Urban Sprawl and the need to improve mobility

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Transportation networks are fundamental in the shaping of urban areas, arguably none more so than the car. As Calthorpe explains that cities have been ‘unconsciously designed’ by its roads and highway structures. The result has been consistent as can be seen in many cities around the U.S.A, urban areas with low density settlements have become commonly referred to as ‘Sprawl’.  As cities become increasingly decentralised this ironically creates more dependency on the car, becoming a cyclical process that is difficult to reverse. This can be observed as sprawl and the use of personal vehicles has increased, public transport, cycling and walking has periodically reduced. 

As urban density increases the per capita private transport energy use degreases drastically. Therefore, decentralised cities result in higher levels of resource consumption and higher density urban dwellers have a lower per capita demand for energy compared to lower density suburban dwellers. This higher rate of energy consumption has a substantial environmental burden, adding to the issues of global warming with increased CO2 emissions.

Our social lives are intrinsically connected to our personal mobility, with the ability to create connections and build networks over various distances, these vital social interactions allow cities to thrive. Urban sprawl and the decentralisation of the city has isolating properties which creates barriers for these vital social exchanges to occur. Transport induced emissions are connected to declining public health, as vehicle emissions have been shown to cause health problems such as asthma, bronchitis and lung disease. While there are also problems associated with the lack of exercise, people who live in suburban areas and are reliant on personal vehicles tend to walk less and has been associated with increases in obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Additionally, there are also positive connections found between walking, cycling and the use of public transport, which are seen as healthier travel options, while further reducing vehicle emissions.

An improved understanding of mobility in combination with more sustainable forms of transport is key to the future of cities and the transition to low carbon mobility. Sheller & Urry explain that for this to occur a mix of multiple forms of mobility is required, leading to the question, what are these various forms of mobility and what solutions do they offer for a low carbon transition? – Which is a topic I’ll cover in one of my next blog posts… 

Further Reading:

Banister, D. (2008). The sustainable mobility paradigm. Transport Policy 15 (2): 73-80.

Calthorpe, P. (2006) From New Regionalism to Urban Network: Changing the Paradigm of Growth. In: Saunders, W. S. Urban Planning Today. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press: 117 – 130.

Calthorpe, P. (2017) TED Talk. 7 principles for building better cities [Online] Available from: https://www.ted.com/talks/peter_calthorpe_7_principles_for_building_better_cities/ (Posted April 2017).

Dunham-Jones, E. (2010) TED Talk. Retrofitting suburbia [Online] Available from: https://www.ted.com/talks/ellen_dunham_jones_retrofitting_suburbia/ (Posted January 2010).

Middleton, J. (2011) Walking the city: the geographies of everyday pedestrian practices. Geography Compass 5(2): 90-105.

Newman, P. (2014) Density, the Sustainability Multiplier: Some Myths and Truths with Application to Perth, Australia. Sustainability 6(9): 6467-6487.

Sheller, M. and Urry, J. (2006) The new mobilities paradigm. Environment and Planning A 38(2): 207-226.

Wheeler, S.M. and Beatley, T. (2004) The Sustainable Urban Development Reader. London: Routledge: 1-9.

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