EUKN interview with Mr Philipp Rode

1 March 2016

Philipp Rode is Executive Director of LSE Cities and Associate Professorial Research Fellow at LSE. He is co-director of the LSE Executive MSc in Cities and co-convenes the LSE Sociology Course on ‘City Making: The Politics of Urban Form’. As researcher, consultant and advisor he has been directing interdisciplinary projects comprising urban governance, transport, city planning and urban design at LSE since 2003. The focus of his current work is on institutional structures and governance capacities of cities and on sustainable urban development, transport and mobility. He is co-directing the cities workstream of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate and has co-led the United Nations Habitat III Policy Unit on Urban Governance. He has previously led the coordination of the chapters on Green Cities and Green Buildings for the United Nations Environment Programme’s Green Economy Report. Dr Rode is Executive Director of the Urban Age Programme and since 2005 organised Urban Age conferences in over a dozen world cities bringing together political leaders, city mayors, urban practitioners, private sector representatives and academic experts. He manages the Urban Age research efforts and recently co-authored Towards New Urban Mobility: The case of London and Berlin (2015), Cities and Energy: Urban morphology and heat energy demand (2014), Going Green: How cities are leading the green economy (2012) and Transforming Urban Economies (2013). He has previously worked on several multidisciplinary research and consultancy projects in New York and Berlin and was awarded the Schinkel Urban Design Prize 2000.


EUKN: You described three types of trends towards new urban mobility, i.e. international base or national base? Which of the trends are more decisive and why? 

PR: Describing an international trend approach,  which gives us a broader view of transport. I sometimes describe it as an Schizophrenic situation: we are seeing at the moment, clearly on a  global level,  we are very much in a period of rapid motorization.  Particularly in a development world context, emerging economies, more cars are being sold i.e. emerging wealth levels, which has shifted towards a type of  motorised mobility. Which in many OECD countries and cities have already experienced its peak over the last ten/fifteen years.  At that point there is no longer an increase in an motorisation  perspective. Matter of fact the two cities that we have analysed are moving away from motorisation trends. There are now two different trends happening in parallel, a lot of them in forms by different wealth levels, wealthier cities, citizens are no longer interested in buying more cars. Also if were taking a look at rich Brazilian i.e. Sao Paulo, countries and compare it to the motorisation in London it actually surpasses the level of motorisation.  The wealth differential no longer explains the increase on a mobility motorisation patterns.

Now that is purely looking at mobility patterns, now if we also take a look at associate land use patterns, we would then have more corresponding trends. Pointing than again to very different directions. On the one hand; ongoing urban expansion, at a massive scale, potentially tripling of the urban land globally. Which were dedicated to settling structures and cities  over the course of thirty years.  Which  of course means a densification of cities, sprawl, suburbanisation,  of people dispersing themselves to much lower densities across territory. However at the same time we are seeing, rediscovery of the city; of urban living. Citizens choosing to live in flats instead of houses. Shifting to cycling to work instead of driving, walking and a  pronounce shift to public transport. Additionally, there is another trend which is directly linked to technology, radical digital technology  and innovations that has enable, cars sharing, bike sharing, much more efficient. We have seen probably in the last five years, more of a scaling of these shared mobility. Taxi services: i.e. Lyft & Uber.  The technological aspects have revolution new public transport opportunities. The impact of technology have also replaced movement and there is no need for physical movement for people to connect. However that hasn’t completely removed the need for physical mobility.


EUKN: Upon the research that you have conducted, what would be your theory of citizens attitudes and behaviour towards new urban mobility changes? Are there other aspects of citizens attitudes that has not been identified or included within your research?

PR: Yes, so I think that we have already made a quantitate addition to the current or established discourse of attitudes, we have primarily looked at attitudes related to movement perse; how do you enjoy riding a bike?  Driving a car? Sitting in a bus? We have extended that beyond just the pleasure  of the attitude towards transport but related it to an attitude related to housing. How do you want to live in a city, actually because people’s experience in London as to one’s experience in Berlin. How people move about in London, is really influenced  by how people want to live in the first place. another alternative is transport being drive demand it’s a consequence of your primary choice of  how you want to live. We captured this questions as in; do people want to have a lot of green space, garden oriented,  periphery or other in a flat or in a urban neighbourhood which would be important additions to people’s choice of living.

If you look at these mobility studies and the  type of methodology we have used. Gained a lot of traction towards the end of the 1990’s and the early 2000’s many of these reports coming out on better understanding the attitudes of people. Which thereof tried to  established mobility lifestyle groups. However at the time the technological story was not big as yet. That’s another aspect that  we try to incorporate the extent to which citizens use digital technology. 


EUKN: The main novel contribution of your research project is the international comparison of the study. Have you encountered other examples from other European capital cities?

PR: Regarding cities within Europe the research did not really look into it but from other work we have evidence that the patterns we are describing  in London in Berlin. Most pronounced in these two cities but we have seen them in many other places. We are having patterns of increasing cycling, medium sized cities; pioneers of establishing cycling. In some places  it has become the most prominent mode of travel. Then we have of course the Scandinavian experience which combines the cycling initiatives. Take for example in Copenhagen where also new public transport and infrastructure, and completely new attitudes to parking regulation. Overall, across Europe there are very few cities which  have not consistently try to constrain car usage, and to promote a shift away from the car. Rather it has materialised or not that’s a different story, not all cities have seen an actual reduction in car trips. Probably most have not seen that as yet. But the policies have that ambitions and if we wait a few more years, accompanied by generational shifts kicking in, we will see more renounce change. 


EUKN: In what way can cities contribute to the development of effective policy options to encourage sustainable travel? How can they be involved in shaping the policies?

PR: I would argue that in order to have tangible impact on the ground the institutions at the city level, are absolutely central for implantation. Doing the hard work on the ground. They are Important national and international framework in the European context.  International policies, which are crucial; i.e. air pollution initiatives,  that’s attach to a strong  European framework. Fuel prices, and fuel duty and the framework; how much we pay to drive  (national policy).  In order to facilitate real shift: local level alternatives need to be greater, and this is where cities are absolutely central. They create the infrastructure to aid in the establishment of the physical configuration of a territory which actually allows you  to, cycle, take public transport. Therefore the responsibility and the link between transport and land use, urban design, architecture planning, that’s at the remit of city/local governments within most European countries.  Then by international standards there also doing a relatively good job on combining of policies.  


EUKN: How can different levels of government continue to stimulate these new sustainable mobility trends among cities and their citizen?

PR: The first thing is if they really want to, we know what policies need to change and which one’s need to be implemented. The only reason we are not seeing it, on the one hand there are considerable trade-offs, invested interest, i.e. industrial policies between short term and immediate employment effects and long term sustainability for the labour market. So the reason why we don’t see a more conceptive effort  is not that we lack the tools or the understanding is much more that they are perceived in real trade-off. And then there is the electorate which in my opinion scare off a lot of politicians. I think our study was interesting because is showed that the level of city or metro region of London and Berlin the amount of people which were completely fixated on driving i.e. you will not get them out of their car, is much smaller them you would assume in London its even less then fifteen percent and in Berlin  sixteen percent. Of people that were completely wedded to their car, the most you could try is to convince them to possibly drive an electric car. But there are not going to use public transport or cycle. That is something that we also have to demystify, the role and procedural of the car in public policy that is an important aspect.

Beyond that I think you already hinted it as an important multi-level governance arrangement where from the supranational to the very local governance need to collaborate and display a more concertive effort, ideally exchange of best policies practices and getting consistency is crucial. Cities have really profited from best policy practices. Consumers, residents, civil society, appreciate that a lot. People becoming healthier and more physically active. Children happier and safer. All these types of new evidence helps to support these initiatives.

Many cities however would have to continue doing it alone, they at least can profit from networking with other cities and they together become a stronger voice. This is already displayed in many international negotiations and cities that are separately from nation states reorganising themselves and trying to have a strong voice on particular urban transport planning and city related subject areas.