The panel session on “Mobility & urban Spatial Structures” was composed by four presentations. They debated mobility issues with basically two different approaches. The first two presentations focused on urban spatial structure. One of them exposed a modernist project for Willowdale, a neighborhood in the northern part of Toronto, which had a major focus on promoting accessibility and good traffic flow for cars and, in some parts, a complete separation between cars and pedestrians. The other presented the spatial growth of the metropolitan region of São Paulo based on travel patterns in relation to the location of the activities of the city. The second approach concerned public transport services and issues involving their regulation and public control. The first oneexposed a post-soviet model in the city of Volgograd called Marshrutkas, an informal system similar to buses, but on a smaller scale. The second one considered the taxi system in Mumbai, that is historically community-based and with a very narrow relation to individual drivers. This system was faced with a vertical input to introduce the Singapore model, which is based ona more corporative model.
The panel session “State regulation and transport industries” included three reports, comprising not only the various transport systems (large-scale transportation, public transportation, shipping lanes), but also the specifics of development in different countries with different historical and cultural foundations. Despite the fact that the reports were built around various objects (navigation system, transport infrastructure) based on data obtained using different methods, messages and a number of similarities could be identified. Each report has not only been a description of the problems encountered by users after the insertion of a new object into social reality, but also tried to discover the causes of these problems and showed ways to resolve them. Sharon Babaian, in turn, tried to describe the problems of modern navigation, as well as referring to the history of shipping industry, and tried to find ways to make better use of modern navigation. Finally, Jørgen Burchardt’s report on the comparison of Ghana’s and Denmark’s transport history not only described the process of embedding a new transport system in urban space, but also drew attention to the existence of a contradiction between inscript programs laid down in the transport system and the creation of de-script programs that demonstrate the actual use of these facilities. In this vein, he mentioned the example of the first railway in Ghana that was built intentionally to meet the needs of the mining industry, but would become an important transportation system for cocoa farmers.
Dialectics of Speed: Fastness, Slowness, Waiting (Steven Logan)
Waiting, immobility, and slowness have not just become the conditions for speed and mobility, be it physical or virtual, they are its necessary dialectical other (for more on this, see my contribution in “Thoughts in Transit”). In the panel, Robin Kellermann discussed the various environments in which people wait for buses, trains, and planes. The faster one travels, the longer one waits, but also the more luxurious the waiting conditions become. Jim Cohen relativised the current fascination with high-speed rail suggesting that every era has had its version of a “high-speed” train, which only became slow with the invention of an even faster way of traveling. Peter Lyth in his aptly titled “Afterburner Glory” looked at the rise and fall of supersonic air travel, arguing that its decline marked the end of a fascination with physical speed and the beginning of an obsession with virtual speed. And herein marks an interesting point of convergence for all of the papers. Kellermann’s analysis of people physically waiting is inseparable from what they are doing while they are waiting—mainly, moving virtually on smart phones.
Cohen claimed that if fastness and slowness co- exist, then a slow train could also be made profitable, but is a slow train with wifi access still a slow train? Mobility applies as much to bodies and trains, as it does to information, wireless networks and smart phones and it is most interesting when they are considered as part of one assemblage of speed.
Unexpected Technological (Dis)Orders in Urban Mobility (Alejandro Rascovan)
This session presented not only a wide range of topics within the subject of unexpected technological (dis)orders, but also a variety of times and spaces. Alejandro Crispiani and Tomás Errázuruz focused on mobility after a major crisis. The case selected where the earthquakes that affected Chile in 2010. Their presentation questioned mobility in a broad sense and how the destruction of the private (houses) reflects in the public places, the streets. Considering also a Latin American city, Dhan Zunino Sinhg explained how the ‘auto-colectivo’ was developed in Buenos Aires from 1928 until 1938, starting from private owned cars to its transformation into buses. However, the focus was also on how itself became a symbol of mobility in the city of Buenos Aires. Finally, Samuel Merrill’s presentation was about the impact of train door technologies on passenger safety in Berlin’s S-Bahn network. The technology involving the S- Bahn cars has been affected since the 1920’s by shortages, the Second World War, the Cold War, murders and accidents. All three presentations focused on dis-orders as a major topic, from the consequences on mobility after a natural crisis, to the security issues in a major city, to an emerging means of transportation that needed regulation. Another subject brought by all three authors is the matter of technology. In each case, technology, and its impact on mobility, was placed in the middle of the spotlight, whether in consideration of the door technology at the S-Bahn in Berlin, or in the placing of seats in a large car chassis in order to let it carry more passengers. Finally, all of the presentations considered the un-expected as a point of departure or as the formation of new means of transportation, originating from earthquakes or problematic security situations. In conclusion, these presentations were not only just scenarios but case studies that allowed a deeper understanding of new technologies and urban mobility.
Frontiers of the Mobility Studies: A Transfers perspective (Robin Kellermann)
One of this year’s closing sessions was devoted to discover new research fields beyond the classical frontiers of mobility studies that, as a result, should be reflected consequently in the publishing agendas of Transfers, the Interdisciplinary Journal of Mobility Studies. Therefore, chief editor Gijs Mom and members of Transfer’s editorial board presented a kaleidoscopic outline of future publishing plans that altogether should contribute to overcome the predominance of an assumed overly conservative and classical approach in mobility studies, ranging from the subjects of investigation and methodologies to a problematic predominance of a Western World geographical orientation. Therefore, Dagmar Schäfer and Stephanie Ponsavady presented a proposal for a “Moving Asia” special issue and invited works from various backgrounds that aim to set up a stronger Asian focus by analyzing (historically) the issues of regional and global links, connections, disconnections and shifts of technologies in shaping mobility in the Asian context. Sunny Stalter-Pace encouraged the attendant mobility scholars to put the relationship of mobility and media more on the agenda of mobility studies, culminating in a special issue on this topic. She proposed an extensive portfolio of potential theoretical and empirical research topics, ranging from the questions of how media is mediating our relation to space to, for instance, investigating the aesthetic of drones. Enlarging the potential focus of future mobility studies, Georgine Clarsen emphasized the need to consider mobilities of settlers as a distinctive constellation of mobility practices, both in history, and, as an ongoing practice, in present times. Finally, Clapperton Mavhunga proposed to set up a stronger African portfolio centring on the special characteristics of Afro-Mobilities. As Transfers aims to draw more attention to African mobility topics, scholars were invited to generate new ideas and modes of thought and to take into account the very specifics of African cities. As a conclusion, Gijs Mom asked the audience to actively join these proposed portfolios in order to reframe the notion of mobility and to develop a stronger interdisciplinary mobility research beyond the frontiers of its classical ‘limitations’.
Global Ecology & Infrastructure (Maximiliano Augusto Velazquez)
The session discussed about adaptation to the environment and social conditions at any time and space, and showed how the urban fabric and mobility infrastructure is continuously adapting to the condition of capital forces. Yusuf Umar Madugu gave an overview of transportation and trade in the pre-colonial Kano, in the western margin of Chad, Africa. He stated that until the advent of colonial transport there was virtually no mobility infrastructure. The trans-Saharan trade used to be conducted through ancestral roads, traveled long distance in caravans (upto 15 or 20 miles a day), accompanied by pack animals –with camel, being the animal most suited to the desert environment. Amalia Crostovao Dos Santos gave another historical point of view showing the design of the colonial Sao Paulo’s morphology. Today the biggest Brazilian city is a huge, complex city, but in the past the city was very small, triangle- shaped, connected by roads and rivers. The 1798 census data shows those initial movements within the town. She argued that early paths, land distribution and inequality had been evolving without the interference of public policies. James Khamsi reflected on design, urbanism and infrastructure, and connected their ecologies. He claimed mobility interfaces are central to understand urban infrastructure; for example, the emergence of electric trams technology allowed expansion of modern cities, contributing to decrease urban density, then automobile technology continued metropolitan expansion. The three papers showed how the social life of infrastructure can be independent of the proposals and desires of designers, architects and engineers. Infrastructure plans and social appropriations should be thought of as dialectic.
Failures, Debris & The Uncanny (Sharon Babaian)
This session was a somewhat unusual mix of topics, time periods, and technologies. The first paper focused on the failure of the bicycle sidepath movement around the turn of the 20th century in North America while the second dealt with a recent controversy over the construction of a rail line through a suburban neighbourhood near Chicago. The final presentation was a meditation on Walter Benjamin’s critique of the progressive narrative of technology and how it might inform the way we see the history of transport and mobility.
James Longhurst’s paper pointed out that the failure of one mobility strategy – the bicycle path movement – in favour of another – combined use roads – shouldn’t lead us to conclude that this result was somehow inevitable. He then described a vibrant bicycle path movement that grew out of the bicycling crazed of the 1890s and which sought to establish a network of separate paths for cyclists in cities and towns across North America. The problems the members of the movement faced were numerous including establishing some form of local governance and administration and stable funding to build and maintain the paths. They also had to deal with opposition from outside the cycling community – taxpayers who did not want to subsidize the leisure pursuits of others – and from within the community – cyclist groups who wanted to focus on building a proper network of good roads that all could use. The inability to create a sustainable model for funding and maintaining infrastructure eventually led to the movements decline in the early years of the 20th century. Ironically, many cities are now trying to re-introduce separate cycle paths after many decades of automobile dominance.
Jule Cidell’s presentation focused on some of the problems posed by growing presence of railway transport in urban areas and their suburbs. Looking at the decision by CN to build a freight line through suburban Chicago, she explored community opposition to the line and its social and cultural foundations. She looked at how the people in the affected areas understood railways and their place in their community. Commuter rail was essential to their quality of life and so was welcome whereas freight rail posed a serious threat and so was not. According to the community activists, freight transport threatens the peace, security, housing prices and ease of movement in and around the community by bringing long trains, their crews and cargoes (possibly hazardous) through an area that is not meant to be a noisy, dirty, working environment. Cidell concluded that however the quality of life for suburbanites depends heavily on the presence of infrastructure and their ready access to it (railways play an enormous role in economic activity and prosperity). The risks and costs associated with that infrastructure, though, have mainly been borne by people in the cities.!
Massimo Moraglio offered what he characterized as a short presentation offering some preliminary thoughts on the process of and social and political attitudes towards technological change and its consequences. Taking Walter Benjamin’s Angelus Novus as his inspiration, he invited the audience to think about the conventional narrative of technology as progress. Technology has been the primary factor in our development of transportation systems and their successful deployment around the world. This success has encouraged us to see the future as full of even more astonishing achievements and unlimited potential for positive change. This progressive tale of enhanced mobilities, though, leaves out certain consequences. First there are negative externalities (the debris in Benjamin’s story) such as pollution, accidents and congestion (he could have added impact of infrastructure expansion on communities).!
Then there is the tendency to see the past and its technologies as inadequate, unsophisticated, to be used only by eccentrics and the poor (think of the attitude of many automobile drivers to cyclists). This creates an environment in which policy-makers and consumers are too inclined to see new technology as the solution to any problems created by existing technologies (the flying car as a solution to congestion, though it would just move the congestion, the driverless car as a solution to accidents). He concluded by noting that industry seems more interested in promoting behavioural change to solve some of the problems arising from our technologies whereas many policy-makers still seem caught up in finding technological fixes. Finally, he suggested that we need to promote a broader discussion of these issues that includes the public, policy-makers, industry and historical and other analysts of technology.
There was an animated discussion after the papers. Some questions focussed on the specifics of the papers while others attempted to apply the ideas raised by Massimo’s paper to the topics of cycling and railway development. One participant asked if we could analyze the relative amounts of “debris” created by different types of technologies while another wondered if the debris idea could illuminate the CN story. It was also suggested that the electric bicycle might be considered a lapsed technology. Massimo concluded by noting that we need to stop assuming that some forms of mobility are superior to others and therefore should be encouraged. He gave the example of the Chinese government encouraging the use of electric cars over electric bikes to enhance China’s prestige, to show it is a prosperous nation.
Technical University Berlin