“Sustainable development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs “
Brundtland Report, 1987.
Automobility is deeply embedded in western lifestyle and stabilized through investments, interests vested in its continuation and taken-for-granted beliefs and practices. Even though there were many attempts to introduce radical innovations with higher sustainability performance, the wider automobility regime still seems relatively stable in today’s modern society (Geels, Kamp, Dudley, & Lyons, 2012). Therefore, lies a question, how to go beyond the appraise caused by the fact that we are facing modern problems for which there are no modern solutions (Santos, 2014). Will there still be a modern solution for modern problems? Or has modernity’s ability to even imagine the questions that need to be asked to effectively face the contemporary ecological and social crisis been so fatally compromised, given its investment in maintaining the worlds that created it (Escobar, 2018).
It was interesting to read how Claudia Von Werlhof describes patriarchy as the source of the contemporary civilizational model that is creating a mess for thousands of years, and capitalism as it’s the last stage. She explains that we cannot continue living with modernity because it robs us of a very basis for life, including our mere survival and distinguishes two design fractions. On the one hand matristic, convivial view of the world with respecting human embeddings in the natural world. On the other spectrum, there is a dream held by the “techno-fathers” of the moment and their vision of the world through synthetic biology, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, unlimited 3D printing and other weird solutions to climate change (Escobar, 2018).
One of those visions were presented in May 2017 by Dr Jeff Schneider, who gave a TED talk about how artificial intelligence will allow us to reinvent our lives through self-driving cars. He starts the talk with the problem that this technology will solve, and that is death in automobile accidents, which are increasing every year and the main cause for human casualties is the driver itself. Dr Jeff continues and reviles the self-driving car. At first glance, it was quite visible and obvious that the vehicle looked the same as a regular car. The only visible difference was the sensors on the roof. What sticks out, looking from the sustainable design lenses is the fact that this innovation mimics the regular car, which means that it will need all the resources the regular car needs; also, it will produce emissions as a regular car that leaves consequences on human health. As Victor Papanek writes in his book Design for the real world „there are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a very few of them… Today industrial design has put murder on a mass-production basis, even more, designers have become a dangerous breed “ (Papnek, 1993). What we mean by design these days, is that involves intensive resources and vast material destruction. The design is central to the structures of unsustainability that holds in place the contemporary, so-called modern world (Escobar, 2018). Therefore, the role of design has never been important than today and we as designers should take our role seriously and think about brother consequences of our ideas, think out of the box! As Anne-Marrie Willis says “We design our world and our world designs us back- in short, design designs”.
Transportation system is a part of a big and complex socio-technical regime that is stabilized and entrenched in many ways (Lock-ins) By applying the MLP (Multi-Level Perspective) to analyses sustainable mobility, it can help understand the transport system and possible transition pathways towards more sustainable mobility (Geels, 2001).
The MLP as presented in the illustration above consists of three levels: Socio-Technical landscape, ST Regime and on the bottom emerging niches. On the ST landscape, there are elements that are creating pressure on the regime and in that way creating a window of opportunity for new niches to emerge and possibly of incorporating or replace the current regime. What is depicted in ST landscape are a set of heterogeneous factors: economic growth, cultural and normative values, population growth, oil prices environmental problems. The regime is embedded within the landscape and is defined by among others: technology, user practices, the symbolic meaning of technology, infrastructure. Niches are born as an answer to the changes occurring at the landscape and regime level (Geels, 2001). The SNM (Strategic Niche management) suggests that sustainable development can be facilitated by creating technological niches, i.e. protected spaces that allow the experimentation with the co-evolution of technology, user practices, and regulatory structures. It requires interrelated social and technical change, especially because there is a tendency in patriarchic, modernist society to focus on optimizing technology and neglecting the embedding in broader societal goals or leaving it to a later stage (Geels, 2001).
The current regime is designed in favour of cars, car as a design unit. What if we instead of designing for cars start designing for people, having in mind their wellbeing and their embedding with the environment. One of the innovations related to urban mobility that offers a new more sustainable transition is project Superblock in Barcelona.
The Superblock is a new model of mobility that reinvents the usual urban road network. With its implementation, Superblocks provide solutions to the main problems of urban mobility and improves both the availability and quality of the public space for pedestrian traffic. Superblocks are made up of a grid of basic roads forming a polygon, some 400 by 400 meters, that are consisted of interior and exterior components. The interior is closed to motorized vehicles that gives preference to pedestrian traffic in the public space. Though the inner streets are generally reserved for pedestrians, they can be used by residential traffic, services, emergency vehicles, and loading/unloading vehicles under special circumstances.
At the exterior of Superblocks motorized traffic circulates, and makes up the basic roads. The Superblock is emerging as an integral solution to the use of public space, uniting urban planning with mobility, and limiting the presence of private vehicles in order to return the public space to the citizen. The importance of the citizen, or the simple pedestrian, gives meaning to the revolutionary structure of the superblock: each grid section has universal accessibility, there is increased safety due to a 10 km/hr speed limit, and there is the potential to increase the habitability and comfort of citizens in public spaces. Ultimately, the application of the Superblock significantly improves urban quality while reducing the environmental impacts of vehicles. It also increases the quality of life of residents and visitors, enhances social cohesion and increases economic activity (Bcnecologia, 2016).
To conclude. Even though the current regime is quite stable with its lock-ins, there are still opportunities for wider systematic changes and transitions towards a sustainable world. But keep in mind to move away from the purely technocentric view of innovation and instead of filling the world with more stuff what we need is an approach to innovation that is powerful, effective and broadly accessible. Moving away from stuff to humans, our experience and context could allow us to lead meaningful and environmentally responsible lives.
Title image: https://www.kataeb.org/travel/2019/05/19/london-seeks-to-become-world-s-first-national-park-city
Superblock model image: https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2017/11/07/the-barcelona-superblock-of-poblenou/
Escobar, A. (2018). Designs for Plurivers. London.
Geels, F. W. (2001). Enschede, The Netherlands: Technological transitions as evolutionary reconfiguration.
Geels, F. W., Kamp, R., Dudley, G., & Lyons, G. (2012). Automobility in Transition. New York: Routledge.
Papnek, V. (1993). Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change. Oxford University Press.
Poliscanova, J., Earl, T., Ambel, C. C., & Archer, G. (2018). Roadmap to decarbonising European cars. Europena Federation for Transport and Environment AISBL.
Thackara, (2005). In The Buble, Designing in a Complex World. London: The MIT Press.
Santos, B. d. (2014). Epistemologies of the South: Justice Against Epistemicide. Paradigm Publishers.
Bcnecologia. (2016). Superblock. http://www.bcnecologia.net/en/conceptual-model/superblocks.