How can we keep cities moving? Designing for density and difficulty

Louise Astley

As technology, transportation and innovation come together to relieve the pressures of urbanization, what’s really working to alleviate those pressures, and what’s actually getting worse? Uber and services like it have not only changed our expectations but also our behaviors. First, our movies and our music were on-demand, and now we click a button to move ourselves or our orders through our cities. But at what cost?

Our Smart Salon in London, co-hosted with Connected Places Catapult’s, Sam Markey, Head of Executive Office, explored just that: How can we balance personal convenience with the greater good? Smart’s Strategy Director, Nate Giraitis guided clients, partners and friends in the mobility sector through a provocative discussion with a team of experts about what’s going well and what needs to change before our cities crumble under the pressure.

Personal mobility panelists included:

Parcel mobility panelists included:

Cities are incredible, but convenience is choking us

Sam Markey kicked off the event positively, “Cities are incredible. They are engines of productivity and prosperity, where connections are made and businesses are created. However, they can be incredibly difficult places to live if not managed well.”

40% of noise and pollution in our cities comes from the movement of goods. Many new mobility services we see today place individual convenience above all else, without considering larger societal impact. “But focusing only on convenience and a low price – without considering health – is the same theory behind McDonald’s,” Nate reminded us and asked, “do we want to clog the arteries of our cities in the same way?”

Peak hour commuters experience higher levels of stress than fighter pilots or riot police.

Sam Markey
Connected Places Catapult

Do more cars mean more problems?

How do cities balance the existing inventory of vehicles on the road, with the increasing numbers from new services?

Matteo de Renzi from Gett – the largest black cab app in the UK – asks, “what’s the point of having many drivers making minimum wage when at the same time our buses are getting more and more empty?”

Can making better choices get much, much easier?

Emma Silver from Bird, who operate dockless electric scooters, made comparisons to Amsterdam, a city built around trams and bikes, not cars. If the first or last leg of a journey is up to 15 minutes, an e-scooter can easily contend with a car for its ability to skip through traffic as the commuter will pick the mode which travels the furthest in 15 minutes. If cities made it easier to complete a commute by not taking a car, would people make the right decision?

“There’s an extraordinary amount of space in cities for cars and parking” Emma also shared. Ride hail companies, she explained, are helping people make the conscious choice not to own a car, and this has the potential to challenge the norms of real estate valuation and neighborhood desirability. In a city like London, where real estate value is prime, parking space could be better allocated to healthier modes of active travel such as bikes or scooters, let alone the potential to utilize that land for additional green space or home development.

New York City has seen its 13,000 yellow cabs grow to over 100,000 vehicles in one decade thanks to the rise of services such as Uber and Lyft. Add to this the delivery vehicles expected to meet the 95% increase in e-commerce and we’re looking at some incredibly busy streets.

Nate Giraitis
Strategy Director

There’s no such thing as free delivery

Amazon Prime’s subscription model has hidden the financial cost of immediate shipping, propagating consumer expectations for “free” delivery. Has this blinded people to the true impact ofsending items to their door, one at a time? One guest mentioned that when consumers were required to start paying for plastic bags, they became immediately aware of their value and effect on the environment. What new business models could shift perceptions of cost and impact, motivating people to make more efficient choices when it came to delivery?

The best scooter is the closest scooter

“There’s definitely a benefit to being first in micro-mobility,” shared Joseph from InMotion Ventures, while Sam from Gnewt predicted, “there’s a plethora of innovations and solutions happening at the moment. Some will die and some will float to the top.” Emma declared, “the best scooter is the closest scooter. People will sooner download a new app for a scooter that’s closer than walk a few hundred meters to get the one they already have an app for.” These stories point to the opportunities for UX design to make onboarding easier, as well as the challenges of market selection and pilot design for companies in this space. Establishing a clear value proposition and allowing time to market are both hugely important.

Designing a people-centered mobility ecosystem

“So many companies are doing the same thing, and they won’t all survive. We must think of the health of a city,” said Ross. “What those cities want” continued Tom, “is better air quality, less congestion, and services that fit their needs without overwhelming the city.” Emma added, “the beautiful thing about micro-mobility and final mile solutions is that they are, and they only work as, part of a larger ecosystem. People need to stop thinking in terms of modes of start thinking of putting the passenger, the rider, the person making that journey at the heart of everything.”

The big opportunity for mobility companies – be they OEMs and incumbents, or nimble start-ups – is to design services that balance individual benefits with larger societal needs. This, combined with smart partnerships, can grease the wheels of city collaboration, and catapult companies to the top tier of urban mobility innovation.

Smart Design has worked in the mobility space for over ten years on a diverse range of projects that use our multidisciplinary skills including business design, design strategy, and UX, visual, and product design.  Are you part of creating the future of mobility? Our Smart Mobility team would love to hear from you. Say hello to Louise.

Learn more about our approach to next-generation urban mobility and how to improve how we move people and move parcels