Exploring the potential of a postgrowth-inspired agenda for urban transport planning after COVID-19
Private cars’ dominant role in urban transport imposes huge health and environmental costs on cities worldwide, with the greatest share paid by more vulnerable citizens, including children and ethnic minorities. Traffic fatalities, reduced space for safe social interactions together with dangerous levels of air-pollution and carbon-emissions are key issues for cities struggling with both a public health and climate emergency. However, reducing the number of private cars in urban environment it’s proven to still be a substantial challenge for planning and policy, as it requires a radical reconfiguration of infrastructure, lifestyles, cultures as well as of transport planning and policy frameworks, politics and economy. The reduced capacity of public transport linked to the Covid19 pandemic risks to exacerbate the situation.
Theoretical insights showed that postgrowth-inspired, slower, and more sociable mobilities, combined with the rearrangement of municipal land use and economies, have the potential to help in this direction, and catalyse a substantial reduction in car-dependency. But how can this be done in practice? How can such a radical idea help re-shaping urban planning and policy making?
Although explicit examples of a comprehensive post-growth agenda for urban planning are still unavailable, in Barcelona and Turin, the concept of post-growth has been often circulating in public debates and featured also in the political manifestos of the latest municipal administrations. At the same time, both cities have adopted radical changes in their mobility systems, opening up wide portions of public space to slower forms of mobilities and away from private cars. They represent therefore two paradigmatic case studies to better understand the potential and criticalities of a post-growth inspired approach to transport planning.
Using interviews and focus groups, and inspired by Urban Political Ecology as a theoretical framework, I will analyse the complex interrelations of actors, institutions, practices, and discourses behind the framing and implementation of such interventions which aimed to challenge car dominance in the two cities, tracing how these have been influenced and shaped by ideas around post-growth. At the same time, I will consider how ideas around post-growth are contested, reframed and re-shaped during this process, and what their adoption means for different groups of the population.
This analysis will help to better understand the possibilities for, practical constraints on, and social implications of extensively adopting post-growth inspired planning approaches and their concrete contribution to tackling urban crisis, starting from rethinking urban transport, drawing key lessons for other western cities aiming to tackle car-dependency.
“I am honoured to be able, thanks to the RSA support, to conduct research on this topic. Cities are facing great environmental and social challenges with car-dominance being often overlooked as a main driver of urban inequalities. I have been developing the idea behind this project for a long time and I sincerely appreciate the trust by the RSA in its value and contribution”.