10th December 2010

Cities must make radical changes to transport ahead of population explosion

Viv Alexander

Stackable electric cars, a website where you can rent out your vehicle when you’re not using it, lifelike ‘telepresence’ screens which let you talk to people in different countries, these are just some of today’s innovations which hint at what life may be like in 2040, according to a new report from Forum for the Future.

Below Ivana Gazibara of Forum for the Future introduces us to Megacities on the move with scenarios and solutions which may help you think of geography related ideas to enter the ‘How can we improve transport in Britain? GeoVation Challenge.

Time to start work on the urban mobility systems of 2040

In 1898, the world’s first international urban planning conference took place in New York. The topic of the day?

Horse manure.

Experts estimated that by 1950 every street in cities like London and New York would be buried nine feet deep in horse manure. A massive public health and sanitation crisis loomed, yet there was no obvious solution: the horse had been the dominant mode of transport for thousands of years. Stumped by the challenge, the conference broke up without a resolution.

The rest, as they say, is history…

This story comes to mind today as we launch Megacities on the move, a scenario planning tool-kit designed to help governments, businesses and civil society organisations understand the key challenges that cities will face in the next decades, and start planning for more sustainable mobility solutions.

For our future is urban. In 2040, throughout the world two in three people will live in cities. This will bring new opportunities, but also challenges – from enormous pressure on resources, to congestion on roads, and unsustainable levels of transport-related CO2 emissions. The number of cars on the road is currently forecast to double to more than two billion in the next decade alone.

We will need to find radical new solutions to mobility in our cities in the future – disruptive innovations which will transform our lives in the way the car did in the 20th century, albeit in a much more sustainable way. We need to go beyond transport to ICT, urban design and many other areas.

And we need these solutions now. Urban infrastructure is typically developed over long periods and built to last decades, so we are already planning for the world of 2040. And unless we take action now on major challenges – on climate change, water scarcity and availability of key natural resources, for example – we risk a bleak future.

We have created four scenarios to help organisations plan for the future and develop sustainable mobility products and services. They paint vivid, challenging pictures of 2040 and mobility in our cities, exploring the way key trends may play out over the next 30 years. We have also brought them to life in a set of animations.

Megacities on the Move also proposes six solutions to guide action. These are approaches we must take if we are to create sustainable mobility systems in our cities, and they are illustrated with existing innovations from around the world.

  1. Integrate, integrate, integrate. Cities need to consider transport, urban planning, business, public services, energy and food supply as part of the same system. Good mobility solutions will offer easy access, choice, and smooth connectivity.
  2. Make the poor a priority. Most population growth in the future will take place in developing world cities, where people on low incomes are in the majority. Future urban mobility systems must be accessible and affordable to all.
  3. Go beyond the car. Current growth rates in car ownership are simply unsustainable. Cities need to be designed for people, not cars, and promote alternative forms of transport.
  4. Switch on to IT networks. Information technology can create more integrated transport systems, and offer virtual mobility solutions which avoid the need for travel altogether.
  5. Refuel our vehicles. Climate change and volatile oil prices mean we need to radically increase the energy efficiency of transport, and shift the way we power our vehicles from petrol to renewable, low-carbon fuel sources.
  6. Change people’s behaviour. Better infrastructure and technology are not enough. We need to create new social norms that encourage more sustainable, low-carbon lifestyles.

We want to help you take action by providing a useful, practical planning tool. Use the six solutions to guide your actions now. Use the written scenarios and scenario films to plan your future strategy: they can help you understand the way major sustainability trends may shape our future, and explore the key mobility risks and opportunities for your organisation, city or region.

We’ve also provided materials you can use in workshops to begin developing more sustainable mobility systems. The full tool-kit can be downloaded here

Ivana Gazibara

Forum for the Future is the UK’s leading sustainable development NGO. It works internationally with government, business and public service providers, helping them to develop strategies to achieve success through sustainability, to deliver products and services which enhance people’s lives and are better for the environment, and to lead the way to a better world. www.forumforthefuture.org