Mobility Futures: A Showcase

The Theory and Methods of Social Futures

Nicola Spurling is a member of the Institute for Social Futures and lecturer in the Theory and Methods of Social Futures at Lancaster University. In previous projects she has explored how working lives, daily lives and everyday mobility have changed since 1950, and the role of infrastructures, institutions and individual lives in such processes. Her work in the Research Council UK funded DEMAND Centre explores how energy and travel are changing and how they are changing the future. At present, she is interested in the insights that such analyses offer to future thinking in domains of energy and travel demand.

What makes her research original is the emphasis put on approaching travel as an outcome of other social practises that we involve ourselves with in everyday life, rather than merely a physical process from A-B. The number of trips we make and our patterns of travel are outcomes of how our social lives are organised around things. Nicola shows how, overtime, the infrastructure of our surroundings come to reflect those spatial patterns or social organisations. Nicola has written a report vital for policy makers, studying several different domains of policy, including travel by car, links to food and housing, and highlighting the ways in which taking this kind of sociological approach of understanding the purposes of travel differs to that of other behavioural policies, therefore offering new insights.

                               See all showcase strands>> 

Imaginary parking systems from the Parking in Utopia experiment at the Mobile Utopia Conference.
Postcard for the Parking in Utopia Experiment at the Mobile Utopia Conference

The Commission on Travel Demand

Over the past 18 months, Nicola has been involved with The Commission on Travel Demand, an independent group which has been assembled as part of the DEMAND Centre. This group brings together the state-of-art in understanding how travel demand is changing and may change in the future, recognising controversies which exist over current forecasting practice. Nicola was one of the panel commissioners which comprised of academics, council members, transport staff and representatives from Uber and Transport for London.

Although there have been many studies concerning travel demand and how this is changing, there has been little done in terms of a systematic review of what has happened overall and in general, what this subsequently suggests, and how this might be taken up and applied by transport planners. This new initiative shows that some of the foundational assumptions on which current transport planning approaches are based are no longer true. Transport planning assumes that there is a direct correlation between private car ownership and economic growth, yet evidence gathered from The Commission on Travel Demand argues that there are now different patterns of travel; patterns of work, commuting, shopping, social activities are changing. To select a handful of the findings from this: car ownership is decreasing since the baby-boom generation; the number of car trips is lower in city centres; there has been an increase in motorway use and one of the biggest increases in transport use is in light-use vehicles- possibly because of the increase in online shopping with delivery options.

Reification of Parking Spaces in Infrastructure 

Another strand of Nicola’s work is interested in how parking spaces have become reified in infrastructure alongside the rise in numbers of cars in the UK. Her historical study looked at the archives designed in the late 1940s of the town of Stevenage to rehouse people in London after the war. The entire town was built over a twenty year period in phases from the 1950s up until the 1970s. This time period coincides with the rapid increase in car ownership, the standard number of parking spaces per home rising from 1 space per 8 houses to 2.3 spaces for every home. Nicola is interested in how parking spaces became a standard element in housing design for Stevenage, how the plans were constantly adapted, revised and retrofitted to accommodate space for cars, and how the idea that it had to be as close to house to possible became normalised.

Parking in Future Cities: Symposium and Workshop 

The Role of Parking in Future Cities: Symposium and Workshop, organised by Nicola in partnership with The Greater Cambridge Partnership (Hilary Holden, Livia Oldland) and The Commission on Travel Demand (Greg Marsden), engaged sociologists, engineers, city planners, housing designers, historians and geographers in discussion over parking spaces. It stressed that parking should not be a case of predicting and providing, but that all decisions in terms of future cities and transport point in many other directions. Emergent trends in travel demand include possible alternative vehicles, such as automated vehicles, electric cars and an increase in bicycle use. Additionally, new research is pointing out the importance of coping with the number of stationary cars in the road systems and improving carpark designs that have changed little since the 1950s and 1960s. Some of these concrete multi-stories have even become listed as heritage buildings.

Nicola sees her research continuing along these themes, exploring the patterns, and futures, of car travel and parking spaces. She is currently working on a book chapter, ‘Making Space for the Car at Home: Planning, priorities, practises’, in Infrastructures of Consumption.

Further Links:

Nicola’s blog: go to>>

Institute for Social Futures (ISF): go to>> 

Forthcoming book chapter: Spurling, N. (forthcoming) ‘Making Space for the Car at Home: Planning, priorities, practices’ in Shove, E. and Trentmann, F. Infrastructures of Consumption, Routledge: London.

The Report from The Role of Parking in Future Cities: Symposium and Workshop  go to>>

Parking in Utopia experiment from the Mobile Utopia Conference and Bonfire in November 2017 go to>>

Homepage for the Commission on the Travel Demand  go to>>



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