City ​​of proximities / Newsletter of 9 Décembre 2019

Demobility (i.e., reducing travel time): a different way of looking at proximity

In order to avoid enforced travel and respect the zero carbon objective, cities are coming closer to their inhabitants. This phenomenon can be observed in Paris, Barcelona and Copenhagen.

(Crédit : Shutterstock)
(Crédit : Shutterstock)
Since the late 1980s, the announcement of a transport strike has inflamed conversations, and fuelled the press. Everyone has their own piece of advice: set off earlier, work from home, stay put for a day or two. 
Staying put for that one day, losing our mobility, is this a punishment or an opportunity to be grasped, or even to be repeated subsequently, on a daily basis? “More than being about cars, buses, roads and railways, mobility is a question of lost time and energy, and of environmental responsibilities”,maintains sociologist Bruno Marzloff, in a column published in June 2019 on the OuiShare x Chronos Lab’s blog. “Above all, this comes down to avoiding enforced travel and reducing the use of motorised transport. A different way of looking at proximity, city and region is required.” 
This type of perspective, adopted by local authorities, urban planners, promoters, entrepreneurs or ordinary citizens, is creating new neighbourhoods, in Europe, America or Asia, designed or redesigned for “demobility”. This neologism can be illustrated by three examples: Nordhavn, a port area of 200 hectares located west of Copenhagen, a city currently being built on polder; Eixample, in Barcelona, reconfigured and unrecognisable with its "superblocks" imitated by Tokyo; and the Arc de l'Innovation, a crescent covering the eastern Paris-metropolitan area, “given back to its inhabitants” by the town hall.
Nordhavn is a contemporary adaptation of Copenhagen’s city centre, designed as a city within the city to house 40,000 inhabitants and reduce their journeys. In order to prioritise buildings with three to six floors, i.e., “on a human scale”, space had to be taken away from the streets, resulting in a dense and compact city. Only a few large buildings are to be seen: the International School of Copenhagen, to the north, and to the south the UN City, which encompasses eight United Nations agencies. But public spaces have not been forgotten: a network of squares, parks, walkways and garden-streets. The quays bordering the canals and the sea have pedestrian paths, cycle paths and squares. The water is a leisure area too. Thus, the public space, freed of pollution, brings the district to life in the same way as the local businesses on the ground floor of buildings, the offices, schools, university and housing. 
By applying this same principle – to meet a maximum number of needs within a reduced space – Barcelona has re-examined its urban planning plan drawn up by Ildefons Cerdà in 1860: a grid layout, with traffic lanes ranging from 20 to 60 metres wide to accommodate the expansion in motor traffic. Less than 16% are pedestrian paths, a proportion that the city wishes to inflate by 270% to 67.2%, step by step: by cutting the city plan into “superblocks” or “superilles” in Spanish. It’s a question of considering the city not as a big grid, but as a set of 400 x 400-metre squares (“superblocks”) made up of 9 blocks (think of the face of a Rubik’s Cube). These blocks are demarcated by two horizontal lines and two vertical lines. These lines (roads formerly used by motorised vehicles) then become the pedestrian walkways of the “superblocks”. At the four intersections of these walkways are four public areas, occupied by shops, cafés, squares, theatres, etc. In this way, each of the “superilles” becomes a “green” small town. Cars are pushed back to the outskirts, and travel on the roads which demarcate each “superblock”, never more than 5 minutes’ walk from a home.
The Arc de l’Innovation project in Paris, even though it primarily responds to economic imperatives (developing activity in the east to re-balance the forces currently focused on the west and the centre), aims to bring this vast crescent to life thanks to the functional diversity of shops, offices, training centres and housing, places of culture and meeting areas. On the other hand, unlike Norhavn and Eixample, it will be difficult to turn the whole of the concreted district green. Here, proximity is created not only in terms of distance from home, but also from the workplace. To facilitate this, social housing providers have devised and implemented this year in Ile-de-France a rental exchange platform, Echanger-Habiter. Exchanges between renters avoid long administrative formalities in getting an apartment better suited to one’s needs, and enable people to get closer to their place of work. According to a Parisiensurvey, published in mid-October, it is working actively.

Polymorphic cities

Cities are becoming polycentric and polymorphic,” says Carlos Moreno. Hybrid sites are encouraged to increase: a theatre, for example, will become a university lecture theatre or company auditorium, its café or restaurant will be used for studying outside mealtimes, or even at night. In its “Demobility Manifesto” the Fabrique des Mobilités sees the emergence of “demobility hubs”, concentrations of shops, public services and cultural venues, so that residents feel less need to travel. Ten years from now, 50% of French people will work at a distance from the company’s headquarters, remotely, an official addition to the French Labour Code in 2012. For the past ten years, doctors have also been able to work remotely and are opening “e-surgeries”, for remote consultations. Co-working areas have had to multiply. 
As a result, digital technologies play a key role in the quarter-hour city, since they allow people to be everywhere at once. Thus Copenhagen foresees “dynamic streets”, i.e., covered with heated paving stones in winter, fitted with sensors to record and analyse movements in real time, and equipped with LEDs: lights on the ground mark traffic lanes, which can be modified according to the time or traffic conditions. Streets can, at the click of a button, make space for delivery lorries in the early morning, then turn into three-lane “cycle roads" from 8:30 am, and into a pedestrian square at midday, and so on. A dream or a nightmare of city, administered thanks to its data, whose protection poses a problem. Neither Barcelona nor Paris seem tempted by this futuristic model. 


“Demobility” does not mean “immobility”: soft mobility belongs in the quarter-hour city. The Arc de l’Innovation in Paris, like Eixample in Barcelona, is developing or widening cycle lanes and increasing parking facilities for bikes, yet is still unable to compete with the infrastructures of the capital of cycling.
According to the Copenhagen’s 2011 “Good better and best” plan, bicycles should account for 40% of transport methods within five years, against around 25% for cars, 25% for public transport and less than 10% for walking, for necessary journeys. To make sure of this, and make the bicycle the fastest vehicle, short cuts for their exclusive use are multiplying, in Nordhavn as in the rest of the city: tunnels, bridges, and contraflow systems. Car parks are envisaged between each building, two-storey metal structures, and in front of schools, shops and administrative buildings, with wider spaces to accommodate “cargo-bikes”, with their two-wheeled carts in front to transport children or shopping. The plan concludes: “More space, less noise, cleaner air, healthier citizens and a better economy. This is a city in which it is more pleasant to live, and where people have a better quality of life.

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