About life, not mobility

Oh, how beautifully did we plan our cities in the first half of the last century. Very efficient too. For cars, that is, not for people. But now that the world is a very different place and we’re forced to go back to the drawing board, we can’t afford to make the same mistake. Today, mobility must put people first.

Type Update
Published on 8 October 2019
Part of Embassy of Mobility
About life, not mobility
Part of Embassy of Mobility

Mobility is a necessity. To get to work, for recreation, to visit the hospital, to take your kids on a city trip. The Embassy of Mobility wants to approach mobility as a means, not a goal. With mobility for everyone. To achieve this, access to cities and the surrounding areas must be designed to serve the people who live there.

Rob Adams, curator Embassy of Mobility

Still, if you think the Embassy of Mobility will all be about cars, planes and maybe trains, you’re wrong. It is about happy cities, the concept Rob Adams and Boyd Cohen talked about in the 2017 World Design Event (photo above).

Adams, the owner and founder of Six Fingers, a design company in Eindhoven and Barcelona, is the curator of this year’s Embassy of Mobility. Rob calls himself a future architect, and his vision for the future goes beyond smart cities. In fact…,

"In fact, I hate the idea of smart cities. I really hate it because smart cities are about technology, which feels like how efficient we are and that doesn't feel like having a good life."

Solving issues in people’s lives

“Two years ago, me and my colleague Boyd, we walked around and we asked people, what makes your life happier? Nobody said, well, a lot of tech will make my life happier. So we really need to stop talking about smart cities because people are not involved in smart cities. It’s about data, data, data. That means it’s about big tech companies and that means it’s about earning a lot of money based on this data. It’s not about solving real issues in people’s lives.”

Cities have been designed around cars, and that’s a shame, Rob says. “If you design the city around cars, what do you get? You get a lot of cars. If they should have designed it around people, I think cities would be much more enjoyable to live in. We really need to rethink mobility because it’s not about mobility… It’s about people: how do they live their lives and what are the big dilemmas people have and how can we come up with solutions based on the dilemmas of the life and not of the dilemmas of a transportation company.”

Instead, cities should be designed around making sure that a lot of people can connect in an easy way to each other, Rob says. “If people can connect with each other, people can solve a lot of problems by themselves.”

Enter Nikol Kirova, one of this year’s Antenna talents. She is a “multidisciplinary architect” from Bulgaria. Nikol lives and works in Barcelona, and she’s developing a way to connect people with their city more. “It’s so frustrating that there are all these cars parked everywhere and that people are so used to having these very, very expensive personal objects that at the end of the day just give this sense of individuality or freedom, which is completely fake.”

Nikol’s project is called Synapse, and it’s an urban application that would completely transform how we interact with our cities. At the moment, mobility in cities prioritizes vehicles, and Nikol wants to change that. Like Rob, she wants mobility to prioritize people. And she wants to do that by developing responsive sidewalk tiles that anonymously gather data, and react to it.

“Eventually, I would be trying to capture data not only for pedestrians, but also for bikers or small alternative ways of transport. You can improve their trip quite significantly because the pavement itself would respond and guide them. Services could become shared, our cities would free a lot of space, a lot of space will be rededicated back to pedestrian activity and this would really radically change the way we experience the urban environment.”

In a way, for both Nikol and Rob, the future is now. Because whether we like it or not, the way we presently move around a city won’t be the same 10 years from now.

Nikol hopes that, at the minimum, there is an open conversation between people and their built space. “That the two things are able to adapt much better to one another than it’s happening right now. I think that cities and public areas should actually be something more of an extension of our homes or of the environment that we feel most comfortable in.” Rob thinks this can be done even better if we use examples from other industries: “You should look at totally different solutions in totally different sectors. And then it makes your mind wonder, “Oh this is how they do it”. And then a new concept will arrive.”

About Life, not Mobility

“What excites me the most is that we don’t talk about mobility anymore. And that people walk in, also in this Embassy, and they come up with a mobility as a service concept. They think about cars, planes or trains or whatever, and then they come in and it’s not about mobility, it’s about life. And that mobility is just a part in your life, but it’s not a goal in itself.”

Synapse by Nikol Kirova

The World Design Embassies are a programme of the Dutch Design Foundation, and work year-round with partners and stakeholders to look at the role that design can play in the development of new perspectives and concrete solutions to the challenges we face as a society in a quickly-changing world.

The Embassies are also a part of Dutch Design Week, where the world comes to Eindhoven to discover innovation through the eyes of designers, design thinking and design skills. During Dutch Design Week, the Embassies take on a physical form – in exhibitions, lectures, discussions and workshops – so that ideas, expertise and insight can be shared, with experts but also with the general public.

In this series, we take a look at each of the six Embassies in detail and through this, we will explore the challenges and solutions for future societies. Think Climate change, urbanization, the increasing use of technology in our lives – where is it all leading, and how can we shape our society around those things in a positive, meaningful way? Don’t forget to check our other episodes on the embassies of health, water, safety, sustainable design and circular & biobased building. And do join us during Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, from October 19th until the 27th 2019. Hope to see you there.

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