We need the artists
In the third Rebalance Dialogue, Andrea Ricci talked with Andreu Ulied and Robert Braun about signs towards greener transport choices. In Europe, these signs are emerging. Industry is making cleaner vehicles increasingly available and performant (electromobility, cleaner fuels). Government plays an important role through standards, taxation, phasing out, but also, at the local level, through the redesign of urban, greener spaces and infrastructure.

Therefore the question is whether these moves are primarily pushed forward by a changing societal attitude towards environmental protection and the pursuance of a healthier life. If not, how effective would be a green mobility transition without a major shift in the attitude of citizens and mobility users?

Grassroots initiatives, like “Fridays for Future”, play an important role in raising environmental and health concerns, which in turn could foster modal shifts. To what extent are people driven by knowledge and evidence on the social and environmental benefits of green choices, or is it rather the urge to fulfil social norms that drives them – this will be revealed in the near future. Moreover, the success of such initiatives might also contribute to underline intergenerational differences in awareness and motivation.

If we can imagine a new mobility culture based on structural changes, we should ask ourselves whether demand-side policies today in place – such as access regulations, infrastructure charging, standards – will be no longer necessary.

The shift towards “active travel” is a major component of the green transition.

Active travel is usually defined as travel that requires physical activity (walking, cycling etc.), generating social benefits in both environmental and health terms. REBALANCE aims to comprehend the depth of the changes in values and attitudes that are required to enact a visible move to active travel. This dialogue tried to understand inequalities and how they relate to active travel. While active mobility is great for upper-middle-class men, it might not so much for the majority. It also brings a lot of externalities. However, the participants stressed the importance of walking for socialisation.

According to the discussants, industry pushes towards allegedly sustainable modes that are nothing new. Transition to electricity is being forced by coercion, not by awareness. Consequently, mobility systems have an immense resilience and capability of incorporating critique. An additional concerned was flagged on short-haul and city aerial mobility, which will become a major problem in the future.

Gender issues were also addressed during the conversation to understand if gender is a meaningful variable in the transition to greener mobility. If so, does this have to do with gender-specific value differences? Women have been proposed as indicator of transport service quality. The discussants also think that transport and public spaces should be evaluated through women’s involvement and the services provided.

A contemporary debate cannot omit the influence of COVID-19 on mobility and the plausibility that it yields structural behavioural changes, a “new normal” where substantial modal shifts become permanent, though the participants think that the new normal will be very similar to the old normal.

The role of technology is always present; and our discussants agreed that remote technologies impact socialisation, creativity and new projects. Furthermore, we are not in control when entangled with different technologies.

Regarding governance, the debate focused on how regime change is necessary to change the ‘details’ (environment, mobility…). New regimes need to be less based on command-control and more based on collaboration moral economy. Top-down approaches are the enemy because they reflect a totalitarian paradigm. To fight these, a transition organised with the people (from legal norms to social norms) was proposed.

Paradigm change is extremely slow. Inequalities are hidden by the environmental imaginary.

New technologies do not solve all problems and they can create new ones. For instance, we might build clean, circular, sustainable suburbs where people are disconnected and live alone. The conclusion is that there is no culture-nature divide and we must reconceptualise the world around us. Value choices are more important than technology when changing mobility modes.

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Andreu Ulied is Doctor Engineer (UPC), MDesS (GSD, Harvard University), MSc Philosophy (UNED). He is an expert on urban and regional planning, policy-assessment and public-private project appraisal. President of Ersilia Foundation (www.ersilia.org) and MCRIT Founding Partner, CEO (www.mcrit.com). 

Learn more about Andreu Ulied

Robert Braun is a Senior Researcher at the Institute for Advanced Studies, Techno-Science and Societal Transformation research group in Vienna and Associate Professor at Corvinus University in Budapest. 

Learn more about Robert Braun

Watch the full explorative conversation