The co-founder of Mobility in Chain Federico Parolotto talks about the new challenges of mobility
The first seminar dedicated to the XXIII International Exhibition 2022 took place on March 4, 2020 in Triennale. It was joined by experts in various fields, from astrophysics to philosophy, ethology, visual art, geopolitics and robotics. Following the speech of the Senior Partner and co-founder of MIC–Mobility in Chain.
Video of the speech by Federico Parolotto at the seminar of 4 March 2020
Mobility and Triennale Milano
When we consider the challenges posed by the climate emergency, we cannot pretend not to consider the impact of mobility on the production of greenhouse gases. The global vehicle fleet is growing continuously and with the growth of the population we can also see an increase in the number of vehicles on the road. Forecasts for 2050 are for a world population of 10 billion, which would correspond to about 2 billion vehicles circulating on the planet - a real explosion given that today there are about 800 million vehicles on the road.
The expected growth will be concentrated in the new markets of the Far East where the bulk of car sales is are already concentrated - while in Western countries the high per capita car ownership figures will remain largely unchanged. The growth will be proportional to the gradual increase of the Far East's per capita car values almost reaching those of the West.
To avoid – or at least contain – this growth there are no alternative solutions other than those organised around a correspondence between the density of mass public transport and the density of established functions. “Dense" cities have actually already planned and are intervening with a series of policies and projects that move towards a progressive presence of the car in favour of public transport and soft mobility.
The real challenge for sustainable mobility can be found in travel outside the dense parts of the city, in metropolitan areas and in the widespread city – these morphological configurations cannot actually accommodate public transport because of weak and desynchronised demand. Anyway, while in urban parts of cities the wealthiest and most gentrified populations are concentrated close to public transport systems, a large part of the population is excluded from alternative public transport systems and forced to car use.
This leads to often paradoxical mechanisms such as the defeat in a popular referendum proposing the demolition of the Gardener Expressway in Toronto. The Gardener Expressway, a huge elevated urban highway, is an extraordinary barrier between the city and the waterfront. The defeat of the referendum that proposed its demolition was mainly due to the fact that it is located in the greater Toronto area and has no other alternative to the use of the car – the Gardener Expressway is an easy way to cross the city by car. Therefore, when planning the city we cannot but keep in mind the metropolitan areas and their propensity to use the car.
What about Italy? In Italy we can observe how an old car fleet corresponds to a constant increase in car use, with the exception of the main cities and especially Milan, which has developed a complex and articulated sharing system and a powerful public transport system. Milan, however, looks like a closed fence: a progressive reduction in the number of per capita vehicles within the city does not correspond to what happens in the rest of the country, which instead increases car use.
So what to do to imagine the future we are looking forward to? What are the possible components that could help us find solutions for a better country?
Four possible operating hypothesis are described below.
There is a consolidated field within contemporary sociology that sees with increasing interest the study of traffic systems as an element that defines our society rather than stable organisations as highlighted by Matteo Colleoni in his book Mobilità e trasformazioni urbane. It is interesting to talk about the arrival of Amazon - a structural change in our way of conceiving purchasing that is shifting our definition of retail and for this reason is also undermining the idea of associated life linked, for example, to large-scale distribution.
Through big data we are able to describe reality as never before. For the first time this allows us to go into detail and understand the structure of the movements with an extraordinary accuracy. This capacity for observation and verification opens up two major themes, the first is related to the governance of this incredible capacity for analysis and the second is how to use it to understand the structure of travel so as to be able to imagine transport solutions and mobility management policies that allow us to possibly mitigate car use in the widespread city.
The arrival of digital communication systems had foreshadowed – to some sociologists in the 1980s – the progressive dissolution of the city. The last two decades, however, have shown the exact opposite with a progressive concentration of humanity in urban areas. In this sense what is happening in Silicon Valley seems emblematic, where organisations such as Google, Apple and Facebook are progressively concentrating their growing number of employees.
Until recently the "digital handshake" – that is the ability to replace the processes of direct personal iteration through digital connectivity – seemed to be unfeasible and for this reason vis a vis meetings were considered essential. Now, however, new technologies are appearing on the horizon – they are technologies that bring communication to a more sophisticated, more emotional iteration. The gaming industry seems to go in that direction, the iteration is guaranteed by a gaming console which is already incredibly superior to those we normally use in our conference calls.
In this regard we can remember the Sangre Y Arena exhibition held at the Prada Foundation about 2 years ago. Thanks to a very sophisticated immersive technology, the creator of the exhibition Alejandro Iñárritu (Birdman and The Revenant’s film director among others) digitally transported us to the border between Mexico and the United States to witness the brutal police treatment of migrants trying to cross the border illegally. An extraordinary experience that gives us the feel of the real possibilities of "emotional" iterations that digital platforms guarantee us.
The transport system is evolving, the arrival of digital connectivity has opened the possibility to new services and new practices – these practices as described above – even if so far it has not produced a real systemic change in the transport business. The last real systemic change we have experienced was the arrival of the mass car in Italy in the 1960s.
Today we are witnessing a progressive electrification of vehicles, the development of sharing systems and above all – in the medium/long term – the development of autonomous driving systems. It will be precisely the autonomous driving that will allow us to imagine a possible radical change in the way we move, with a drastic reduction in maintenance costs guaranteed by electric systems together with a reduction in operating costs due to the elimination of travelling personnel.
This solution will allow us to imagine a system of public vehicles that will increase mobility in areas of widespread demand. How will these vehicles be configured? What are the possible options for micro mobility and freight transport? These are the questions to be answered in the coming years.
In a recent study developed by LSE (London School of Economics and Political Science), the socio-demographic and psycho-aptitude differences that make up the inhabitants of London and Berlin were analysed. About 6 value clusters emerged, a sort of grouping of "communities of practice" that make up the two cities. The population of Berlin, for example, was more susceptible to a narrative of mobility starting from set values, while in London a more marked propensity to use dynamic pricing systems was observed.
These communities of practice have also been mapped on the territory in order to verify the possible mobility attitudes also in relation to the infrastructural offer of specific portions of cities. The study highlights one of the major components that has always been neglected in transport planning assessments: the demand framework.
This aspect of demand – if brought back to the territory of Milan – and its metropolitan area opens up reflections of great interest, if the main way to move outside the city of Milan is by car, with what strategy and with what type of offer can we imagine to start a process of modal shift towards more sustainable systems? Today, more than ever, the need to analyse and verify the framework of demand after any reflection emerges, different "value clusters" must correspond to different mobility offerings.
Suggestions for the XXIII Triennale
The Triennale – whatever choice will be made – must, in my opinion, go beyond the limits of the Triennale building. It must be an exhibition that opens up to a wider population, moving, in a broad sense, outside Milan. The suggestion is to imagine a mobile triennale, perhaps a virtual one?
A project that is linked to culture and entertainment, perhaps a digital theatre that stages the shows of the Triennale. A theatre that can start and go to unexpected places – perhaps in those metropolitan areas where there are practice communities mainly linked to the automobile – not to the usual part of the international design community. In some ways some areas of a widespread Po Valley city are more exotic than Manhattan or Barcelona, and this is where the inclusive project of the Triennale should come in.
Finally, I think it is necessary to consider that the mobile part of the Triennale is also a great project of architecture – either digital or physical.
Federico Parolotto is a Senior Partner at MIC–Mobility in Chain. the firm he co-founded in 2009. He graduated in Architecture and Urban Planning at Milan Polytechnic and began his career at SOM London. As a transport planner, Federico worked on many major urban planning projects worldwide, advising clients ranging for public bodies to important architectural firms, and form technology providers to transport operators. He was also a member of the expert committee that supported Milan City Council in the drafting of the SUMP, the recently adopted Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan.