Interview with local governments champion Emilia Saiz: part one

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Public transport is at a turning point. To better address the rising mobility challenges in urban areas, UITP and United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) have signed a Global Strategic Partnership on 25 May 2018.

This agreement will do more than confirm an already strong collaboration, it will set the foundation for concrete measures to support local governments all across the world in their journey to advance the New urban agenda and help reach the Sustainable Development Goals. The first step taken is the establishment of the Mobility Champions Community, a platform of city leaders taking concrete action to collaborate in leading the transition to sustainable urban mobility.

We had the opportunity to sit with Ms Emilia Saiz, UCLG’s Secretary General, to discuss her views on the challenges of mobility and how local decision makers are key in implementing the right solutions for their citizens.

According to you, what are the main mobility challenges for metropolitan areas in the near future?

Demographic growth and urbanisation have reshaped our societies and urban landscapes. Right now, over half of the world’s population resides in urban areas, and the total is expected to rise up to 70% by the year 2050.  Rural areas across the world are transitioning into urban societies at an astounding rate, which gives us a chance to rethink urbanisation and how to face the challenges of such a predominantly urban society.

This increasing urbanisation brings, of course, many challenges in regards to mobility. I think one of the more dangerous mistakes that we can make is to consider just the traffic aspect in mobility and to think that addressing the new mobility will consist of only addressing traffic congestion and air quality. Mobility needs to be addressed in a much more cohesive manner. We need to see it as a social inclusion issue that goes beyond connecting geographical areas and designing efficient mass systems. Mobility is about education, understanding of public space and public goods, quality of life and the future of our cities. 

To rise to the challenges posed by this changing environment, it is important to acknowledge the large variety of urban areas, ranging from small villages to growing intermediary cities and complex metropolitan areas.

A good mobility policy needs to be embedded in an overall plan to create and maintain, resilient, and sustainable cities that can contribute to improve the lives of the people who live in them and their surroundings. Mobility does, indeed, go beyond city borders.

Sustainable mobility implies designing inclusive and integrated urban planning and mobility policies that enhance access for all

Mobility does not only mean providing access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems. Sustainable mobility implies designing inclusive and integrated urban planning and mobility policies that enhance access for all, and it also means paying special attention to the rights of girls and women, youth, persons with disabilities, older persons and vulnerable groups. All of these are examples of the importance of sustainable mobility for the lives of the citizens. 

There seems to be changes in the way local and regional decision makers are planning mobility on their territory to better integrate sustainable mobility solutions, according to you, what are the motivations behind these changes?

Local governments have always identified the importance of planning cities for the future. Many of the more successful large cities we know today benefit from visionary planning and mobility features that have made them adaptable to new needs and demands.

Local and regional governments need to be at the front line of identifying the new needs and aligning them with the existing ones. We need to dare to look into a future where cars will not dictate mobility, where mass transport will not be the only reference. A future where shared individual road transport, driverless cars, flying transportation, drones and other traffic features will take over our public space.  

This is why sound governance models where all ages, all actors and all citizens are involved will be essential to address the challenges ahead.

We need to dare to look into a future where cars will not dictate mobility

The world as we know it is transforming. It is our collective responsibility to understand how this transformation will affect us, and create an environment that is flexible enough to house options that we had not thought about. The augmented reality of the internet of things will be demanding also in terms of physical transportation and public space. If we want that reality to benefit everyone we will need to think of mobility systems that are based on very different technology than the ones we see now.

Local and regional governments have long been aware of this great responsibility. Our organisation is a clear example of this commitment towards a better life for all, as the International Municipal Movement we represent is over hundred years old and was founded on the bases that shaping the world is not something for one sphere of government alone, and not a task that can be undertaken by just one stakeholder, or magically solved by technological advancements.

Stay tuned for part two of our insipiring discussion with Ms Saiz!

Find out more about the Mobility Champions Community!

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