Category Archives: Future of Transport

Smartness as an enabler of life

KTH – Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm has invested in a major push around the topic of smart and sustainable cities.  Smart cities have been discussed for several years, the Centre for a Sustainable Built Environment asks what’s new in the university’s approach.

It’s refreshing to talk with Dr Olga Kordas from KTH about the future of smart and sustainable cities. Whilst she mentions sensors, systems integration and big data with the natural authority she’s earnt through being the Director of KTH’s Energy Platform, technologies are not the focus of our conversation at all. People are. For Olga Kordas smart cities are about enabling lives in sustainable urban environments.

“We have witnessed a lot of “technology push” over the past decade in smart city thinking” comments Olga, smiling at projects that promised to switch on washing machines remotely in the middle of the night when power is readily available, “but these ideas have struggled to find traction in real life”.

“Today” continues Olga, “we want to help people live and enjoy their lives in cities that are sustainable; smart technologies are an enabler of this. That’s what “smart” means now. It’s about understanding the users of cities, its people, and how the cities these people can successfully reduce their impact on the planet”.

In the short film above, Olga introduces some of KTH’s work on smart and sustainable cities.

Whilst Olga in no way dismisses the intelligent control and optimization properties of smart solutions – such as smoother transport flows or better distribution of power – seeing these as making an essential contribution to urban sustainability, her approach suggests these properties should be placed in the context. Instead, she argues that we need to draw forward the human focus that is necessary to ensure that smart solutions are relevant, useful and adopted.

The human future of smart

Olga highlights three areas of research focuses around people, human behaviour and social systems essential to future-thinking about Smart Sustainable Cities.

The empowered citizen

First, particularly in Scandinavia, she thinks that smart technologies have an important role to play in enabling the citizen, providing a channel through which people can access information to support their decisions – and contribute information to help city-makers take better decisions on their behalf. Shouldn’t the city’s transport information system and weather information be integrated and available to commuters to help them make better decisions about their route to work, for example? Today might be a fine day to cycle, instead of take the bus.

Technologies for humans

Second, Olga argues that smart technologies should be designed after societal needs, not simply from technology potentials.  A meter that shows you how much money you as an individual are saving through optimizing energy use in your home may be less effective that a meter showing you how the sum of energy savings in your neighbourhood are contributing to CO2 reductions in the city as a whole. We are social beings, motivated to be part of wider communities and goals. Whilst we will have to adapt our behaviours to achieve sustainability goals, we need to work with our underlying behavioural preferences in an intelligent manner to get results.

Smart leadership

Third, Olga reflects that city and industry leaderships, again groups made up of people, need better support to establish how they want to engage with smart urban technologies at a strategic level. Olga comments further that many existing business models are not receptive towards the benefits of smart sustainable cities, such as reduced power needs, making industry reluctant to engage. Leaderships need information, experience and supported during this transition phase.

KTH is currently drawing its considerable resources in smart and sustainable cities together so that the different dimensions of this challenge can be addressed in the round. Together with partners from public life and industry the university has produced a Strategic Innovation Agenda for Smart and Sustainable Cities which can be accessed here.

DIY Urbanism: building up Swedish pedal power

In this second blog post from the KTH Centre for a Sustainable Built Environment we pick up the theme of DIY Urbanism recently kicked-off, this time looking at what’s happening in Sweden.

Is DIY Urbanism taking root in Sweden?

“Sweden” Karin Bradley KTH researcher reflects in her campus office, “hasn’t been an early adopter of DIY urbanism – but is making up for it now.” A large and relatively competent public sector has meant that many Swedes have had their urban needs addressed; when this is coupled to a strong history of bottom-up initiatives such as “koloniträdgårdar” – city allotments – there haven’t been the same urban challenges or “urban gaps” that DIY initiatives tackle. Over the past decade, however, the situation has changed and now a wide range of DIY projects can be found across Sweden.

What sorts of DIY Urbanism projects are thriving in Sweden?

Hundreds of DIY projects are blossoming, especially in the communal gardening and food areas. Karin, however, draws our attention away from vegetable plots towards the urban transport sector and the role that DIY bike schemes are now playing in changing the options that people, especially people from disadvantaged backgrounds, have for moving around the city. Access to affordable transport directly affects the access, indeed freedom, people have in the city for both work and leisure.

ydhag.net

The Malmö Bike Kitchen. Photo from ydhag.net

An initiative Karin finds particularly inspiring is Cykelköket. Cykelköket translates literally as the “Bike Kitchen” and is a global movement that supports people to set up their own DIY open repair centres in their cities. Whilst a global movement, people in different cities can tailor the Bike Kitchen to the particular character and needs of their city. “There are parallels with the Open Source movement in computing,” Karin Bradley adds, “An initial idea is developed, it is then made public, open, free to copy, so that other people can take it forward and adapt it to their needs”.

In Sweden the Malmö Cykelköket, in the south of the country, has set the pace.

A short film on the Malmö Cykelköket – in Swedish but you’ll understand the pictures in any language.

Its been in operation since 2011 and is not a bike shop or a bike club but a bike repair workshop where people can bring a bike themselves and loan tools to mend their own bike collaboratively.

The initiative is about spreading cycling and the know-how about bike maintenance that will support more people, especially people from poorer backgrounds, to take up cycling. It’s a direct challenge to the commercialization of cycling that’s taken place in recent years, asking and enabling people to repair and reuse bikes rather than buy new. The Malmö Bike Kitchen also receives bikes that have been officially declared “dis-guarded”, striping them down for parts that other cyclists can use to repair their own bikes.

BikeKitech2

Mending your bike. Photo from regionskåne.se

What Karin Bradley likes about the Malmö Bike Kitchen in particular is the way in which it works with the community, unemployed and recent immigrants to Sweden. The Kitchen has a volunteer system that is open to newcomers to take part, becoming expert volunteers themselves eventually. The Kitchen, Karin notes, “provides a meaningful base for people, especially whilst they are having their official papers processed and are unable to apply for formal work. It means they can start to learn Swedish and begin to feel part of a community”.

Where else is this happening in Sweden?

The Malmö Bike Kitchen is part of the multi-purpose makerspace organization STPLN also located in Malmö (Karin comments that STPLN has recently had its public support funding removed, making its future uncertain). Several other Swedish cities including Gothenburg, Jönköping  and Solna now also host Bike Kitchens and temporary initiatives are also popping up elsewhere.

Can I get involved?

Peddle on. Photo from sverigesradio.se

Pedal on. Photo from sverigesradio.se

All Bike Kitchens are open to volunteers; make contact via the websites above. Want to start a Bike Kitchen yourself – an open source handbook can be found here.

And the effect?

Urban transport options are evolving rapidly in Sweden, as elsewhere. Whilst we are familiar with top-down investments in public transport networks, its interesting to see new, bottom-up, DIY players becoming a force, from Uber to Bike Kitchen. The challenge will be to see how well these different initiatives, with their different organisational forms and aims, can support and reinforce each other.

In the next blog Karin Bradley will introduce us to what’s new around the world in DIY Urbanism.

The feature image at the top of this post is from @allaheterglenn

The Centre BLOG pre-launch continues with an overview of Stockholm’s transport challenges

Are driverless cars a threat to sustainable cities and transport planning?

Jonas Eliasson, KTH professor in transport and Director of the Centre for Transport Studies, used his presentation at the KTH Attractive City workshop to give an overview of transport strategies for attractive cities. As well as examining current concerns such as better public transport, Jonas looks in to the future, reflecting on how driverless cars might affect urban planning. Its not all good news.

This presentation was given in Swedish  – a sumary of the key points in English can be found beow. It’s recorded by the Centre for a Sustainable Built Environment at KTH.

Presentation in Swedish:

Summary in English:

Jonas draws attention to the way in which our cities have spread over the past thirty years, first through the development of city suburbs and second through the development of connected regions where a person might commute into the city from a near-by town. This has led to people making more and longer journeys – both for work and leisure. In turn, this has led to congestion. It is only over the past 10 years that cities have started to build at greater density in their centres; whilst this is desirable for reducing transport congestion, of course, we still have the needs of the existing city to deal with as well as an ever-growing demand for travel.

Jonas puts forward four principles that can help a city address congestion. First he argues for attractive public transport. Public transport must be convenient, safe and affordable so that people choose to use it. Second, “walkability” is vital, especially around public transport interchanges and people must be able to transfer easily from the public transport network to their destination. This leads to the third principle, compact planning. Fourth Jonas adds that, even if the city invests in all these measures, it must also act to limit car traffic so that this becomes a less desirable mode of transport. When applied together these four principles make a substantial different to the accessibility of a city and the flow of traffic. Though it can be argued that cities that manage to solve the congestion problem become more attractive to people and thus increase their populations, bringing about another wave of congestion. Transport and urban planning is a continual process, not a single solution.

Jonas also reflects on the impact that driverless cars might have on urban planning and city transport systems. Whilst he thinks that driverless cars might make long distance travel e.g. on motorways, more efficient, Jonas doubts that they will make city travel more effective as the problem is a simple lack of road space, regardless of who or what drives the car. What could change urban planning is having cars that drive off to park themselves outside the centre after delivering their passengers – this would free up car parks and also roadside parking spaces, allowing for new types of urban development. Jonas is cautious though, commenting that we might make use of driverless cars to extend commute times and spread cities by choosing to live outside of the city and work on our longer commutes as our driverless cars motor us in to the city.

Jonas concludes his lecture by reflecting on the situation in Stockholm. He is keen that we re-think urban and transport planning in the outer suburbs of the city. These suburbs were largely built in the post war period and designed with car use in mind. Today they are dominated by car parking facilities and spread out housing, neither of which are conducive of a productive (or pleasant) environment. Walkable, more compact neighbourhoods that connect to public transport nodes would give these suburbs a new burst of life.          

Note: this presentation was given on a sunny day and occasionally the audience was not able to see Jonas’ slides well. He references this in his lecture – even though the slides are easy to see on the video.