When we arrived in the Netherlands two years ago, we adjusted our mode of life immediately. The key thing was to get rid of our cars. Who needs one if you live in Amsterdam? But this mobility paradise didn’t happen just because « Dutch love bikes ». There were actually many factors that were involved in the seventies to turn the country away from a car-centric future.
These lessons should be learned. As I am in an event on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula today, to discuss new mobility business models, it seems appropriate to remind us of a few things:
We still see the future through technological progress. Yesterday it was cars, highways and high-rise buildings. Today it’s AI and automation. But this is not the only path that makes sense. Technology is not a driver in itself. It’s a tool. And if the tool has no purpose it will spread as much as possible without rhyme or reason.
Activists, citizen groups or startups can indeed change the future. They never achieve the transformation by themselves unless there is a proper echo in the regional / national culture. But if there is, then the proposed radical changes will get adapted and incorporated into our more mainstream reality. Activists are not really « winning » in the end. They don’t have to. Cars were not banned from the Netherlands, but unless they are on highways they’re not the dominant species anymore.
Change and innovation are messy. There might not be a clear plan for a « better » future, but a concern that spreads. This is actionable if you’re not just dealing with the short-term consequences. All the debates we see in cities like Paris where there is a huge push back against cars, are not very friendly in the short term. So if no one is in the business of getting transformative results ten years from now… then, there will be no change.
There are very few politicians who in the age of Twitter dare to invest their career over a ten, or even five-year change. And while transformative technologies are even more accessible, dealing with long term vision might just be the mother of all of our mobility problems.