Mobility isn’t the only thing undergoing a shift – so are our towns and cities. But when it comes to their development, there’s equal part challenge and equal part chance ahead of us. With tangible visions of the future being touted alongside seductive-sounding utopias, we sat down with VW, Riese & Müller, WINORA, Advanced and the town authorities at Böblingen to talk about cities of the future.

Towns and cities are fascinating places. They’re melting pots for interests, careers, cultures, subcultures and innovation. With each town essentially being its own landmark, it’s not surprising that more than 75% of Germany’s population and 50% of the world live in what’s classified as an urban environment. But as that figure rises, so do the challenges associated with it. Bigger populations, ever-growing cities, and more cars on the road (despite the shift towards a work-from-home culture): Our cities are bursting at the seams. Chaotic, noisy, dirty, tight on time, and with no space to escape. Cars are still the number one choice to cover our own mobility needs despite the fact that we drive bumper to bumper past signs for ‘urban gardening’ or ‘Bring back the bees with wildflower meadows!’ Towering above parked cars and tooting horns, we grow vegetables on the tops of apartment blocks. Is this enough? Is it sustainable?

Are we living in a dilemma that we’ll struggle to escape from? Hell, no. We’ve made a massive leap forward towards shaping better urban futures simply by recognising that high-tech buildings, slick road networks and shiny glass facades are not the only hallmarks of an appealing city. So, what are the defining elements of a city that we want to live in? All valid desires, but are they achievable? When it comes to urban mobility, is there anything we can do to shape our towns and cities into something approaching our dream life? Not only have we had our ear to the ground and collected opinions, trends and statistics on the topic, we also spoke to three bike brands – WINORA, Riese & Müller and Advanced – as well as the car manufacturer Volkswagen, who’ve long wanted to stand for the masses and are busy trying to democratise mobility. We also spoke to representatives from the German city of Böblingen, who – just like people across all big suburbs in the world – are steering our lives in towns and cities. All stakeholders in their own right, but do they stand for entirely different visions or is there common ground?

Chat, play, move freely across the city – Whaddaya’ say?

Imagine leaving your house and casually meeting people in a local park (trees! flowers!) without hearing any cars. How about ticking off your errands with a safe stroll around the neighbourhood? Encouraging your kids to play outside in clean, fresh air without worrying about distracted drivers and the risks of congestion? Or simply knowing you’ve got a safe route to ride to the theatre or the gym?

Clean, safe, digital, individualised, flexible, connected – these are the elements that citizens need in our cities. They’re what count in the world of today and tomorrow.

Let’s get one thing straight: there’s a growing movement across the whole world towards healthier, greener mobility, such as walking and cycling. Throughout 2021, Western Europe saw an increase of 5% on the previous year – and it’s even more sharply noticeable for cycling. Riding locally, regionally, and shorter distances has become much more of a thing since the pandemic. If you’re anything like us, you’ll have visibly noticed this upshift – but there’s real proof of it too, such as the findings of the Kantar Group in their recent Mobility Futures study and the paper entitled ‘Die Stadt von morgen’ (Tomorrow’s town) by the German Aerospace Centre. When it comes to the aspirations for our towns, we want a few simple things: clean, safe, digital, individualised, flexible, connected. And even if our big cities are still largely dominated by cars, the general mobility shift is pointing away from exhaust fumes towards shared usage, electric cars, and even autonomous ones.

Ok, let’s keep it short: mobility ≠ traffic. Transport is a means to an end, whereas the purpose of mobility is to get us where we want to go. Then ask people how they picture their dream city, they’ll cite attributes such as stress-free, cleaner air, less noise, lots of greenery, short distances, interaction with others. All of these elements – plus climate consciousness and the ability to relax – amount to more liveable cities.

According to the German environment agency, a car will spend 23 hours of the day simply stood still …

We all know that having your own combustion engine car in the typical way we’ve owned them for decades – two per family, etc – doesn’t conform to a green lifestyle. And that in itself, the fact that we as a society have this growing awareness, is a win: climate change is no longer a myth. But it’s also made us realise what else makes us unhappy and created a need for space, safety, a priority of our wellness, the need to conserve resources, and be smartly connected.

How do we go about making this change to satisfy these needs? What mobility concepts fit the bill? How can those driving the change get the population on side? Here’s where towns have to act with some steeziness, skilful planning and slick execution. One example of fresh-thinking town planners is the 15-minute city, spearheaded by Paris’ mayor at the start of 2020. But, what does it involve? Short distances. One where you reach everything necessary in fifteen minutes by foot, bike, or public transport. Your GP, the pharmacy? Check. The supermarket, a playground? Check. Restaurants and cafes? All present. Given the ease of accessibility, this concept does a good job of edging out the need for cars in their standard form.

Paris, the city of love, has fallen in love – and all within 15 minutes.

Paris, the City of Love, pioneered and devotedly succumbed to the 15-minute city concept, so that residents can reach their essential everyday needs – work, shops, leisure facilities, cultural centres, doctors – within a 15-minute walk or 3 kilometre bike ride. Car parks and lanes are being replaced by green spaces, bike paths, and extra bus lanes. Even Barcelona is on its way to becoming an example of how our cities can be transformed, with kids playing happily outside in areas that used to be chock-a-block with cars. What they’re doing is imposing a 10 km/h max speed for residents or authorised delivery people through so-called superblocks – neighbourhoods where you’ve got several blocks of flats – meaning that bikes and pedestrians are the only ones with the real licence to cross these areas. In Germany’s big city of Cologne, they’ve launched the nation’s largest funding programme in order to prioritise deliveries by cargo bike to reduce exhaust emissions and noise caused by constant delivery vans. They’re also expanding their network of bike paths and setting up logistic hubs and parking spaces.

Mobility should bring not only ease to our lives, but also more fun!

Cars will never truly disappear – and they shouldn’t either. But new infrastructure will alleviate the burden they have on the world. The cars that remain will run greener, create less noise, and zero emissions. Norway has been pushing to increase the usage of electric cars through incentives such as using the bus lanes or parking for free. As of 2023, Oslo aims to have cleared the city of combustion engines (apart from taxis). Fleets of vehicles will be purely electric, and all new builds must feature charging points. Admittedly, Norway is approaching the issue from a privileged standpoint given its huge hydroelectric power resources (and substantial wealth garnered through exporting fossil fuels, cough). All countries have different charging infrastructure too. But in urban areas, the need to reduce traffic congestion is prevalent. It might be necessary to begin by expanding the provision of charging stations, but smart town planning and new concepts are vital.

Mobility should not only facilitate an easier lifestyle, but also a more fun one. Humans have spent decades shaping their own mobility with excitement and joy, but now it’s time we introduce new values: climate-friendly, low-impact, and affordable.
If it sounds a lot like a bicycle, it is. And recently, they’ve surpassed themselves.

More than just a lifestyle – Reshaping our cities

Bikes reached a new high during the pandemic as people sought to avoid public transport. How else could we move freely and destress at the same time? While riding around towns is par for the course in places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, other European cities appear to have finally caught on, with many learning to appreciate bikes as an independent means of transport, a way to be outdoors and have fun. Bikes of all kinds appeared – from classic city bikes to daily usage eMTBs and even cargo bikes. Having a motor opened up a new world of opportunities, particularly in mountainous areas like just outside our front door in Stuttgart where once only the hardiest souls would have been seen commuting. This shift towards the simple bicycle benefits not just our own health, but the world’s: for everyone that cycles 5 km to and from work instead of driving, the German Environment Agency has calculated a saving of 300 kg of CO2 per year. Be proud – this means we’re also contributing towards more space in the cities. It’s a hot topic, which is why we wanted to know how bike brands see these developments and what sort of a future they’d like for our cities, so we sat down with Riese & Müller, WINORA and Advanced for their point of view.

Christoph Mannel
Managing Director, WINORA

How do bike brands see the future of our urban spaces?

“Bikes have undergone a massive change in their image in recent years. They’ve become very important to a lot of people,” begins Christoph Mannel, managing director at WINORA, adding that: “Megatrends such as sustainability, health, urbanisation and e-mobility are having a noticeable effect on cycling as a whole. More diverse, smarter, more shared, and clearer – that’s what future mobility will look like.”

Mobility should make our lives easier, work as it should, and make us happy. For us, bikes are therefore the most suitable means of transport for our cities. – Christoph Mannel, Managing Director, WINORA

For WINORA, one thing is clear: mobility should make our lives more simple, function with ease and – yep, there it is again – be fun. They’re the essence of life, incorporating how we move, access spaces and experience the world. For the Schweinfurt-based WINORA, bikes therefore stand out as the most suitable means of transport for our cities: “They also make an important contribution towards reducing CO2 emissions and improving our quality of life in cities.”

We believe that achievable visions are needed. Instead of talking about 2040 or 2050, we need real utopias to tackle today’s problems with current, real technologies. – Helge von Fugler, founder of Advanced

In response to question of how to view the future of our urban spaces, Helge von Fugler, the founder of Frankfurt-based Advanced, touches on a point that will hit a nerve amongst many people: “Visions of urban mobility often sketch out a futuristic image of a city that’s projected really far forward into the future. They often feel surreal and unachievable,” Helge explains, wafting away images of hyperloops and flying cars, which either alienate us or give us the impression that ‘sure, all good, there’s nothing we need to do right now then.’ He interrupts our thoughts straightaway: “What we need are achievable visions. Instead of talking about 2040 or 2050, we need real utopias to tackle today’s problems with current, real technologies.” By this, he’s referring to more space, better air quality, better safety standards for all road users, and how all this can contribute towards a better quality of life and a climate-neutral future.

But while it sounds so logical, it is a massive transformation. “For decades, we’ve been optimising our urban spaces for cars,” Helge sighs. “Cars have been marketed as the epitome of progress and freedom. You only have to look around a big city to see what it has led to: congested streets, traffic jams, masses of car parking spaces. It’s world’s away from progress and freedom. But at the same time, people want to be more mobile.” So, what does it require? We need new mobility solutions and real progress. Advanced don’t only want to see thoughtful expansion of public transport networks but also promote the use of ebikes as a low-emission, sustainable mobility option. How can we get the world excited about transforming the world’s mobility? Advanced have a clear answer: “E-bikes need to be high quality, durable and reliable. And they have to be fun – this will be the only way to convince people to stop using cars.” We can all agree that Helge has a point. Just think of your own city and those routes where you’ll go significantly quicker by ebikes than by car.

Helge is convinced that with significantly better biking infrastructure, the advantages of going by bike will continue to soar. “With more bike lanes and cycle highways, cycling will become much safer, too.” It’s a good point – and definitely not one to be underestimated given how often people cite safety, heavy traffic and potential risks as key reasons not to ride their bikes. “In what is a rapidly achievable vision of a climate-neutral city through low-emission mobility, ebikes will become the most popular and reliable means of transport. There are two reasons for this: rationally, it’s the best choice for individual mobility; and emotionally it’s more fun than sitting in your car, the bus, or on the train.” At this point, Helge highlights city dwellers, out-of-town commuters, and the continual development of the industry. “We need to keep innovating bikes so that people’s mobility needs are met in a timely manner and that the idea of emission-free mobility turns from idea to reality across the board,” he adds.

Jörg Matheis
Riese & Müller

Inner-city routes will predominantly be done by bike due to time constraints. Bikes and ebikes are an essential part of multimodal mobility. – Jörg Matheis, Head of Communications, Riese & Müller

Let’s direct our attention to the roads, or rather, away from them, with input from Jörg Matheis, Head of Communications at the Darmstädt-based bike brand Riese & Müller: “Urban mobility no longer means having as much road as possible for as many cars as possible. Public spaces are being redistributed. Cars don’t dominate our cities anymore. More and more towns and cities are taking steps towards protected bike paths or even blocking roads completely to cars.” In terms of reducing CO2 and other emissions as well as creating safe riding spaces for kids and the elderly in particular, Jörg sees major advantages – with the obvious reasons being quieter cities, less stress, and time gains. “Inner-city routes will predominantly be done by bike due to time constraints,” he continues, “and quality of our life in our neighbourhoods will increase because they won’t have throughways. Bikes and ebikes are an essential part of multimodal mobility, where you integrate different forms of transport including public transport, car usage, push bikes, ebikes, going on foot, or various models of shared transport.” What makes the real difference is having the optimal mix. For Riese & Müller, the dream scenario sees us picking from a wide range of complementary modes of transport each day. What’s the best way to reach my destination? By ebike? On foot? By public transport? Or even car sharing?

The decisive push – The right direction towards future mobility

Ask Jörg Matheis what role Riese & Müller are playing in urban mobility, and he’s quick to answer: “We’re driving the shift in urban mobility with our ebikes and cargo bikes.” The German brand wants to make everyday life by bike easier – and not just with bike-centric solutions, but by helping to shape public spaces, lobbying for bikes of all kinds, and rethinking the bike industry. Jörg puts its succinctly: “We see ourselves as the makers of tomorrow’s mobility.”

We see our task as more than just promoting the use of bikes in everyday situations, but also having an involvement when it comes to shaping public spaces or rethinking the economy. – Jörg Matheis, Riese & Müller

According to Jörg, a lot of the projects the R&M support are close to their heart: “Our involvement in Entrepreneurs for Future, the partnership with the Alanus University of Arts and Social Sciences, and by providing funding for a research fellow at the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences (FUAS) into Sustainable Mobility and Cycling are just a handful of the projects that we consider important and help give a new perspective on society and the economy in general.” In short: society is what counts, how we all move and work together – and only by looking at the whole, can we see the future.

Close to your heart and driven by passion – these are phrases that are often cited by bike brands, and Advanced are no different. Helge explains Advanced’s mission like this: “Brands that stand for modern, sustainable mobility have to create a desire to do good and excite people to be part of the change. Through design and innovation, we want to make real progress tangible.” Real progress? The question hovers on our lips. “It isn’t enough to put motors on bikes and give them batteries and innovative connectivity features. Making sure the shift in mobility will be an enduring change means we’ve got to do more than just reduce local emissions.”

We need to work on making sure that lots of people have access to totally new forms of micro-mobility without further burdening the environment. Ebike production is something that will need to be looked at. – Helge von Fugler, founder of Advanced

It’s curious to hear Advanced drop into conversation that ebike production needs to be looked at, but it explains why they’re taking a slightly different path that’s defined by three convictions: firstly, e-mobility should not harm the environment; secondly, the belief that a circular economy is true sustainability; and finally, that things not only have to change but be reinvented because ecology needs technology. “What’s the use of everyone changing to ebikes if they’re not produced sustainably and simply consume more resources than they save?” Helge puts it bluntly. “Right now, 90% of bike frames made of aluminium or carbon are produced in Asia using energy-intensive production processes. Then they’re shipped a really long way only to end up back in Asia on landfill sites. This is why we’ve really got to limit emissions and conserve resources.”

Follow nature’s example of closed biological cycles

Helge draws parallels with nature when it comes to acting sustainably: “Take nature as an example – it’s full of closed cycles. And technical cycles can also be possible when you reinvent products from the ground up – that’s what really captures our interest. Riding a bike from Advanced means being part of a movement that stands for genuinely sustainable mobility and resource conservation.” Clearly the order of the day is focusing on the essentials, thinking innovatively and being as multifaceted as possible. Speaking of multifacetedness, that’s a key topic for WINORA when it comes to meeting the many varied requirements of urban mobility. No two target groups want the same thing, explains Christoph: “Bike trends range from cargo bikes to commuter bikes, right through to agile space-saving compact backs. There’s no one bike that satisfies every need. This diversity is reflected in our lineup because we want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to ride a bike that suits them.”

The team at WINORA invests everything during the development phase to make sure that nothing gets overlooked. “We want to be representative of a modern lifestyle; we want people to see the switch to cycling as being easy and appealing. So, it’s natural that design plays a big role here.” Despite the diverse needs, there are several aspects that run across all of WINORA’s bikes: “Alongside the smart handling and the option of reaching your destination quickly by (e-)bike while saving as much energy as possible, our bikes let people redefine their urban landscape for themselves.” Nicely put. Christoph’s words ring in our heads: See bikes as a template that lets us be creative, be active, and help shape the future.

Ideas, solutions, opportunities – The world of bikes is as diverse as we are.

A glance at the marketplace showcases how bikes already facilitate urban mobility in different guises. For WINORA, creating something that is both sustainable and enjoyable for riding to school or nursery was one goal they set out to achieve with the F.U.B models, which are two or three-wheeled cargo bikes that let you transport kids safely and quickly. Christoph picks out some other purpose-designed models from the range: “The e-Flitzer is our solution for commuters, who’ve got a short distance to ride to work. Then there’s the Radius, a compact take-anywhere bike that rides exceptionally and barely takes up any space at home.”

From purpose-designed models to purpose-designed frame production technology, Advanced hopes that their RECO technology – which has already won a coveted Design & Innovation Award 2022 – will revolutionise ebike production. Using their own composite carbon fibre-reinforced granulate, they’re able to create a completely new frame using injection moulding. RECO stands for recycling composite, so the durable material can actually be recycled at the end of its use and reproduced into another frame or part. “This means we can use old material to create new forms of mobility,” explains Helge. “It’s fast, energy-efficient and doesn’t involve huge transport routes as the RECO frame production takes place in Germany.” The granulate used by Advanced consists of recycled carbon fibres from other industries. “From the first frame we can save 68% of C02 emissions compared to a similarly built frame in aluminium or one built with new carbon fibre.” And the best thing about what Helge’s telling us? This is happening. RECO isn’t just a pipe dream or concept study – you can buy a RECO One e-bike already. According to Helge, they’re going to ramp up production of their bikes within Germany using the patented Reco frame technology over the next few years and expand it to include other models too.

Helge von Fugler
founder of Advanced

It sounds like frames are just the first step for the Frankfurt-based brand, who’re clearly into the notion of a circular economy. “E-bikes are made of many different components from different manufacturers,” says Helge on the topic of how electric bikes can be designed and used in a circular way. “We want to stimulate the industry to prioritise sustainable – or even circular – components as much as possible for the future.” When he drops into conversation that the Zurich team from Advanced are currently producing long-lasting components including mudguards, luggage racks, rims, spokes, seatposts, stems and bar from their composite material, our eyes light up as much as Helge’s have done so far. “The more parts that we’re able to produce from the recycled material, the more control we’ll have over the circularity of the material,” he concludes.

But despite all the technology, new directions and data, fun can never come short. Especially not for Riese & Müller. “We’re always striving to make our products so good that people willingly choose to get on their ebike and are happy to pick the bike over the car without feeling like it’s a compromise,” Jörg explains later in the day. “They’re also designed so that customers get reliable, comprehensive support for whatever they’ve got to do in their daily lives: as a comfortable, fast bike for commuting with support up to 45km/h, a spacious cargo bike for transporting kids, or as a logistics solution for small businesses.” Textbook early adopters, Riese & Müller latched onto the potential for cargo bikes to eclipse cars – and are now working working on further differentiating the segment with a wide range that includes agile, ingenious cargo bikes for tight spaces as well as sturdy do-all bikes that offer a whole lot of stowage space and a hold that can be customised based on transport needs. Jörg highlights another important segment: urban riders. “For the urban target group, it’s all about very light, stripped-back e-bikes. Bikes that ride like a regular bike but thanks to their pedal assist they make it possible to do even longer rides in the city too.”

The conversation makes a natural diversion towards another big topic: connectivity. “We’re convinced that the networking of e-bikes is going to take hold of the market,” begins Jörg. “We’re working on numerous future-forward features that will continue to increase comfort, safety and fun.” He refers to the brand’s ability to locate bikes using a GPS signal and the connectivity module, which means the bike can be found if it’s stolen – or in a better-case scenario, prevents bikes from being stolen altogether as potential thieves will be aware of the GPS locator function. He lists some of the brand new opportunities that can be gleaned through digital connectivity in order to enhance the ride, such as having ride stats come automatically across to your phone. “In the near future,” he interjects, “vehicle-to-vehicle communication will also become more important in order to keep all road users better protected.” It’s clear that smart ebikes have got Riese & Müller excited as they represent a means of transport that can go beyond simply having a location function to include a bounty of other safety-driven features with irrefutable appeal.

Electric, autonomous, connected – Ingredients for an exciting future

The next question on our lips is what’s the likelihood of cars being pushed into a corner in our towns and cities. To answer this burning one, we sat down with Klaus Zyciora, head of Volkswagen Group Design to chat about future urban mobility from VW’s perspective. Having joined the brand in 1989, he’s no stranger to the industry.

– Klaus Zyciora, Head of Volkswagen Group Design

The only thing that counts is having a high quality of life. Once mobility is emission-free, sustainable and able to prevent accidents, then we can say we’ve come a long way.

“It’s about being together,” Klaus gestures around him, “All any of us want is a high quality of life. And that’s what we can achieve by working together in multi-dimensional, less-congested transportation, with safe, emission-free movement. Just think how often bike riders are seriously injured when car doors open unexpectedly.” He’s right; we’ve got the scars to prove it. But such situations could still occur in newly devised neighbourhoods in which only residents and delivery trucks are permitted to drive, couldn’t they? Here’s where Klaus argues that digital security and communication systems inside electric cars could prevent these sorts of incidents entirely. As we speak it becomes clear just how determined he is to constantly adapt to new requirements in order to facilitate a sustainable, worthwhile and well-informed lifestyle. When he looks back at his career at VW, he describes it as a continuous learning curve. And it turns out he’s never afraid to question what’s touted as a recipe for success – that’s what’s known as transformation.

For Klaus, one of the cornerstones of his work at VW comes from transforming the legacy – basically the huge wealth of experience that they’ve picked up – into something better for the future that generates added value for users. But just as important is the need to enthuse society about a new form of mobility, which is why Volkswagen are zooming in on electric mobility. “Combustion engines were an essential part of our technology for more than 120 years,” says Klaus, pondering over the paradigm shift. “Given how compact they are, electric motors have given us so much creative freedom and more space for the user too. What’s more, the performance is also much higher.”

We’re most taken by the extra space and the fact that safety can be ramped up through connectivity. In modern societies, these elements seems like a big win. Klaus agrees, adding that alongside having a 100% emission-free, lower-noise electric vehicle, they’re expecting the idea of being a non-owner to grow in popularity, hence the growth in car sharing services, like Volkswagen’s WeShare and the MOIA ride pooling service. “Mobility needs to be simple, easy and available to everyone. With electric car pick up services, everyone can find a space, relax and chat. It’ll also free up space on the streets as there’ll be fewer family cars going around.” Volkswagen already has 100% electric shared cars in Berlin and Hamburg for business people, groups, children or individuals. The next step – involving autonomous cars – is on its way: While still a prototype, the autonomous ID.BUZZ AD has completed test rides in Munich throughout 2022. VW is keen to get Europe’s first autonomous ride pooling service launched in Hamburg by 2025 with the confidence to roll it out around the rest of the world.

Klaus gets visibly excited about new concepts: “These changes are really exciting,” he smiles. “We’re moving away from purely building cars to dealing with people and concepts like sharing and autonomous driving and all the challenges that come with these things. Autonomous driving can relieve congestion in cities through an even flow.” One part involves restricting the movement of vehicles in the city centre unless they are required. Once someone calls for a call on the app, it’ll move from where it’s parked outside the centre. This will do a lot to free up our cities, and it should mean an end to people desperately double parking. Will our city centres suddenly be void of cars? Who knows, but it does sound incredibly enticing – especially because this is the sort of technology with the power to benefit every walk of life, including the elderly and those with limited mobility.

Is this the way the transformation can be successful? Klaus has a few more critical points on his list when it comes to the mobility shift: sustainability, timeless designs and the challenge of levelling out rational and emotional values. “We’ll have to adapt our lifestyles,” he says crisply. Doing things with a long-term outlook is vital, hence why Klaus wants to pay more attention to the enduring style of shapes in a design. In his words: intelligent but not aggressive, approachable, and with a touch of empathy. It was only a matter of time until he dropped in the words ‘circular economy’, which he says is something that Volkswagen are pursuing. “It’s part of our principles to use recycling, or what we call resource cycle management, to create more. Disassemble everything, turn sheet metal back into sheet metal, plastic back into plastic.” When it comes to the battery, he pauses: “The longevity of the battery is a big focus. And even after a long life, it should get a new lease of life as a second life product. It won’t land in the rubbish tip; instead, all of the individual parts will be separated and reused. If lots of people think this is a cool concept, then it could easily become more than just a forward-thinking idea of progress. After all, it’s only once things don’t cost three-times the price that people deem it attractive.”

Being sustainable comes with a higher price tag, fact. But the only way to reach a certain price point is through scaling. This is a tricky one, as the idea of mass production appears to contradict the argument about conserving resources but on the other hand, it would ensure that our cities become home to ‘better’ vehicles that are local net zero and can improve our quality of life. We agree that it comes down to balance, acceptance, and the desire to want to change things for the better. Values are changing. Klaus puts it like this: “You’ve got to inspire people so that they can identify with the new form of mobility. It’s like a catalyst. As much as possible, we want emotional and rational triggers to point towards the same goal.”

For Klaus, another challenge for the automotive industry comes from policies. “There are lots of legal regulations and technical requirements that have to be fulfilled, however, these still need to be adapted to reflect the changes in the industry. In terms of electric mobility, the industry is moving ahead at a much faster rate than the legislation.” He draws a parallel to the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. Technical progress brings with it a huge demand for e-cars, which could end up exceeding the speed at which charging stations are being rolled out, at least in Germany. “There is a need to catch up here, but we’re collaborating with other companies and investing in expanding facilities,” Klaus confirms. It sounds like things still need to grow, be it charging points, testing and sign-off for the autonomous vehicles, an acceptance for sharing concepts and mobility-as-a-service, where users can log onto an app and pay to utilise multiple types of mobility to get from A to B including car-sharing, bike-sharing, taxis and co.

Towns are trying – Case study: Böblingen

At this point, we knew we needed to hear the perspectives of those who actually design our urban spaces in order to get a comprehensive picture of the social change going on in our towns and cities. For the purpose of research, we sat down with the city administration of Böblingen, a town of around 50,000 residents that’s just outside Stuttgart.

The mayor, Christine Kraayvanger, who also heads up the Böblingen’s Design & Construction department, begins by telling us how the Corona pandemic taught towns the real meaning of flexibility. Sure, the administration was able to reorganise itself quickly and introduce digital concepts, but it also relies on interaction and face-to-face encounters. “We now see this variety and mixture of digital and in-person offerings as being a great thing and able to open up new opportunities for us,” explains Christine. “This applies to our mobility needs too. Cars will still have a place in our future, but more resource-efficient mobility will gain an ever-stronger footing.” The town wants its residents to enjoy one thing above all else: flexibility: “You’re seeing more and more electric cars and bikes, as well as climate-friendly buses. Then there are also sharing services where you can rent a car or bike.”

The biggest priority for Christine Kraayvanger is making the city as liveable as possible. “In a world where online shopping is becoming a norm and digital possibilities are so vast, we want to make sure our town offers an even more liveable environment in which to reside, work, and get around on foot.” Böblingen believes they can achieve this goal by making sure everything in the city centre is reachable in a short distance. The plan doesn’t just involve a wide range of mobility options, but also more greenery in a bid to protect the climate. The council and city administration are working closely with each other to create a framework for public infrastructure and amenities. There’s a range of voices to listen to. On the one hand, the city administration sees itself as a source of ideas, an enabler, and network partner for either sustainable companies that want to touch down in Böblingen or for current companies that want to develop. On the other hand, it’s not like the city hasn’t been developing its own sustainability projects in recent years. “When it comes to converting large areas, we play a really active role,” explains Christine Kraayvanger. “With our urban land-use planning, we’re demanding sustainable mobility concepts, which enables us to reach new people who can now find their centre of life here. It’s most evident in the IBA’27 project on the post office site, initiated by the BBG, the Böblinger Baugesellschaft. Located at the public transport hub, it’s an opportunity for people to tap into new kinds of mobility. In fact, the design has allocated just 0.5 parking spaces for
each private residence.”

In fact, the design has allocated just 0.5 parking spaces for
each private residence.”

The aims are clear: claim space, provide simple mobility and lots of greenery – and, Kraayvanger adds, involve joint designs and voices. “We advise on how urban spaces could be designed – from streets to piazzas to green spaces – with an eye on how we’ll live, work and socialise alongside each other in the future.” She pauses: “We’ve got a lot of people around us with some fantastically innovative ideas that are committed to their town. Our task is to funnel these ideas and work together with the council to determine the best solution for the town and then to execute it.” One aim stands out above all else: an improved climate.

We are going to continue expanding and improving our walking and cycling network. As there are more and more electric and hybrid cars on our roads, we also need more charging stations for e-cars and pedelecs. We’ve just presented a new concept to the council to solve this. – Christine Kraayvanger, Mayor of Böblingen

“We’re continuously implementing measures as part of our climate protection and adaptation concept that affect public buildings, roads and green spaces,” explains the mayor, “But it requires our citizens to do the same. That’s why increasing awareness is so important as well as engaging them.” When it comes to becoming climate neutral, Böblingen knows its targets: reduce all car traffic in the town from 47% to 37%, and increase bike usage for distance between 1–5 km from the current 12% to 25%. They also want to increase the uptake for car and bike sharing schemes and reduce the number of vehicles in rush hour traffic, including commuters and families dropping off kids at school and nursery by car.

So, how is Böblingen going to achieve these goals? “We are going to continue expanding and improving our walking and cycling network,” outlines the mayor. “And as there are more and more electric and hybrid cars on our roads, we also need more charging stations for e-cars and pedelecs. We’ve just presented a new concept to the council to solve this.” She highlights the free cargo bike hire that the town already provides, the town’s eight RegioRad docks for bikes, pedelecs and cargo bikes, and its car sharing scheme. Incentives are key, she adds, highlighting their 50% subsidy on all forms of public transport the town’s employees as well as the €0.25/kilometre when cycling to work. We like what we’re hearing and can see how this sort of concept could make a huge impact in reducing pollution and the overall volume of traffic when wider spread.

A feasible utopia or distant dream?

There’s a bounty of sustainable mobility concepts that are being pioneered and realised. It’s so good to see things in action, with proof emerging from players that are doing things to positively develop our towns and cities for the future. It’s easy to point a finger at others, or claim you’re waiting for more advanced technology, but it’s up to us to shape the future – and we have to act now. The responsibility is ours: how we choose to live, how we move around our cities, whether we choose to discard things or look after them over many years. So, on the note, let’s work together. Let’s create a more respectful, cleaner, greener, and less stressful urban life. And who knows, we may well end up bumping into each other for a cheery hello. See you around!

Words: Simone Giesler Photos: Robin Schmitt, Benjamin Topf, Volkswagen, Unsplash, Steinhoff/Haehnel Architekten