We spoke to Luca Bertolini, professor of urban planning at the University of Amsterdam and a world-renowned urban mobility expert, in Spring 2021 about the link between urban mobility experiments and urban sustainable transition. Luca’s research and teaching focuses on the integration of transport and urban planning for humane, sustainable and just cities, and on concepts and practices to enable transformative urban and mobility change. He also explores ways of enhancing collaboration across different academic disciplines and between academia and society. Luca is currently leading the EXTRA project project, funded by JPI Urban Europe, at the UvA and participating in the CLEAR and SET projects, funded by EIT Urban Mobility. Read on to hear more about Luca’s perspective on urban mobility experiments, his core belief in the need to learn from them to bring about systemic change, and his view on the relationship between the pandemic and sustainable transition.
There’s too much going on right now around experimenting for the sake of experimenting, or even innovating for the sake of innovating. Experiments should be used to understand and identify potential barriers and enablers to system change. And not just any system change, but system change in a certain direction, away from something and towards something else (hopefully a better world).
In the case of street experiments, this sentiment is captured in the slogan that we use in our recent article “from streets for traffic to streets for people”. Of course, this is simplistic but it’s a useful way of looking at it.
A niche is a protected space in which alternative arrangements are set up that contrast with the status quo of the dominant regime. What happens in a niche is experimental in the sense that it can fail, it can be successful, and it’s above all an opportunity to learn. The important point is that it gives you a way to actively explore a potential to system change.
Urban experiments are something you try out because you don’t know something, and you want to learn more. But they’re not by definition connected to systemic change. By putting urban experimentation within a transition research framework (like I do), you’re forced to be much more precise and analytic in terms of identifying how such experiments could trigger system change.