Today marks the annual celebration of World Habitat Day – this year the United Nations has chosen the theme Urban Mobility because of its importance in maintaining the efficient functioning of our cities and towns as they expand.
“Mobility is an important part of city design as it contributes, not only to the liveability of a city in terms of reduced congestion and pollution, but also to the economic potential, allowing the efficient movement of people and goods”, said Dr. Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT. “Mobility is at the core of equitable access to basic goods, services and activities – such as work, education, medical care, shopping, socializing – and to enable people to participate in civic life. Furthermore, accessible cities encourage a shift towards more sustainable modes of transportation and draw more and more travellers out of cars and onto trains, buses, bike paths, and sidewalks. Over time, the collective costs of ‘automobility’ have become abundantly apparent – including urban sprawl, air and noise pollution, climate change, road traffic accidents, and the physical separation of people by class and race”, he said.
In a media statement, Dr. Clos emphasized that mobility is about more than just the mode of transport we use, stating that urban planning and design should focus on how to bring people and places together, by creating cities that focus on accessibility, rather than simply increasing the length and capacity of urban transport infrastructure. “By optimizing urban densities and minimizing land zoning we start to make the city work for its citizens; proximity of goods and services takes advantage of the urban advantage and encourages investment and opportunity”, said Dr. Clos.
“Compact, well-designed cities can also be cleaner and have less impact on their environment per resident than more spread out areas. In an environment charaterised by scarcity, this is not only preferable to our standard of living but vital if we are to grow our urban space in a sustainable and desirable way. We need to ensure the cities of the future are well-planned, sustainable and accessible to all”, said Dr. Clos.
Alternative methods of transportation such as bicycles, buses and trains, can help tackle pollution and congestion, provide transport for those who cannot afford it, and benefit those who do not use cars due to impracticality such as the elderly and persons with disabilities. In South Africa, FindaLift is celebrating the First Carpool Week which began on World Habitat Day 2013, to raise awareness of the economic, social and environmental benefits associated with carpooling.
UN-Habitat recently launched its biannual flagship report, the Global Report on Human Settlements 2013 – Planning and Design for Sustainable Urban Mobility – which aims to to highlight the transportation challenges experienced in cities all over the world, and identifies examples of good practice from specific cities of how to address such challenges. The report states that the greatest challenge to urban mobility comes from the fixation with building or expanding transport infrastructure, over increasingly long distances, rather than ensuring people greater access to destinations and facilities that satisfy their needs. The report suggests that urban planners and decision-makers must realize the human right of people to equitable access and make the fulfillment of that right the focus of their efforts to improve urban mobility.
The report also states that there is a huge disconnect between transport needs and investments, where – despite over half of all passenger and goods trips being by foot, bicycle or rickshaw – the bulk of transport investments focus on cars.
Published every two years, the Global Report on Human Settlements provides an up-to-date assessment of conditions and trends in the world’s cities and other human settlements and provides recommendations on how national, provincial and local governments and other stakeholders can develop more sustainable urban futures through improved planning and design of urban transport systems.. These reports are essential tools and references for researchers, academics, planners, public authorities and civil society organizations around the world.