Change, especially grand in scope, happens in strange ways and can be similar to biological engineering: operational mechanisms transform physical space. Transportation becomes a valuable tool to create spaces where people interact in more collective ways, minimizing the isolation of auto-centric lifestyles.
Changing human activity creates a new kind of civility. It is not science fiction. Changes that increase repetitive interactions between strangers increase the potential for collective, cooperative accomplishments. Physical spaces can be designed to support or obstruct collective human accomplishments.
Designing buildings, architects are challenged to contribute to successful cooperative organizations. Scaling up, urbanologists developing new transportation networks, have the responsibility to furnish societies with interaction frameworks that increase possibilities for people to create well-functioning, next-generation civility. Reducing military budgets will redirect attention to more critical near-term challenges of human travel, participative lifestyles, and civility. Increasing interactions in ways that induce cooperation make possible evolution into fresh, new, and inspiring cultures.
Change in The Next 100
Recent transportation technologies add incremental efficiencies to the current urban context. Since 2000, access to electronic and mobile technologies has transformed travel: motorized electric skateboards, hitchhiking Apps (Uber), and jet-setting possibilities afforded by no-frills airlines and mobile payments… with electric flying taxis on the way. And not to be overlooked is the revolution in the digitized tracking of packages from intermodal shipping containers to weekly grocery deliveries.
Consumptive interactions are supported by continuously novel vehicles with minimal plastic lifespans. Travel vehicles are becoming segregated by age: scooters for kids and electrified wheelchairs for the elderly. So while different ages have different needs, it is not clear that continued quarantine of socio-economic groups through transportation, in addition to market-segmented housing, is beneficial for society.
“If your vision of the future is one of people rushing from one seat to another seat while sitting in a seat, then self-driving cars are what you’re looking for. An incremental change to the status quo will get you there. Our cities will look much the same as they do today. We’ll see more sprawl. We’ll see unused roads waiting for the next traffic jam, since traffic jams are a matter of geometry. We’ll be pumping toxins into the air, the ground, and the water to make all of these zero-emission plastic and metal cars. To keep humans safe, we’ll tell them when, where, and how to move even more than we do today.”
Unfortunately, these “mobility choices” have only increased patterns of consumption (recycling until Asia stopped accepting US waste), and segmentation of communities. Developer-determined, market-segmented housing (starter homes to elderly care homes), accessed by roadways built with vast public funds, continue to segregate lifestyles. Over generations, frequently, these market-segmented places become obsolete, abandoning malls and communities, shifting the economic locus of a metropolis. Uncoordinated with the dynamics of people living in places, such incremental technologies maintain the separation, isolation, and segmentation of people to be monetized by the smartest algorithm.
Ironically, transportation’s attention on cars has co-evolved with segregated housing and disposable communities. It used to be traveling from bedroom communities to school zones or work zones, and now instead of rush-hour, there is all-hour congestion. The underlying travel context remains the same: a kind of unthinking interaction with the earth, dependent upon individuals consuming more disposable stuff. The challenge is understanding how, why, and where do people travel.
The Next 100 Years of Human Travel
Let’s participate in highly mobile communities in ways that form resilient and desirable places. Let’s build places where individuals freely choose cooperation. In fact, some are seeking a way to interact, which supports their religious life, or minimally, a situation where meaningful communities emerge. Simultaneously others are seeking meaningful interactions to reduce human interference with nature. Meaningful participation is one human desire. Repetitive interactions create the possibility of trust, flexible regulations, and pluralistic understandings. Society is a combination of trusted interactions between family members and neighbors, between citizens and residents, between businesses and politicians.
Any deeper look requires that we reinvent the places and activities where we travel, to make people’s lives better. Travel by humans is undertaken for different reasons, at all ages. Instead of traveling to consume, more frequently people will travel to participate with fellow citizens, residents, colleagues, neighbors, etc. Instead of isolated mobility, people share experiences on their way to living, working, learning, and playing. ‘Mass-transportation’ was designed for the 20th-centuries working-man or ‘mass-man.’ Such so-called ‘public transportation’ needs a fresh, 21st-century perspective about its purpose.
people travel for living
people travel for learning
people travel for working
people travel for playing.
Many factors will influence a traveler’s need for a ride in the moment: a person’s age, the speed/distance needed to traverse, fellow travelers, and the desired experience, whether it is to work, play, live, or learn. The design of ride styles and places where people access them needs to be reimagined to bring the political Left in contact with the political Right, again in ways with a shared humanity. We can do this in many ways: sometimes with the government, and other times with entrepreneurs inventing, testing, and letting new lifestyles emerge.
We travel to understand.
Real change comes when one “sees” things differently. Some physical spaces may not change; however, patterns of behavior do change. Whether one drives an electric car or a gasoline-powered car doesn’t change one’s separation from the people and places where one is traveling. Radically new organization prompts different patterns of interaction, eventually altering one’s understanding of the world.