The Role of Urban Mobility in Providing Accessibility

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Being able to move around cities is a basic requirement for the development of most human activities. Yet daily trips between home and work, study, leisure, and other daily commitments are not always done under the most comfortable conditions, whether it be because of crowded public transportation or unexpected traffic jams. Urban mobility is a hotly debated topic, from informal conversation circles to technical and scientific seminars. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t have an opinion on the subject or some miraculous solution to the problems in their city or region. In fact, we have already posted several articles addressing this issue on this site, from utopian proposals to questions related to the daily lives of most of the population.

Cortesia de Ciclo Vivo
Cortesia de Ciclo Vivo

Our cities continuously grow and reinvent themselves through public policies and the initiatives of private entities that adhere to diverse interests, with accessibility infrastructure being sponsored primarily by state investments. Brazilian author Flavio Villaça points out that notions of “near and far,” “well located and poorly located” cannot be reduced to simple physical distances. They are produced through transport systems, the availability of vehicles for different strata of income (cars vs. public transport), spatial distributions of social strata, places of employment, shopping and service areas, and urban centers (which do not always correspond to old urban centers). Places that are more ‘connected’ and located in more socially desirable areas are considered more valuable. While some may choose where to live, many others reside only where it is possible. This may put certain residents closer or further from their work or from the centers of culture and leisure in their city. Thus, urban space reproduces, amplifies, and consolidates the inequalities of society. And mobility is one of the most brutal daily indicators of these disparities, due to the painful methods of transportation that a large portion of the population has to go through.

© Copenhagenize Design Company
© Copenhagenize Design Company

Most cities have consolidated into a center-periphery model, with a high concentration of opportunities – jobs, services, health, education, leisure, and culture – in the central areas, while less favored strata live in the peripheries. This is why mobility is directly related to social inclusion and access. Addressing urban mobility and accessibility to the city in a more holistic and comprehensive way is vital. They are more symptoms than problems themselves; trying to solve issues of mobility with transport alone is a fool’s errand.

Housing policies, price controls, resistance against gentrification, and the creation of public, cultural, and educational spaces must be at the heart of urban planning. Decentralizing public investment is also essential to reduce problems with travel. But what does urban mobility have to do with accessibility? Providing adequate travel conditions allows inhabitants to access and integrate into cities. This doesn’t just mean providing transport from home to work: it also means providing access to culture and leisure. If cities are built through public investment, it’s only fair to allow everyone to enjoy it.

© Mariana Gil / WRI Brasil
© Mariana Gil / WRI Brasil

Urban mobility should not be studied or considered in isolation, limited to a problem of public transport, transport engineering, or travel efficiency. It must be integrated into a reflection on the urban totality, including its complexities and contradictions, its conflicts of interests, and the inequalities that manifest themselves in cities. Urban mobility must above all be designed to provide greater access to the city. The architect draws the city, whether through a single small building or a greater master plan. We have to be aware that fairer cities and societies can be made possible through our actions.

Author: Eduardo Souza

This article was first published in Arch Daily and is republished with permission.


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