Robert Martin om new mobility
Struensegade-projektet: Fotokredit JAJA Architects

Mobility is one of the most challenging sectors in the fight against climate change

At the Sustainable Infrastructure conference 9. & 10. November, Robert Martin, architect, ph.d. in future urban mobility & head of mobility at JAJA Architects will give an interesting presentation about sustainable mobility infrastructure. He will give an overview of JAJA Architects’ work with the future of mobility, showcasing their designerly approach to projects that range from future visions of cities to pilot projects that tests these ideas at the human scale.

Read an article with Robert here.

What is your background and how do you work with sustainable infrastructure? 

I’m an Australian architect, planner and mobility expert based in Copenhagen, Denmark. I’m the current Head of Mobility at JAJA Architects where I am responsible for designing mobility strategies for cities, consulting for public and private mobility operators, as well as developing new typologies of urban transport infrastructure. I also hold a PhD in Future Urban Mobilities from Aalborg University. 

Mobility isn’t a typical topic for an architecture studio like JAJA but after creating Parking House + Konditaget Lüders, we realized how much livable cities are deeply associated with mobility and sustainable infrastructure. Since then, we have worked on numerous types of mobility assignments in Denmark and abroad. 

Robert Martin, architect, ph.d. in future urban mobility & head of mobility at JAJA Architects

Which challenges and opportunities do you see within the field of mobility and infrastructure right now? 

Mobility is one of the most challenging sectors in the fight against climate change. Despite significant efforts, the share of the mobility sector’s GHG gas emissions in the EU is on the rise. The main problem is that there are too many cars, and we keep designing cities around them.

Transitioning to battery electric cars is part of the solution, but it is seen by too many as a silver bullet to preserve our existing transport system based on automobiles. Electric cars are still incredibly energy inefficient, and the extreme CO2 cost of building roads and parking infrastructure is something rarely discussed in this conversation. It’s a problem with the system that needs a system-based solution, not simply replacing a combustion engine for an electric motor.

Fortunately, we are experiencing a global trend of urbanization where an increasing number of people are moving to cities which will demand a new need for design and transformation of city districts. With this level of urbanization, it’s simply unfeasible to continue the same path of private car ownership due to space restraints in densifying cities. To me, this is where sustainable infrastructure must play a key part in shaping future cities and by then, nudge people to change the way they move

How should we develop the future of transportation and mobility in our cities according to you? 

From JAJA’s point of view, the discussion surrounding the future of mobility is too black and white. The discussion is always about the ‘car vs bicycle vs public transport’ which is difficult for people to relate to their everyday lives and gain consensus from. The future of mobility is going to be much more multi-modal, flexible, and dynamic.

Therefore, JAJA has developed a Mobility Pyramid that promotes mobility beyond black-and-white terms and more understand mobility like a diet. In this framework, it’s okay to have car-use in moderation, but just like our bodies, our cities will become unhealthy unless we prioritize the greenest modes. Our pyramid encourages people to “move most from the bottom – least from the top”. The bottom of the pyramid shows active-mobility forms such as cycling, walking, or skateboarding. The middle section shows buses, trains and shared cars and the upper section shows the transportation forms that we need occasionally but should use the least. 

The Mobility Pyramid may be perceived as naive, but it has been an incredibly useful communication tool to talk to people outside of the transport industry. It’s an easy way to discuss why we should prioritize walking and cycling over cars when designing cities, but at the same time, we shouldn’t exclude any transportation forms.

How do we create inter-connected cities that we want to live in? 

Livability is fundamental. To create more livable cities and streets we need to break down the silos between mobility, economy, health, etc. when we are planning new cities and retrofitting our existing. We need to recognize that these are all related when aiming to create great cities.

A big step towards this integration was the 15-minute city framework by Carlos Moreno that tied active mobility planning with inclusiveness, sustainability, and access to core amenities such as health, food, and education. However, there has been a short-coming of this framework with too much emphasis placed on the 15-minute timeframe and debating whether it should be 20, 30, 45-minutes, etc. and not enough on the intended outcomes. What it did successfully is start to re-focus development on creating thriving local neighborhoods that are walkable, with lively public spaces, and lots of urban nature. Of course, there will be need for other modes when commuting to work or accessing recreational areas, but if we can have the majority of our trips through active modes in local neighborhoods, we’re on the right track. 

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How can we find solutions that make it possible to create spaces and develop cities that combine sustainable, effective and intelligent? 

At JAJA we work with a method called ‘backcasting’ to create innovative solutions that combine architecture tools with other working in the field of mobility. For those who don’t know backcasting, it’s the opposite to forecasting. While forecasting takes historical data and extrapolates it into the future with some fundamental assumptions to try and guess what is going to happen, backcasting does the opposite. It starts by producing a vision of a desirable future with a range of stakeholders so that we can build consensus and support and then it determines pathways to get there. It’s a much more human focused and target oriented way to think about the future. If you’d like a tangible example of this visioning process, a well-known project is our vision for a future Copenhagen called, Copenhagen Carfree(dom). Where we showcase how we can increase housing quality and quality of life by re-thinking mobility in the city.

What will you talk about at the conference Sustainable Infrastructure, and what do you hope the participants get out of your presentation?  

I’m really looking forward to presenting at the Sustainable Infrastructure conference with the amazing speakers in the lineup. My presentation will circle around two questions: Should streets merely be storage areas for privately owned cars? Or do advancements in active, micro, shared, and collective mobility technologies allow society to reclaim streets as new spaces for social and economic opportunities?

I’ll explore these two questions by providing an overview of JAJA Architects’ work with new mobility that showcase our approach to projects that range from future visions of cities to pilot projects that tests these ideas at the human scale. My aim with every presentation is to leave the audience with confidence that we will make it through the green transition while also creating more livable cities. I’ll do this through showcasing opportunities to make our infrastructure more sustainable by giving concrete examples of how to do it.

Do you want to hear more about new mobility from Robert?

At the Sustainable Infrastructure conference 9. & 10. November, you can hear more from Robert. In his presentation he will among other talk about the discussions surrounding the future of mobility. Should streets merely be storage areas for privately owned cars? Or do advancements in active, micro, shared, and collective mobility technologies allow society to reclaim streets as new spaces for social and economic opportunities?

Read more about the conference and sign up here.

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