Professor Dr. Gerhard Steinebach is one of the generation that went out for a drive for pleasure. Today he often walks to work. At the Technische Universität Kaiserslautern he teaches his students how they should plan tomorrow’s cities. He recently organized an event concerned with growth and contraction in different parts of the globe. We asked him how he prepares his students for the future, how he envisages mobility in a few years’ time and why he rules out the moon as an extension of the earth for the time being.
What will be different in the future, in your opinion? What will spatial and urban planning have to take into consideration?
We have to distinguish between growing and shrinking cities in different parts of the world. In Germany, for example, and several other European countries, factors such as demographic change are leading to a decline in population. This has an effect on cities in these regions, which will face completely different problems in comparison with megacities. When we look at Europe, for example, we see certain processes of growth that are only related to certain regions. In these places the population is growing in spite of the fact that the population as a whole is shrinking. Whereas in other regions there will be a double decline: the natural process of declining population plus emigration. This is a doubly negative process, from which differing conditions for traffic within these regions will result.
Can you give us a specific example of how traffic will change?
The volume of traffic, i.e. tailbacks and other traffic problems, will decline in the areas with a falling population. At the same time there will be more exchange, and thus an increase in commuting. The reason is that the people who remain in these areas will no longer find jobs – there will be even fewer jobs than today. For these regions the question arises of “How can I handle such commuting distances?” This development will lead to changed behavior and changed needs in relation to transport.
In comparison to this, how does the future look for big cities and densely populated conurbations around the world?
If you look at the areas of really big growth, for example megacities in Asia and North America, where growth is happening because people are moving to these places and because there is population growth too, then it becomes evident that the foremost task in respect of mobility is: How can we get individual traffic switched to public transportation? The true difficulty in these regions is to keep control. A lot of roads are being built there, and everyone wants individual mobility. Ideally by car. This is also a question of image, as it was in Europe 50 or 80 years ago. What has to be achieved is to make it an issue in urban planning that people leave their cars and are integrated into public transport systems. However, in megacities we are still far away from such a trend. On the contrary: Traffic is the main topic there, and in these places traffic does not mean mobility but individual traffic.
Where is this going to end?
In many places there are simply endless tailbacks, for example in big cities like Istanbul and Mumbai. Nevertheless, people remain in their cars. What has to be done is to shift at least the share of individual traffic in these growth regions towards public transport. Often this does not work, however, to the detriment of public transport. Of course everyone says “that’s wrong!” Everyone sees the problems and considers: How can I plan traffic sensibly, how can I conceive a system so that a subway, a local train and a bus network operate well and the prices are right? At the same time, the quality of individual mobility and the image mindset that people have are called into question. Regardless of how people move around and in which spaces, the decisive point is having a rational scheme of spatial planning. In Shanghai, a city that I have often visited, there is a strong trend for public transport to decline in favor of individual transport. They have extremely strong urban growth and are building more and more roads, even one above the other, and they are all stuck in tailbacks.
© Professor Dr. Gerhard Steinebach
Studies maintain that there is a trend away from the car as a status symbol …
In Europe yes, but definitely not in Asia. This situation will remain so in the near future. All the talk from developed countries of “don’t make the same mistake that we made, free yourselves from this status symbol” is well intentioned, but these countries want to and have to go through this development for themselves first of all. “Don’t use so much oil and coal, it pollutes the environment” – to which they reply “Yes, what about our economic growth, how will we achieve that? You are already rich, and we are expected to burn less of the coal that we need for our economic growth, whereas you have done exactly that in the last 50 years to get where you are today.“ And when you continue that way of thinking in regard to status symbols: “So we should do less driving, while you have been driving your luxurious cars for years?“ Of course we should be fair here, and not demand too much. Especially when you see how many horsepower the internal combustion engines have that people in Europe and the USA still drive around with, and how we show off with them.
What about electric cars?
The problem with electric cars so far is that they are not yet suitable for long distances. Perhaps the future – thinking of my own now – will be that we drive an electric car in the city for shopping and chores, use a car-sharing scheme for holidays, and for other journeys an electric bike. That would be a combination that I imagine would be attractive for people with a developed environmental awareness. But that is only my opinion. I don’t know how it would look if you did a representative survey, because when I look at the cars on the road, and see the size and power of what people drive when they want to be somebody, then I doubt that things will change quickly.
© Technische Universität Kaiserslautern
How do you get around at the moment?
I’m a city dweller. My family and I do a lot on foot. This is also a visible trend: reurbanization. In part this has already been statistically demonstrated: A high proportion of the population is migrating back into the city from outside. These people travel more by bike. Ourselves, we still use the car as normal, but we are walking more and consciously leaving the car at home. But here you have to distinguish between cities of different sizes. You can’t make journeys on foot in every city. And you have to feel safe when you walk.
What kind of mobility do you enjoy most?
I used to enjoy driving the car. I am from the generation where it was normal to take a drive for pleasure. We didn’t go for a walk, the way we do today, but went for a drive. That means the whole family got into the car on Sunday afternoon and drove off – without a goal, we just drove around and stopped somewhere when we saw a nice café, and then drove on again. In those days I spent a lot of time repairing cars with my siblings, and took cars apart completely.
So it could be said that you are a car person.
Yes, but when you travel a lot for your job and want to work while you are traveling, you do without the experience of driving. That is why I do long-distance journeys by train. When you are at the wheel yourself, you can’t do anything. In the train I reserve a seat, settle down in comfort, and then I can work, sleep or eat. That is almost ideal. And all the talk about delays is greatly exaggerated. People should compare it with how much delay they have in their cars with all the hold-ups. For pleasure I ride my motorbike, but for me it is not a means of transport, as it is in a city like Mumbai, for example ,where people use it to get to work. Moving on two wheels has gone a step further there than in China, where you see more bikes. There the cultural development goes from walking to cycling to riding a motorbike to driving a car.
As a teacher how do you prepare your students for future urban developments?
The course of studies focuses on the themes of contraction and growth. Contraction especially in Germany and Europe. And growth regions internationally. We ask: Where are the growth processes and what kind of growth processes are they? And when you look at these processes, do they particularly apply to metropolitan regions, here in Europe too, as the number of cars on the road is increasing in spite of the declining population and against all predictions? So we have growth in traffic everywhere. The same is true of the number of vehicles, which is increasing, like the distances traveled: 40,000 km per person per year in the USA, 20,000 km in Asia. As a share of the global travel miles Asia is ahead of the USA, however, because it has more inhabitants.
What will the future planning of space look like in reaction to these growth processes?
It is hardly possible to imagine what this will look like and how planning will work. A great many slums will probably arise at first. Initially they will have to be cleared, and it will not be possible to build subway lines and bike paths as a first step.
The course of study provides future planners with an overview of the whole context, in order to be able to handle the challenges: patterns of settlement, ecology of settlement, water ecology, the construction industry, planning law, economics and statistics. This all has to be regarded holistically if you want to plan or redevelop cities. The key message to the students is the methodology, how to recognize the factors that define urban development. The boundaries are not precise, and the subject has to be approached across the board, involving many different disciplines with advanced knowledge transfer. It is important to realize how economic development is linked to transport and the environment. And the effects of, for example, noise and barriers against noise in climatic terms, because they changes the wind. It is also about the social perspective: Why do certain groups of people live in places that are particularly noisy? Because they want to be there, or for other reasons that have to be taken into consideration too? And what can you do for prevention, how can you change these things? Is it a question of income, or is it about proximity to certain institutions?
In relation to transport you then look at how the traffic situation and the shares of transport modes per person are developing, the share of individual transport as opposed to public transport. The aim is to include it all in an integrated concept for spatial development. Specifically that means: How wide is the road, how wide is the bike path, do you need a tree there, or a green strip between the bike path, the road and the pavement?
The purpose of spatial planning is therefore also to avoid wasting space and to optimize the use of space for everyone. Can you discern a general trend in the way we will handle the problem of space in the future?
It depends what kind of city you have in mind. Big cities ask different questions than small towns, for example: Is there enough space? Do you need alternatives to high-rises, such as tunnels beneath the ground? In my opinion the main problem is not that there is too little space but that growth processes are too fast and too little money is available. When you see how things are developing over time, it is clear that in future we will no longer have the problem that the world will be overpopulated, as we assumed in the 1960s and 1970s. We won’t have to go to the moon because there is no more room here. According to population figures that are already apparent, growth will flatten out in the region of ten billion inhabitants of the globe. This is shown by the birth rate per woman: 2.5 at present. Forecasts suggest a tendency to a normal rate of maintenance, i.e. two children per woman. With a time lag of about 50 to 100 years, as during the Industrial Revolution, this population trend can also be observed worldwide. We can assume that it will stay around ten billion.
© Professor Dr. Gerhard Steinebach
The question is, is 10 billion too high?
I think it won’t be, although uneven distribution will be a problem. In certain regions the population will be extremely dense. There will not be enough to eat for everyone here, and the spatial and supply conditions may not be right. Nevertheless, people go there, and no-one can prevent that. Despite borders. From a historical perspective this is almost comparable to the migration of peoples that took place in past ages, but for different reasons. So there will be an issue of uneven distribution. In other regions, where space and resources are plentiful, the population will live an affluent life. And then there will be people who want to return, because something is lacking where they are but available on the other side. And like a see-saw it will come back into equilibrium, and then tilt again.
What do you believe will happen in metropolitan regions in terms of urban planning?
Yes, chaos is a suitable word. In his book Planet of Slums Mike Davis has put forward a hypothesis. He says that the trend of immigration to megacities cannot be handled in any other way than through the appearance of slums to an extreme degree. This may be very pessimistic, but much of it is right, because population growth is too high in relation to financial resources. In this respect the question is not even: Should we build below ground or should we build high-rises? For this everything happens too quickly, and many of the affected regions don’t have the money. And even if they had the money, it would not work. In Istanbul, for example, the financing is available: 75% of the city’s spending is invested in infrastructure, especially transport, water supply and sewage. But the population growth in this city is so rapid that it is nevertheless impossible to keep up. They simply cannot build so much. They are constructing the equivalent of 3 km of subway per day, but in fact they would have to build 30 km per day to transport the population. Sooner or later you hit limits, because you can’t dig beneath the city or close streets everywhere at the same time. Then everything would come to a stop and the system would collapse. Here are the limits to development, and you can do the rest on paper or on a computer but not implement it. And in places where the money is not available, there is the added issue of time and speed. This then leads to the appearance of slums.
What are your wishes for future mobility?
First of all, post-fossil mobility, meaning a shift away from oil and coal towards renewable components. This would perhaps promote more the idea that “power doesn’t only come out of the socket, but has to be generated.”
The second thing would be a different approach to space, i.e. “shared space“. By this I mean encouraging different forms of mobility in parallel: cars, bikes, electro-bikes and pedestrians. Perhaps they should not be allowed to move in a chaotic, mixed-up way, in the manner of “everyone goes where he or she wants”. This could happen by means of lines or curbs, or perhaps by then there will be technical ways of signaling. That an electric car can only drive within certain corridors, otherwise the engine cuts out – and all of this controlled electronically. Or there would be even more automatic warning signals,so that I can’t drive in certain areas because of pedestrian crossings, because my car simply stops.
And the third component is even more closely linked to technical developments: a virtually networked city, where I basically influence mobility schemes in the city myself by being able to order mobility at any place using a mobile device. It would show me where the nearest available car is, or the car would be brought to me, or I see the nearest place where I can get a bike. That has to happen with the service included. This means answering the questions: Which vehicle takes me to my desired destination best, or should I just walk there? And how will the things that I buy there be transported, and how can I transport them myself – simply, what options are at my disposal? So everything depends on the availability of Internet, which enables me to call on certain services individually at the moment when I need them. Individuality is the most important thing for freedom of movement, because mobility is often about time pressure, and is often a pure necessity.
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