Credits: David von Becker

Futures of urban mobility

Things are on the move

Mobility in our cities is changing rapidly: more and more cities are creating central car-free zones. Electric vehicles are taking over the streets and pavements. And smartphones show us where traffic jams are in real time. At the same time, traffic is still responsible for more than 20 percent of annual CO2 emissions in Germany. That's why scientists and artists are looking for new solutions to shape urban mobility in the future. The Futurium Lab shows which ideas and prototypes scientists and artists are working on today and how they go about it.

Credits: David von Becker

Three big questions

For a long time, the principle of mobility boiled down to just getting as fast as possible from A to B. That’s why cities became so car-friendly: the answer to almost all mobility problems was more roads, more parking spaces, more motorways. Since then, the view of mobility has changed dramatically. The climate crisis, congested city centres and high levels of air pollution have led us to a rethink of this car-centric standard. Mobility scientists like Andreas Knie say: "You have to reinvent the city and actually get back to its roots.” Three big questions are on the minds of many scientists and urban planners today: How can mobility become more climate-friendly? How can it be more resource-efficient? And how can it increase the quality of life in cities instead of reducing it?

Exploring futures with simulations: Future Mobility Simulator

Simulations are an important tool for finding answers to these questions. Scientists and urban planners build models of cities and transport systems to test the effects of new mobility concepts. For example, how does traffic flow change when a road is closed to cars? And what impact does that have on the air quality? The simulations make it easier to recommend changes to make to the city.

In the Futurium Lab, you can try out the same simulations that scientists and urban planners use. With the interactive Future Mobility Simulator installation, by IMAGINARY, you can sculpt your own vision for the city of the future. With a few clicks, you can put in place sweeping changes to the cityscape and see how they impact every element of urban life. The scenarios are based on the Avoid-Shift-Improve model used by real urban planners.

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Credits: David von Becker

Prototyping: Fantastic mobility

Another method to develop new mobility solutions is prototyping. This is when scientists and designers test their ideas in practice by building simplified versions of them, to see where the potential pitfalls lie. Futurologists use prototypes too, conjuring up exciting new vehicles and visions of what life may be like a few years from now. Speculative designers, for example, build prototypes to better imagine everyday life in various possible climate scenarios.

The Fantastic Mobility installation by BADABOOMBERLIN turns prototyping into an interactive game. In the Futurium Lab, you can develop and test your own prototypes for new vehicles. At the stand in the Lab, you can put together vehicle parts to create new inventions. A camera records the combination of pieces you make and then projects them onto a green screen to visualise what the vehicle would look like and how it would move. It’s just one way to see how a simple idea can become a real machine!

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Credits: David von Becker

Circular economy: Hybrid catalogue house

Some concepts of future mobility seem quite radical at first. For example: why should our houses stay in one place? The design collective Refunc has developed a future vision of short-term settlement on minimal resources: the hybrid catalogue house. This house is easily transportable and can be built using materials and tools available in any local area. It’s even easier to dismantle it! The house works according to the principle of circular economy.

According to circular economy, objects are used for as long as they possibly can by repairing and repurposing them. This also means that everything is also made taking into account the eventual need to break the item down and reuse its materials. Instead of buying a new car every few years and scrapping the old one, vehicles can be dismantled and the materials reused. When properly designed, our possessions can have many lives.

Research as you ride: SensorBikes

The SensorBike project by the start-up re:edu shows that citizen science can also play an important role in the future of mobility. In collaboration with Futurium, the designers and scientists of re:edu developed a mobile sensor box for bicycles. Berliners assemble the sensor sets in workshops at the Futurium, attach them to their bikes and then as they cycle, the sensors gather important environmental and traffic data. They then make this data anonymously available to the public via the openSenseMap. Scientists, but also anyone interested, can use the data to find out how safe the streets of Berlin are for cyclists. It might even be an inspiration to start their own citizen science project.

Will the mobility of the future include car-free cities and hyperloop trains? Well: we don’t know. What we do know is that however we imagine future mobility, the reality will almost certainly be quite different. As scientists and designers have made clear, there are so many different possibilities - and many more ways we can help to shape them.

Urban intervention: Mobile mobility workshop

For some time, scientists have focused on getting as many people as possible to participate in shaping future mobility. There are many ways to get people involved, such as running future workshops where residents can share their wishes, opinions and concerns. This idea is nothing new. As early as the 1970s, futurologist Robert Jungk developed workshops to involve more people in the discussion about different possible futures. Jungk's motto still applies today: "Let us turn those affected into those involved".

The Futurium's Mobile Mobility Workshop is also inspired by the future workshops. It consists of two cargo bikes, developed by the collective N55 and designer Till Wolfer especially for the Futurium. One of the bikes stays in the Futurium Lab, where visitors can see ideas that were developed in the workshop. The other one is always on the road in Berlin. Wherever the workshop stops, local residents can get together to discuss their visions of how mobility might look in the future.