The world’s streets are actually opening up to people thanks to the pandemic

30.4.2020

Tactical urbanism is whatever temporary and low-cost redesign of streets (think of decoration by paint and big planters). It was developed as an agile way to support urban walking and biking without having to wait years or get a millionaire budget for a fully built implementation (think of lots of new asphalt poured and artisan stones riveting the edge of a bike lane).

Tactical urbanism has been around for a while, but so far mostly as urban planners’ and activists’ wishful thinking and a weekend hobby. Then came along COVID-19.

An explosive growth in tactical urbanism experiments as a reaction to COVID-19

As a measure to increase public space and allow physical distancing, the number of tactical urbanism experiments has just exploded, with news from many major global capitals, from Berlin to Bogotá. According to Deputy Mayor Anni Sinnemäki, the city of Helsinki is also preparing such strategy.

The main reason for this increasing interest is the problem with public transport during the pandemic. Who wants to get crammed into a metro wagon or a bus? Also some cities, such as Milan,  are also clearly stating their intention to turn this into their post-pandemic sustainable mobility strategy.

Don’t get me wrong though, the pandemic is a tragedy. No amount of sustainable-development-transition-opportunities can compensate for the suffering, the dead toll and the upcoming negative consequences. Nevertheless, this could be the start of a new urban mobility paradigm for the 21st century. Besides slowing climate change, recent research links air pollution to higher corona virus death rates.

We need innovative design and policy solutions for sustainable cities

After completing Helsinki’s first indoor and underground public spaces report and tactical urbanism project, FCG was recently commissioned another research project around non-motorised mobility. Our proposal was selected in a competitive tendering organised by the VN TEAS program (The Finnish Government’s analysis, assessment and research activities) with the goal to recommend future policies to increase cycling and walking – with special focus on the role of institutions.

The main reasons for the government to promote cycling and walking are public health considerations (health problems from both sedentary lifestyles and poor air quality) and the Finnish carbon emissions reduction goal for transportation (50% reduction by 2030).

Our research will support the decision-making related to reaching the sustainable mobility objectives.

Our research focuses on two aspects: prioritizing the large menu of available policies (everything from nudges to taxes) and building a shared understanding on these issued among Finnish institutions (everyone from the third sector to the ministry level). We start with a review of the latest academic literature, considering also the uncertainty of our changing environment (unexpected social, political or climatic events, such as the current pandemic). We suspect that all these things are connected, meaning that there are trade-offs and synergies at play.

The research is in progress and the results ready in spring 2021. Share your experience and insights on cycling and walking policies, join our Twitter conversation or send an email to carlos.lamuela@fcg.fi.

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CARLOS LAMUELA
Projektiarkkitehti, Alueidenkäytön konsultointi
+358 44 431 4639

Carlos toimii FCG:llä Social Smart Cities -konsulttina ollen aktiivisesti mukana erilaisissa strategisissa ja taktisissa kaupunkisuunnitteluhankkeissa. Hän on myös Helsingin yliopiston kestävän kaupunkikehittämisen (urban sustainability) tohtorikoulutettava.  

Carlos works as Social Smart Cities consultant at FCG and is actively involved with various strategic and tactical urban development planning projects. He is also a PhD candidate of interdisciplinary research for urban sustainability at the University of Helsinki.