of transportation which is sustainable and environmentally friendly?
It’s going to be a combination of regulation, taxation, and pricing. A lot of us are filling public space with cars. We need to restrict (either by regulation or pricing) the easy access for inefficient vehicles, like cars for private use, to claim valuable space in cities. For me it’s pretty certain that over time, cities will slowly remove the private car from its centres.
Another solution is to provide citizens with more attractive, alternative solutions. The seamless connectivity that we all now experience with our smartphones allows us to look at creating travel chains for individuals in real-time, and combine them with whatever mode is available and efficient. I do think that cities will also have to prioritize and say, “if you want to use our public space, you can do so if you are under a certain speed, a certain weight and if you generate zero emission.”
Founded in 2013, Trafi is a Lithuanian tech start-up. Trafi is working shoulder-to-shoulder with cities, countries, and companies worldwide to create the best in class Mobility-as-a-Service alternative for congested cities. Trafi offers cities the possibility to connect all mobility services into one single platform where users can check itineraries and also book their tickets and trips.
Trafi’s mission is to empower cities’ urban transportation with technology and know-how and encourage citizens to use more sustainable modes of transportation by accessing all services into one single platform. Trafi is currently live in 4 continents around the world and 7 cities.