Leaving a place, and arriving to another one, daily displacement, a long distance trip, the last bus of a Saturday evening… Our relation to cities can be told through our mobility choices, our daily commute. Mobility habits are part of the social identity of a place, and in cities where the public space is getting completely segregated into different social groups, the subway becomes the main space of major social mix. New technologies are strongly affecting our mobility habits, we change owning for sharing, and fuels for batteries, we are connected, predicted and we want to be “smart”. How will our daily commute look tomorrow? Will our commuting space be as tailored made as Spotify’s “weekly discover”? Will we then be so segregated we won’t ever be able to encounter someone from a different social group during our subway commute?
Mobility projects have strong social implications, and therefore, they always have a political position behind. The only way to ensure that a mobility initiative sticks to fair values is by acknowledging the position it has and shaping it until it matches with the real values that are intended to exist within the project.
This idea of shaping the vision of a mobility project with a radical idea of a city is based on observing how, along the 20th century, different theoretical urban speculations with strong political ideas where linked to specific ways of moving. The Garden City (1898) of Ebenezer Howard took advantage of the rail mobility to propose a vision for a polycentric city. This city sought to provide an urban experience far from the overcrowded industrialized cities, and reconnected to the advantages of living in the countryside. In Broadacre City (1932) Frank Lloyd Wright wanted as well to reconnect with the values of the countryside, but from an individualized American point of view, that gave priority to the value of freedom, translated into freedom of movement and communications. Wright not only wanted people to be more connected to the countryside, but advocated for the actual dissolution of the cities into an endless suburbia, supported by cars and in a second phase, flying machines, that would release architecture not only from urban cores but from any type of infrastructure. Archigram’s A Walking City (1964) was set in a world where cities were detached from the ground. Static places would lose any cultural value and become mere resource providers, and society would roam around the earth in capsule structured machines that based its technology in an early idea of artificial intelligence.
Mobility infrastructure affects the morphology and organization of the city, ordering its sprawl, its urban cores and its empty highway nodes, and influences where the city keeps on growing, and where it stops. New mobility trends open the door to new forms of cities, that’s why Howard, Wright and Archigram supported their radical theories of urban development with specific ways of moving around. The Garden City would become a completely different project if the trains were changed by cars, the choices taken regarding how we move are all political. Controlling the political meaning of a mobility initiative is key to give clearance to the vision of the project. A build up controlled vision aligned with specific urban values will promote a better understanding of the general ideas behind the project, contributing not only to a more successful communication of mobility projects, and a major social commitment. The political position of a mobility project can be shaped through a theoretical exercise, where the idea is scaled up to an exaggerated hypothetical situation. The same way the initial project was related to a real city, the distorted version of the mobility project will need to be related to an extreme city. It is in the definition of this extreme city, who lives there and how, where the final political positions of the project can be shaped
How do we envision the future? Will we multitask even more during our trips? Could we still lose our minds through the window of the train? Or will a machine learning algorithm be whispering tailored advertisements in our ear through our long way home? The mobility design of today will build up the trends of how we move tomorrow. The story behind urban struggles or achievements lies on the political choice of urban and mobility initiatives.