How do we solve traffic problems in Bengalurus

Age of Sharing: The city belongs to everyone

It was only eight years ago that as many people lived in cities as in rural areas for the first time. But it won't be long before two thirds of the world's population settles in urban areas. The United Nations is forecasting this milestone in the shift in the population ratio between urban and rural areas as early as 2050. In figures this means:

9.7 billion people (current status: 7.4 billion) should then live on earth. 6.4 billion will be at home in cities. So the streets of cities and megacities are getting tight. Kent Larson, head of the "Changing Places" research group at the Media Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, reported four years ago that it was quite tiring in the city of Bengaluru, the Silicon Valley of India to move from A to B on the road. "It took me hours to go a few kilometers there," he said on the stage of a TED talk. Many people in the Indian city probably feel the same way: In 2011, according to a census, no fewer than 8.4 million people lived in Bengaluru. The city has an enormous traffic problem, countless drivers torment their way through endless traffic jams every day.

In the USA, the situation is not much different: According to the World Economic Forum, the waste of time and gasoline in traffic jams in the 83 largest urban regions of the country is estimated at no less than 60 billion US dollars (54 billion euros). The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around one million deaths per year can be attributed to air pollution. City governments should therefore know better and build a dense network of public transport that the population also likes to use.

However, the truth does not correspond to the ideal of traffic in the city: for Media Lab researcher Kent Larson, the city also means constipation, stress, dirt and often bad air for a reason. 80 percent of global CO2 emissions and 75 percent of energy consumption come from the big cities. Nevertheless, people are drawn from the countryside to the cities, because there are more job opportunities and more social networking.

In China, according to Larson, 300 million people will move to cities in the next 15 years. "That means rebuilding the entire structure of the USA in 15 years," says the urban researcher.

More slum dwellers

However, living space in cities is already scarce, expensive and no longer affordable for everyone. The result: There are countless neighborhoods with substandard housing, slums, in which health care, hygiene and educational opportunities are far from the usual western standards.

On the subject of "Cities and Urbanization", the World Economic Forum documented that no less than 25 percent of the world's population live in such poor areas - and the trend is rising. The largest are found in Nairobi in Kenya, in Mumbai in India, in Mexico City, in Cape Town in South Africa and in Karachi in Pakistan.

History shows how this development came about: In the past, people built settlements around water sources and cultivated their fields nearby. The home remained the focal point for family, work, nursing, or entertainment. With industrialization, says Larson, networks developed - for water and sewage, for rails and for roads. The credo was: "Give everyone a car, build roads everywhere, and build a parking lot so they can park their car." We would live in this world to this day, says Larson. And: "To this day, cities are built for cars, not for people." For the scientist, this is the decisive mistake in urban planning over the past few decades. There is not enough space for social innovations that city dwellers urgently need in order to be prepared for future challenges.

There are ideas: The "Changing Places" group at the Media Lab built a small car at the beginning of this decade that can also be folded up when parking. You could say: Drivers with this vehicle share the parking space that they would need with their private car with a second one.

The researchers also developed a special e-bike, the Persuasive Electric Vehicle (PEV), with which you could get to your destination much faster and more safely than with conventional bicycles, even in the rain, partly electrically and partly with leg muscle strength. The name of the "vehicle" already says what it's about: persuading citizens to cycle. Of course, this should also be possible with bikes that are now common commodities. For this purpose there is a very special sharing idea: A kind of "frequent cyclist community" is being considered. Those who ride their bikes most often receive the most points and could then give them away in the form of vouchers for repair services to those who are new to frequent cyclists.

One thing is certain: cyclists are faster than drivers - they save up to 40 percent time at peak times. It has also been proven that improved safety measures for pedestrians and non-motorized road users lead to greater use of cycle paths and public transport. Even trees on the roadside can cause drivers to drive more slowly than before.

Save taxi rides

Car sharing is considered to be one of the most promising strategies for making metropolises more livable overall: Carlo Ratti, Director of the Senseable City Lab at MIT, and a research team proposed sharing taxi rides as an alternative transport concept for large cities two years ago in the specialist magazine "PNAS". Now, on the basis of data from numerous journeys for a second paper, it has been calculated what such a sharing concept could bring for cities like Singapore or Vienna. The result: around 40 percent savings in taxis. In Singapore that is a considerable number due to at least 26,000 cars traveling as cabs. In Vienna, the researchers had data from only 1,000 taxis. Part of the journeys would also be possible here.

The Austrian complexity researcher Michael Szell, co-author of both works, says that the Uber travel service, inspired by the first publication, set up the "Uber Pool" sharing tool. Uber customers can now choose between a single trip or a trip shared with other customers. The latter takes longer, but costs less - and reduces the overall ecological footprint. Szell is currently Researcher in Residence at the mobility app manufacturer Moovel in Germany. Here he will use data analyzes and visualizations to show how much more space there would be in a city if there were no more private cars, only car sharing models were available. There is still no result. But the assumption is obvious: That would free up a lot of space.

Of course, a partial model is also conceivable with private vehicles. Maybe such cars will be self-driving in the future. They could drive their owner to the office and then - before they stand around uselessly in the parking lot until evening - also chauffeur family members, friends, people from the immediate vicinity or even members of a social media group.

The principle of shared use of infrastructure is of course not limited to cars: Living space can be rented out via the Airbnb community marketplace, founded in 2008. The platform has now come under fire because permanent living space is being lost due to short-term rentals. Streetbank allows you to swap household appliances with neighbors you might not really get to know in big cities. You can also offer or search for talent on the website. The London Times wrote about Streetbank: "One of the 50 websites you can't live without." In the coming years, predictions say, the demand for such file sharing sites will grow. The co-generation demands it.

Ultimately, the city of the future is all about not wasting resources: The Ellen McArthur Foundation found that 45 percent of harvested vegetables end up in the trash before they can be consumed by humans. For some years now, there has been a counter-movement in cities: the citizens grow their own vegetables. Proponents of urban gardening believe that there is significantly more space on roofs or in backyards that can be used jointly for this purpose.

In just a few years' time - due to the continuing growth of the urban population - the need for new spaces and the associated infrastructures will be almost twice as large as before. According to studies by urban planners and economists, the focus must be on the more efficient use of existing space, because expansion would be too expensive and would not be feasible to the required extent in the short time available. The key words are: revitalization and rededication, as Melbourne has done, for example. The Australian metropolis gave barely used streets for new residential buildings.

For the US economist Edward Glaeser of Harvard University, it goes without saying that the city dwellers of the future will need community development: the author of books such as "Triumph of the City" (Penguin, 2012) sees the history of cities as more remarkable " collaborative creations "that made us richer, healthier, greener, smarter and happier. In an interview with marketplace.org he said: "We are a social species. Cities allow us to learn from others and thus to survive in competition." So Glaeser pleads for a togetherness in order to be able to survive. Actually a logical approach, you probably just have to remind yourself of it over and over again. (Peter Illetschko, November 16, 2016)

The new magazine "Research" will appear for the first time on Wednesday and will not only be distributed as a supplement in subscription copies of STANDARD, but will also be available in selected tobacconists for 5.90 euros.