Looking back at seminar # 4 Mobility Transitions with Tim Schwanen

While the notion “mobility transitions” is usually used to refer to transitions to more sustainable mobilities, in this seminar we have devoted more attention to the social and political processes underlying changing mobility systems in various contexts.

Sun Qi opened the seminar presenting preliminary results of e-bike use in the Netherlands. Brett Petzer’s talk followed focusing on the relationships between the operators of emerging bikeshare services in the Netherlands and local governments. Lela Rekhviashvili discussed the concept of “social embeddedness” and how it frames (and limits) our understanding of flexible transport, using the case of “marshrutkas” in post-socialist cities.

Tim Schwanen’s talk began with pointing out that transitions are usually seen as responsibility of either private parties or the state, while the public/civil society is neglected as if it were a passive party, a congregation of “users” of new services. The collaborative international research project he presented some findings from aimed to analyse bottom up transitions initiatives in Saõ Paulo and London as a step towards understanding the variety of social dynamics that may activate facilitate transitions. Such initiatives, framed by Tim through the lens of commons/enclosure, are not a silver bullet and are unlikely to enact transitions without alliances with other types of action. yet their analysis highlights that mobility transitions “are political processes centred on the good city/society” and that they “must be situated in everyday practice and experience”.

Finally, Daniëlle Snellen offered a reflection on the dominant logics in transport planners’ discourse  and their ways of imagining mobility futures. She suggested, much in line with Tim’s argument, that imagining transport futures is not about technology, but about the society we wish to live in. What futures do we want and what can we desire in the light of impact of mobility and what do we choose then?

The discussion afterwards revolved around the possibilities of the initiatives presented by Tim to influence transitions, to gain more power and the question whether that should be their role at all. What can we learn from such initiatives and how framing them (the very language we use to describe them) influences what futures we may present as desirable – futures that may also be exclusive and problematic. Perhaps, studying tensions around bottom up initiatives as prominent examples of commoning can be a way forward to understand obstacles to just and sustainable urban transitions.

Recording of Tim Schwanen’s talk will soon be added here and on the website of the Centre for Urban Studies, UvA

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