Citizens: from users to co-creators of urban mobility (Part I)

When analysing the development of urban areas in recent times, it can be determined that citizens have been playing a rather passive role in shaping their cities. Mostly, citizens have been regarded as consumers of the city, as individuals which simply receive a service which enables them to achieve a series of transactions. This “top-down” city-making process has failed to include citizens, their knowledge, interests and priorities in the construction of the urban realm.

However, multiple initiatives around the world are seeking to reverse this condition and place citizens as co-creators of urban services and in the case of urban mobility, this is not an exception. The EU-led initiative Ch4llenge Addressing Key Challenges of Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning has included the “active involvement of citizens and other stakeholders in mobility planning processes” as one of their four aims[1] in order to achieve a more sustainable mobility. This leads us to question, in which ways can citizens be active participants on building a more sustainable mobility in their cities?

Shifting the paradigm towards co-creation

A study conducted by the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee classifies four (4) ways in which citizens can be engaged on citizen co-creation of public services. In the first section of this two-part article, the focus will be drawn to the first two concepts and how initiatives are including citizens in these ways.

Source: Nambisan, Satish & Nambisan, Priya. (2013). Engaging Citizens in Co-Creation in Public Services: Lessons Learned and Best Practices. IBM Center for the Business of Government – Collaboration Across Boundaries Series.

Citizens as explorers

Citizens are innate users of their surroundings; they are exposed on a daily basis to the functioning of several urban systems. As mobility systems play a significant role in achieving their tasks and activities every day, citizens have broad knowledge on the operation of their city’s transport infrastructure and services. Hence, inviting them to identify and define problems, both emerging and existing, can bring an extensive amount of useful information to the transformation of urban mobility.

Citizen input is key to enhance and improve the mobility systems in cities around the world. An example of this approach has been implemented in the City of Mexico, where in order to understand the formal and informal system of the city, the urban innovation lab of the local government Laboratorio para la Ciudad, has designed a gaming app in which citizens play and map the transportation routes they take daily and get points in return. By utilizing this gamification initiative, citizens are engaged in identifying the problems in the system and, at the same time, contributing to the process of mapping the network of their city.

Citizens as ideators

According to the Ch4allenge initiative, opening the discussion of urban mobility to citizens, as well as other stakeholders “legitimises decisions and moreover, leads to new, innovative governance models balancing different positions and interests.” Furthermore, giving voice to individuals which are usually not part of decision-making is a manner of democratizing the process.

Including multiple perspectives in ideating urban mobility is especially beneficial regarding its future and brings up new opportunities as well as challenges. An example of this is the initiative called Missions Publiques, which invites citizens to ideate possible issues regarding driverless vehicles. After conducting debates about this subject which involved in total 3500 citizens in five French cities in 2018, Missions Publiques is planning to expand the conversation to other parts of Europe, United States and Canada. In order to do so, in 2019 local and regional governments will be trained to implement the debate and citizens will be selected at random to participate. The debates will take place in 50 different cities, both online and offline and the results will be presented and analysed to enrich the debate. Conducting these debates worldwide is extremely valuable for the implementation of driverless mobility in a sustainable manner, as citizens’ input will aid to provide “quantitative and qualitative data on the needs and visions”.

Do you know any more initiatives which include citizens in the process of building more sustainable urban mobility? We look forward to hear about them! Leave us a comment.

[1] The four aims of Ch4llenge are:

  1. Participation: actively involving of citizens and other stakeholders in mobility planning processes.
  2. Cooperation: improving geographic, political, administrative and interdepartmental cooperation.

  • Measure Selection: Identifying the most appropriate package of measures to meet a city’s policy objectives.

  1. Monitoring and evaluation: Assessing the impact of measures and evaluating the mobility planning process.