Design and smart solutions at the service of transformation to cities for people

The big data megatrend and the shift towards user-centric systems, the big challenges for micro mobility success in cities

Two creative minds, two European riverside cities — Brussels and Valencia — and two innovative projects are united for the same purpose: to achieve sustainability of the cities and make them more people-centered.

Matthias Van Wijnendaele, an expert in cycling policy innovation, has been the first guest of a new round of conversations that will lead our CEO, Carlos Ferrando, to share and exchange concepts, challenges and experiences with other disruptive opinion leaders from all around the world. The topics? Mobility, sustainability, design… and, especially, everything that is related to a reason us being Closca: awareness generation and inspiration to change by designing symbols.

Matthias is a social and ecological civil engineer based in Brussels. He advised his city Mobility Minister on Public Works and Bike Policy, and also is a founder ReinventingTheWheel.eu on innovative urban cycling.

Brussels is in the process of dramatically reshaping into a city that focuses on human well-being, making it easier to cycle and walk. “We need cities to be more proactive, use data in an effective way and put the user, and not only infrastructure, in the center of the policy. This is a necessary shift of focus for public administrations and cities”, said Matthias. “With less cars and more cycling, we can save public space and build human-scale cities. It’s about safety and livability, about what kind of cities we want for our children”.

Sharing the same values, Closca designs the products as a symbol of these future cities that we dream of and inspires this urgent change towards smart mobility. “Our mission is to create symbols, such as Closca Helmet, for people who think that moving through the city without smoke and noise is possible. We believe in the power of innovative design to achieve this, we are inviting people to join the statement to create a better future through iconic products that encourage you to share with your community. Community that you take a part in this evolution towards a better world”, explained Carlos.

Infrastructures are not enough. To promote a connected mobility, cities must bet on open data and design user-centered mobility policies

For Carlos, Turia Riverbed Park based in Valencia presents how big is what can be achieved by people who want greener and friendlier cities. “The government originally planned to transform the riverbed into a highway, but citizens fought for a green space and nowadays the Turia park is one of the most beautiful parks in Valencia. Today, we could set other great challenges such as changing streets completely. Streets that we have used for cars only leaving 20 % of the space for pedestrians and bikes. By changing this situation, new possibilities for habitability and architecture could open up”.

From Reinventing the Wheel, Matthias is committed to the transformation from car-oriented cities to cities for people. “To improve quality of life in the cities we need to shift from personally-owned modes of transportation towards the Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) paradigm” and, as Matthias pointed out, infrastructures are not the only key element that will allow this shift in the next five or ten years. “The compilation and management of data as well as information and the people-centered public policies have a major role in this transformation.”

Post-Covid cities, an opportunity to accelerate the process of rethinking the model and creating more livable urban spaces

Clearly, public transport is one of the major issues in the current context, many people are anxious about commuting via bus or subway and the danger is that they are getting back to the car. Bicycles are a real alternative for commuters. And, since we should practice about 30 minutes of physical activity daily, according to the World Health Organization, we shouldn't forget the benefits for health of riding a bicycle. If cities make this easier, they also will take care of the health of their citizens'', stated Matthias.

Carlos remembers how, back to 1996, when he was studying at the University of Valencia, people used to call him homeless for commuting by bike. Now things have changed and the micro mobility — bikes and electrical scooters — have promising present and future as an antidote for smokes and noises of the cities. According to Carlos, “after a lockdown, we will have a great opportunity to change  social and individual behavior. But I would like this change not to be caused by the fear of becoming infected, but by an opportunity that should be much more important evolving towards collective thinking”.

Matthias is convinced that commuting will ‘unlock the lockdown’. “Teleworking and cycling to work will be part of the new normal. Mobility and urban planning policy should shift quickly to meet this new context. There are three different layers or levels: the consciousness-raising and communication making the bikes visible in cities, the strategic decision making and investing in secure cycling and dedicated infrastructures as secure lanes, and the integrated management of real data in benefit of the user. Cities face a big challenge there. Who should own this data? Who can have access to it? Could we start getting real data from bikes and pedestrians, as cities already have big data assets from public transport operators?

Mobility as a Service and micro mobility as a social challenge

New mobility operators talk directly with users, which are only one click away. They will only talk with cities in a second stage. That is why I insist on the idea that cities must be more proactive, not only in the negotiation of operators but also in the process towards embracing mobility as a service. Integrated and multi-modal transport networks and new smart mobility applications developed by cities are the answer to better meet the needs of citizens”, stated Matthias..

Closca’s innovative, technologically advanced proposals seek to raise awareness, facilitate that change demanded by both people and cities. “Developing social challenges allows us to invite people to commit themselves to a better planet and make a positive impact on it in their day to day life. That is why we create design products, such as Closca Helmet, with the aim of transforming them into a way of expression for those who prefer to move around the cities without smoke and noise”, pointed out Carlos. Evoking the role of architecture in the cities of the future, the iconic Closca Helmet was inspired by the Guggenheim Museum´s building, which stands in New York city and was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

After designing our collapsible helmet and the #citieswithsoul project, at Closca we continued with our reusable Closca Bottle and #mylastplasticbottle challenge, which enabled us to build a big database of more than 200.000  fountains and points to refill the bottles. With Closca Water App, we make a real impact in society, creating the habit of refilling through a reward system and reducing single-use plastic consumption. As Matthias, Carlos also believes that big data can be a great use for society’s development and also can be a key for the success of sustainable urban mobility “we are testing a new device in Closca Helmet to compile and manage information about pollution in cities”.

Sharing best practices and setting regulatory standards at an European level

Both Matthias and Carlos agree that sharing best practices between European cities is crucial to continuous improvement in smart mobility. In a complex context in which we can find cities competing with each other having divergent rules, it’s necessary to invert this situation to develop according to data standards and learn from the more advanced cities in Europe and all over the world. Meanwhile, let’s keep trusting in the power of our small habit changes as individuals making a huge positive impact as a collective.

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