"Climate, a social issue, status symbols and perception”

20 February 2020

Current trends require specific attention, says Bas Govers, programme director Excellent Cities for Goudappel Coffeng. "Watch out for a growing separation between have's and have nots", he warns. So, look outside your bubble and always ask yourself: 'who do I build for and what impact does a measure have on which (income) groups'. Growing homelessness in the Netherlands? That's a worrying sign of skewed growth that seems familiar to me from American cities on the west coast.

Govers mentions four trends in mobility: the impact of the climate, the emergence of a social issue, barriers in the movement from property to use and attention to the experience of mobility. These trends will radically change cities. The big challenge is not to organize these tasks sectorally or from dominant bubbles, he learns. "How do I create the most social added value with each intervention?" An important part of that question is the social question "For whom do we do it and what effect does it have on which target groups?

Green and water
"Take climate. Cities need to become climate-adaptive and more heat-resistant. This means a great need for sufficient greenery and more open water for water storage. In many cases, this means redesigning the public space in the city and distributing that space well. This is only possible if it goes hand in hand with a mobility transition in which space for cars and parking is redistributed. Here too, the following applies: What effects does this have?  

Social issue
Second trend is the social issue, continues Govers. "If I come to Seattle now and compare the city to ten years ago, I'm scared. The city of Amazon, Microsoft, Boeing and Starbucks. These companies make sure that employment is booming, but also for booming house prices. That means the have nots are being driven out of the centers. Affordable housing is only possible if you're willing to commute in the car for a long time. Alternatives are lacking. It is now suffocating with homeless people, including in the famous Public Library of Rem Koolhaas. You didn't see it ten years ago. I see the same thing in San Francisco. One of the most expensive cities, where the average house price has already risen to over 1 million dollars. It's terrible, and I think we should watch out for it." We are currently making an analysis for Seattle, which at the same time allows us to develop a set of instruments that will show the effects of measures for lower incomes. We also want to make this suitable for the Dutch market. We have an American employee for this purpose. With this new method we have measured the effect of extending the Eastline (metro) in Seattle from the city centre to Microsoft. The effect on lower incomes? Zero! It's not a bad project in itself, but then make an extra investment, for example for the bicycle to give lower incomes more access to the system or develop houses for lower incomes in the direct sphere of influence of the light rail". 

Capital markets
According to Govers, the deeper cause for the emergence of this social issue lies in the roots of the capital markets. "Here the wealth grows faster than you can earn with work. That capital is distributed unevenly and starts to dominate. Something is wrong when two of the richest people on earth, Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Bill Gates of Microsoft, pool billions, while in the same city more and more people are sleeping in tents on the street. In the Netherlands we also see that starters on the housing market can only buy a house with the help of their parents' capital. That is worrying. 

A good instrument for measuring the effects of mobility measures on various income groups could help to reduce such segregation. As an example, Govers mentions the plans to extend the Randstadrail in The Hague to the WTC and Scheveningen from the point of view of accessibility and economic structural strengthening and towards South-West, which has a clear social goal. In The Hague's politics, where a decision must be taken on this matter, you see that representatives of the 'have's' set other priorities than those of the 'have nots', with the latter often fighting a lonely battle.

A good instrument could be used to measure the welfare effects of this project, for example, or of a new riverbank connection in Rotterdam. In this context, Govers also points to a study by colleague Thomas Straatemeier that identifies a change in travel patterns. Lower and intermediate educated people are also travelling further and further. It is known, for example, that in many cases the lower functions at Schiphol are performed by people living in Almere. All this also falls under the social issue, in which employment and housing for different income groups must be linked.   

Govers' third trend is from possession to use. "Am I gonna take a second car or do I share one? I notice we're not getting a grip on this yet. We must not forget that the car and the scooter are status symbols for certain population groups. We are now banning scooters and I understand that for various reasons, but this is also one of the reasons why the city is becoming a city for the have's. I often warn my colleagues: don't live in a bubble: go and look outside the centres of the big cities. 

Finally, Govers mentions the attention for perception. The human factor is becoming more necessary than ever. "Whether it's cycling or parking policy, if people perceive a modality and transition environment as pleasant, you can steer a great deal in that direction.  In the redevelopment of cities we have, in my opinion, until now not realized how important this is". We need to move from 'able to cycle' to 'invite to cycle' with more attention to the attractiveness of routes and the cyclist as the main user of public space. This in turn goes hand in hand with more space for greenery and water and the necessary mobility transition. However, I do think it is important to continue to think 'inclusive'.

"In short, I think we need to fundamentally shift a number of panels in order to prevent market forces from leading to excesses such as you already see in America. It is our role to point out this development. And we also have to be careful not to put on too many sectoral glasses ourselves. Think of the discussion around the self-propelled car. It is being pushed enormously by the industry. But there will be no place for it in the cities, and that is precisely where we need to be more and more, because that is where employment is growing. Not the self-propelled car, but self-propelled public transport will therefore be the future in the cities. Perhaps the greatest danger of one-sided sectoral glasses is that we are in danger of forgetting spatial-economic trends: and they are just as important for future mobility".