In collaboration with Moovel Lab (subsidiary Daimler AG) and the Emerging Cities Lab, EiABC, Addis Abeba, "African Mobility. Part 2" will develop specific applications and projects, based on the Urban Research Studio "African Mobility. Case Study: Ethiopia" (summer semester 2018).
The current mobility behaviors and the growing comfort requirements in the (Western) urbanized and industrialized regions destroy the livelihoods of human beings, animals, and plants on this planet. For many reasons, these developments have not yet taken place on the African continent, or only to a limited extend. Ethiopia could play an exemplary role in rethinking mobility and urbanity due to its long-term isolation from global mainstream influences, and the various indigenous ways of life. The tradition of walking, the astonishing precision of low-tech modes of transportation, and the use of the street as a shared and public space of coexistence for all kinds of activities turn upside down the – perhaps – core principles of modern societies: time efficiency, economic growth, and competitiveness in all parts of life. What the economically more “developed” regions in this world are striving for – “sustainable” lifestyles and “using”/” sharing” instead of “owning” – has been practiced in many sub-Saharan regions for a long time. Against the backdrop of the environmental devastation of our planet mainly caused by the ever-increasing consumption of natural resources, notions of seeming backwardness might turn into perceptions of progressiveness.
Based on the above-mentioned insights, an interdisciplinary group of students from the fields of urban design, industrial design, and communication design will take the gained knowledge to the next level. The goal is to develop five application-oriented proposals for Ethiopian and/or sub-Saharan cities. Such project proposals should recognize the enormous potential of today’s practiced mobility traditions by simultaneously addressing the gaps. Among the latter might be the lack of security, long queues, confusing timetables, vague routes, unclear hope-on places and stops, among others.
Another goal is the investigation of how informality can be combined strategically with digitization. Just because something is digital it does not mean that it’s good or progressive. The task is hence to understand the potential intersection of existing low-tech mechanisms and future digital applications, focusing on how the best of traditional habits and the best of yet-to-come digital possibilities can meet to address the mobility challenges of today and tomorrow.
Future mobility solutions will most probably have to emphasize on the strategy, for instance how to more seamlessly integrate with the informal system. Big infrastructure-investment based mobility is in many cases not the way to go. As in many other aspects of urban design and planning, it is not about mobility as such but about access to mobility.
On a more global perspective it is obvious that sub-Saharan-African cities might play a crucial role in avoiding carbon emissions. In doing so, the Western world could learn from existing and future mobility approaches developed in Africa. However, the current mobility culture of African cities is predominantly influenced by Chinese-Asian and/or Western European influence. In that perspective, the future mobility culture would also be influenced by Chinese-Asian and/or Western approaches. Having said that, Africa South of the Sahara, the world region with the highest urbanization rate will need to have the courage, creativity and the vigor to develop its own mobility concepts, beyond road construction and motorized private transport. Already implemented transportation solutions according to western (and seemingly "progressive" role models) lead currently to a massively increased motorization with all the known downsides such as the emission of polluting and harmful greenhouse gases. The fast-growing number of private vehicles puts a strain on infrastructure, which in turn affects the daily life of millions of people and leads to a high number of traffic victims.
There are good examples in place, often rooted in decades-old traditions and cultures, including so-called "sharing concepts" as well as the traditional mini-buses, a fascinating system of individual entrepreneurs and semi-formalized drivers’ associations. In that sense, public transportation in sub-Saharan Africa is mostly “informal” and should hence be renamed in popular transportation. These good and old approaches deserve a closer look, must be brought to the center, and must be made nationwide. The “solution” to the “African transport problem” might already exist, although flawed and finding its expression in the lack of security, long queues, insufficient modal split, confusing timetables, vague routes, unclear hope-on places and stops (as already mentioned above). The goal of the project is to conceptually recognize the strength and the beauty of the (self-organized) African mobility logics, identifying the “flaws”, and come up with “missing link” to make the the already good practices in place readable as potentially vanguard approaches.
(photograph: Fabienne Hoelzel)