Massimo Moraglio, March 31st, 2022

In this Rebalance Talk, Andreu Ulied spoke with professor Massimo Moraglio – on the growing relevance of mobility’s dark side

In the past decade the dark side of mobility has driven been more attention in the academic discussion (Cohen and Gössling 2015) as well as in the public domain discussion (as for “fly shaming”). Massimo Moraglio states that this weak signal is a sign of a (bigger) cultural shift, which defines mobility (also) as a burden, with negative impacts on social life as well as on the environment. In this respect, we are witnessing not only a new trend, but a major change in what is mobility in Europe.

The hegemonic idea of mobility has been based on traveling as an empowering element of modernity, able to open up markets, opportunities and new discoveries.

Goethe´s Grand Tour was the seminal moment of this idea of mobility, reinforced in the next decades, by new, formidable transport regimes and systems. Goethe himself traveled very slowly, and paved the way for the democratization of mobility, which granted – more recently – millions of Europeans to built new way of thinking, moving and living.

Not all of us can have the luxury of slow trip, as Goethe. Actually, in the past two centuries speed has become not an annoyance (if I rush it is because I have not time to take it easy), but a status symbol, ranking those travelling fast as the happy few. Easy access to fast and exotic destinations reinforced the idea of mobility as an asset, as stated in the mobility discourse.

This faster mobility, now available for masses, has a bright side, letting millions of European to travel. But, it has more recently also triggered new travel attitudes, as slow mobility, while Covid pandemic has made evident also the value of immobility (and how immobility is unevenly distributed).

The attention now given to the dark side of mobility (mobility is fatigue, is boring, is energy consumer, is polluting) is, in his eyes, a weak signal capable to become a major cultural shift, which is already having huge impact on policymakers´ and industry’s long-term decisions.

A new generation of European have experiences easy, cheap and easy to manage mobility services, which made them mobility saturated, thus less prone to consider mobility as an achievement, but an asset to be assessed in its pros and cons. This has been correlated with the impact of mobility in the CO2 emission, growing both in its share and in its absolute number.

Massimo Moraglio plea is to consider – then – mobility in its duality, both as an asset which offers more knowledge, opportunities and widen horizons, but also as a burden, as an effort. Therefore, we should leave an apriorist idea of mobility as “good” and immobility as “bad”, but facing its dichotomy (As much as re-consider slowness and speed!). Actually, the growing attention to the difficulty of travelling can fuel a discuss about the impact of transport on the climate crisis.

He therefore urges to pay more attention to what is potentially becoming a disruptive element of tomorrow’s cultural mobility mindset, even more so in younger European generations. A deeper discussion must be triggered both in academia and in policymaker’s milieus, so to gain a better understanding of present trends and their future impacts.

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Massimo Moraglio is academic coordinator of the MBA Sustainable Mobility at the Technische Universität Berlin. He is editor-in-chief of the Journal of Transport History. He has coedited the volumes Re-thinking Mobility Poverty (2020) and Peripheral Flows: A Historical Perspective on Mobilities between Cores and Fringes (2016). 

Learn more about Massimo Moraglio

Watch the full interview below