ISSJ - N° 176 - Sustainable Mobility
Mobility, and the transport technologies and networks on which it relies, are among the most characteristic features of modern societies. By their use of resources (from fossil fuels to physical space), their direct and indirect effects on the environment and social organisation (from pollution to lifestyles), and their powerful cultural significance, they lie along the fault-lines of major contemporary tensions, dynamics and inequalities. The ability of democratic systems to produce informed collective choices about specific rules and infrastructures, or about transport systems as a whole, is a test case for democracy in general as it struggles with the conflicting requirements of expertise, openness and inclusion in the face of complex social systems riddled with technical constraints and unintended consequences.
Yet, curiously, the social sciences have devoted comparatively little attention to transport. This issue is a preliminary attempt to redress the balance by considering what “sustainability” means for societies in which “mobility” and “flexibility” are central to contemporary self-understandings. The balance of costs and benefits in the transport sector has long been loaded in favour on moving more things further and faster, and the bias has been built into the very procedures used to assess competing choices. “Sustainable mobility” offers a framework for redressing the balance. It marks a shift away from the traditional transport planning approach, which conceptualised transport as a derivative requirement of economic growth that required infrastructural support, towards a policy approach that is informed by evidence, risk assessment and democratic concerns, and recognises the pitfalls of unconstrained growth.
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