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In the second of our eight-part series on the mobility of the future we explore how urbanistic choices can influence the spread of battery-powered cars. A city that’s growing in size doesn’t need to forgo sustainable mobility options. From the densest city centres to the edges of a metropolis, well-distributed charging points can be a wonderful incentive for residents to push the pedal on electric vehicles.


Essay

Is making our cities more dense the only answer for inhabitants to access environmentally-friendly means of transport? Cities should evolve but must never forget their human dimension: electric cars can help them with moving people sustainably where other means of transport can’t reach.

Our cities – and their populations – keep growing. While some expand upwards with towering skyscrapers, some branch outwards, creating sprawling suburbs that extend for kilometres. Far from the city centre, these areas may be low-built and green but they often lack the infrastructure to connect easily to public transport, so they rely on cars for their mobility needs.

Urbanism firms have long been trying to tackle the issue of suburbia and how to make a city’s fabric feel uniform and smooth. For many, densifying the city centres seems the best option: bringing people closer to their hometown’s economic and political heart can help with simplifying access to services. Yet this process is a tricky gamble – and if not carried out properly, it can negatively affect quality of life for residents. If it means ending up with a city centre that’s overpopulated – with no room for people to walk, gather and spend time together in public spaces – then cities are at a high risk of forgetting their human nature.

Developments such as the plant-covered high rises that have started springing up from Milan to Singapore can be a useful stratagem to mitigate the lack of greenery in our crowded city centres. But they can’t be the only solution: for many cities, street-level life remains just as important.

Cities might not be ready to give up their horizontal dimension and roomy outer neighbourhoods. But there’s no need for this to mean their mobility model needs to stay the same – especially if the system currently in place doesn’t guarantee the environmental sustainability that many cities now require. That’s the reason why Audi has been busy coming up with an alternative model that can be as efficient as it is ecological.

Spread-out cities need not renounce cars but they do need to rethink what kind of cars they are encouraging residents to use. By preventing local emissions, electric cars can combine both flexibility of use and low pollution levels – especially in areas that other modes of transports can’t reach.

That encouragement needs to come by way of infrastructural improvements that can make all the difference. First, achieving an effective spread of electric cars comes by way of an equally well-distributed network of charging points. Petrol stations are ubiquitous in city centres and beyond, and electric charging points should have just as capillary a diffusion, especially if we consider the fact they can exploit an existing electric grid. Roadside lighting posts could be transformed into electric charging points – and save both space and money.

But evolution must happen inside the cars too: and that’s what Audi’s engineering and battery teams are working on improving. Future Audi electric vehicles will be equipped with long-lasting batteries so that any journey can be carried out with peace of mind that our cars’ autonomy is more than sufficient to navigate the charging network. And to ensure a smooth ride, batteries also need to be charged speedily, so any pit stop has minimal impact on our travel times. The future may well hold developments that push the characteristics of what we believe batteries can do even further – even doing away with the necessity of cables altogether.

Stay with us on this eight-part journey through Audi’s vision for future mobility to find out what its brand-new batteries have in store.


Q&A

The co-founder and CEO of Gehl Architects, Helle Søholt, is usually based in Copenhagen but plenty of city halls around the world call on her for advice on how to improve their urban environments. We, too, ask for her insights on how cities and their mobility systems are evolving.

Q How do our cities need to change to adapt to the mobility of the future?
A I definitely think densification is one aspect of it – it is important for cities to densify so that we can make sure we have enough people to support further development of transport systems. However, that densification has to happen in a way that maintains the human scale of cities. And it’s important that the various transportation modes we have are joined up. Also, those systems should be moved towards shared mobility so they can support areas that don’t have good enough public transport yet.

Q What makes for a liveable dense city?
A We need to think about cities as social organisms, as a form that allows people to coexist. The high-rise as a housing form is not necessarily a good way to enable that social life, unless it is combined with other typologies – more activities at ground level will allow human-scale development to take place and support traditional streets. There’s a long way still to go in exploring how we can arrive at a mid-rise compact urban form, and achieve the joined-upness of urban planning.

Q How do you see shared modes of transport evolving?
A We have to make sure that there is a very individualised offering, because I believe that will not go away – even if people don’t have a private car they will still want to have a very individual service answering their needs. That’s where I think technology can go in the future and supply new services that we haven’t seen yet. Environment compels people to act in a certain manner and that creates culture over time.


As part of this series in collaboration with Audi, we speak to philosophers, urbanists and engineers to understand what the mobility of the future will look like: follow us on the six instalments still to come.


Read the next part of the series here.

Catch up on part 1.

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