Rethinking Urban Mobility through Equitable Community Engagement

Urban mobility is a key contributor to climate change. It’s also essential to urban life despite inaccessibility increasing inequities of contemporary urban cities. Bang the Table’s Principle Writer and Editorial Director, Sally Hussey, unpacks opportunities to rethink mobility for an inclusive and sustainable future — through equitable community engagement.

Why rethink urban mobility? In my latest ebook collaboration with urban scholar and economic geographer, Shauna Brail, this critical question is pivoted through the prism of the climate crisis and the increasing call for inclusivity in our twenty-first-century urban cities. 2020, as Brail underscores, has been flagged by the United Nations as “the climate turning point”. That is, “the point at which if carbon emissions continued to rise, would set the stage for permanent and widely destructive climate change.” This ebook shows just how imperiling that continued rise would be. Not through existential outcomes – which I have written about elsewhere – but where certain groups of society are made un-equally vulnerable to climate instability – a vulnerability that has been redoubled by the coronavirus pandemic.

Re-mapping this intersection, Brail determines, can make the greatest difference. For, where transportation is a leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, cities are a significant source of challenge (responsible for 70 percent of global CO2 emissions). COVID-19’s impacts on densely populated urban centers, on the other hand, have redoubled the inequalities of urban cities – amplified homelessness, overcrowded living arrangements, underemployment, and food insecurity.

Urban mobility: a roadmap for equitable & radical change

Yet, Brail’s attention to mobility is not new. Mobility provided one of four strategic pathways to local recovery for governments responding to the challenges faced in rebuilding communities in our former ebook collaboration, Coronavirus and Engaging Cities: Toward Community Recovery, which can be read here. Where previously Brail identified urban-level approaches that characterize municipal responses to rebuilding and engaging communities beyond the coronavirus pandemic, here she provides a roadmap for radical change. This is undergirded by the recognition of “transport equity”, where lack of access to reliable, affordable, and accessible mobility can impact “low incomes, health disparities, and social isolation.”

From prioritizing cycling and pedestrianisation to expanding transit networks and on-demand transit, this e-book demarcates salient shifts in moving away from auto-centric urban form. (In the US alone, there are more cars than drivers.) It steps through fundamental shifts in urban planning that have carved out space for the private automobile and the proliferation of ownership, where “[s]uburbanization and auto-centric urban form reinforce one another.” It resets the high cost and inequities that result from the “car-dependent built form” requirements to the current focus on the interrelationship between urban form and mobility, such as the 15-minute city.

Equitable Community engagement is Key to Inclusivity in Mobility 

Provision of equitable access to transport options – particularly for vulnerable communities – makes crucial the role of policymakers and government organizations in creating and sustaining the inclusiveness of cities. In this way, Brail shows that public engagement is key. Just as public participation holds a heightened role in calls to climate action (embedded in key international statements since 1992 and reinforced in the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on impacts of global warming above 1.5°C) it is a vital element of inclusive cities. The increasingly heightened role of equitable community engagement and public consultation in decarbonizing built environments not only provides a roadmap out of the current pandemic, but it just might deliver on the promise of a truly sustainable and equitable urban future, in particular, through making evident the intersection of climate and race for instance.

Opportunities for inclusive urban mobility

Amongst a suite of opportunities for delivering on the promise of an inclusive – and sustainable – urban future, this ebook addresses:

  • adequate and affordable mobility options and placemaking efforts which play a crucial role in serving racialized, marginalized, and low-income communities
  • twenty-first-century mobility networks, their embeddedness in our everyday lives
  • opportunities for activating public transit infrastructure (in concert with innovative technology) to develop inclusive cities
  • increasing global shifts toward community engagement and public consultation in calls to climate action.

Climate crisis is a deeply challenging issue for governments across the globe – and, as I have demonstrated elsewhere – has inspired effective action by municipalities and local governments. Yet, in prioritizing people, strong political leadership, and an emphasis on innovation, this ebook shows that while the challenge is “grand”, it is not insurmountable.

Climate Crisis, Equitable Engagement, Inclusive Cities: Rethinking Urban Mobility is freely available to download below.


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