The research program “PostCarWorld”
The PostCarWorld proposal is not only multidisciplinary, but undoubtedly interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary.
The fields that are represented are the following: geography, sociology, economics, transport sciences, transport engineering, urban planning, urban design, and computer science. There are therefore two dimensions of pluralism in the set of disciplines involved: i between social sciences and ‘hard’ sciences (inter-disciplinarity), and ii between fundamental research and applied research (trans-disciplinarity).
This is the result of a deliberate, strategic choice: if we aim at understanding and simulating a possible ‘post-car world’, then we have to mobilise all the available intellectual resources. If taken seriously, the idea of simulation means both fundamental and applied approach, both based on actors’ intentionality and on formally consistent modelling.
This choice has required a long work of ‘translation’ from one field to another. As a result, the proposal is not a collection of disciplinary projects at all. Right on the contrary, each of its components is compatible with the others, that is not only understandable but also usable as material (see the explanatory graph The Plan in the main document). Subproject A Expectations will be used both by Sub-project B Mobility, which on its turn will impact Subproject C Urbanity as necessary inputs. Conversely, the outcomes of subprojects B and C will be proposed to the same interviewed people of Subproject A and these feedback loops probably will significantly affect their reasoning.
Car Culture as an Emerging Issue
The goal of this project is to explore the future of mobility through the role of the car. The main originality of this research is to raise the following problem: ‘What, if the world were a post-car world’. The basic idea is to define a hypothetical situation where the place of the car would have been dramatically reduced and to use qualitative and quantitative simulation methods to examine the consequences of this initial hypothesis.
To formalize our approach, we will design a counterfactual world in which the car has no use : a Post Car World. The objective is to conceive a world without cars (with four variants) in order to help us appraising the current role of automobile, to highlight its meaning in our modern societies and to envision new possibilities for mobility and spatial development. In order to understand the nature of this potential deep mutation and analysethe complexity of the current ‘car-society’, a comprehensive and synergistic approach will be carried out. In brief, this project is based on the idea that by simulating the future through scenarios we can understand the present better.
This research project is by no means an ideological project; it is not guided by an ecological advocacy approach or by a possible agenda of sustainable policies. Right to the contrary, the approach chosen emphasizes the observation of the present-day’s society, including the diversity of its orientations or attitudes towards future.
Switzerland as a whole and in some of its parts will be used as the main geographical reference in the overall project.
This project is fully interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary. It brings together social sciences, engineering sciences, urban planning and urban design.
1. Formalizing and standardizing qualitative data coming from semi-structured interviews.
2. Using realistic hypotheses to forecast the production of new mobility supply that take into account the fact that ‘post-car’ worlds are anchored to the present and not a purely fictional proposition.
3. Including the impact of this new mobility deal on new spatial configuration, namely on urban design and on urban fabrics.
4. Introducing feedbacks between societal expectations and mobility supply.
5. Constructing scenarios by the exploring of four variants that encompass the radical as well as moderate changes in term of car use (see table below).
6. Building a final, synthetic model that will integrate the different research modules and research phases into a compact device, which will show the different types of gaps existing between the current reality and the scenarios.
7. Beyond the fundamental, theoretical character of this project, a recommendation-oriented arrangement of the outcomes will be proposed, including an analysis of possible phasing and leverage-effect measures.
THE SUB-PROJECTS AND THEIR INTERACTIONS: A THREEFOLD LEADING THREAD
As the graph below shows, there is a first, very simple leading thread that links the components of Post-Car World: a sequential process from the analysis of expectations (A), that is demand, to the new needs for supply (B) and to the logical consequences on urban configurations (C).
The second leading thread is structured by two feedbacks. The results obtained about new mobility
infrastructures and scheduling (B) and about the possible changes of urban design resulting from a novel usage of road networks will be submitted to the same panel of persons already interviewed in the first stage (A). The initial instruction ‘How do you consider changes in the mobility system’ would become what if… if these changes would occur?’
The third leading thread is based on the integrative capacity of the central unit. The goal here is gather and make compatible the different outcomes of the three sub-projects to set up a relevant comparison between the current situation and the different scenarios, based on the variants (see below).
Using a common spatial referential, Switzerland, research groups collaborate on testing different variants. This project, based on the construction of an alternative reality, Post-Car World is innovative by its subject and its common method based on simulation, that is, the construction of a counterfactual reality through a precise, formalized thought experiment. The objective is to create an alternative reality that will differ from the actual one only by its ‘post-car’ component and its predictable consequences. This approach makes an accurate comparison between this made-up reality and the present possible.
One specificity of our approach is that the content of the alternative reality is drawn from a part of the present, its ‘virtuality’ that is to say the actual practices and the actual expectations that are part of the present-day societies.
The hypothesis behind is that listening to what our contemporaries have in mind is an excellent way to approach emerging trends. This method appears to us at least as efficient, as the traditional forecasting techniques, which consist in continuing the curves (and the functions behind) that link the past to the present. The classical drawback of this technique is that it makes impossible the ‘beaconing’ of major breakouts, inflexions and bifurcations. The dual choice of I asking the ordinary citizens what they expect and what they refuse, and II using in-depth interviews provides a good leverage to identify weak signals that prefigure major switches.
1. All built-up areas above 10’000 inhabitants are car-free. Intra-urban mobility is public or non-motorised (trams, trains, metros, ships, taxis, new public transport modes, bicycles, walking).
2. Medium and long distance mobility outside built-up areas is very much like today.
3. Freight transport is very much like today.
1. All built-up areas above 10’000 inhabitants are car-free. Intra-urban mobility is public or non-motorised mobility (trams, trains, metros, ships, taxis, new public transport modes, bicycles, walking).
2. Medium and long distance human mobility outside built-up areas is very much like today.
3. Short distance, intra-urban distribution is based on container logistics on electric vehicles and urban train good-mover systems. Medium and long-distance freight transport is very much like today.
1. All short, medium and long-distance human mobility is public or non-motorized (trams, trains, metros, ships, planes, taxis, new public transport modes, bicycles, walking).
2. Freight transport is very much like today.
1. All short, medium and long distance human mobility is public or non-motorised (trams, trains, metros, ships, planes, taxis, new public transport modes, bicycles, walking).
2. All freight transport is based on container logistics on electric vehicles and rail good-mover systems.
THE SWISS TERRITORY AS A CASE STUDY AND A SAMPLE
The Swiss territory possesses some characteristics of a densely urbanised area with many small and medium-size cities but no big multi-million metropolises. It is fully representative of the urban fabric of central Europe (Mitteleuropa). It has two other peculiarities which are of specific interest for this project: a good supply of public transport, particularly in relatively low-density areas; a large array of peri-urban, hypo-urban and, even, ‘meta-urban’ with the dense meshing of Alpine touristic stations (Lévy, 1999; Lévy, 2008) situations. In this context, Switzerland represents a good abstract of European geographic situation. It will be then considered not only for itself but also as reasonably good sample of a larger European space.
The Swiss territory will be used as relevant at different scales: at the agglomeration scale, Zurich and the Leman Arc, which are fully relevant for the variants V1 and V2, as for V3 and V4, which the overall Swiss space is useful to encompass metropolitan configurations associating city-centres, suburbs and peri-urban areas. More remote areas, located outside metropolitan areas are also interesting because it is particularly in these peripheral zones that the variants V3 and V4 will make their difference particularly sensitive.
A Sinergia Proposal
15 January 2013