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ReImagining Mobility event discusses the importance of collaboration and innovation for a zero-commuting city

Speakers and leadership at ReImagining Mobility on April 5, 2022 in San Sebastian, Spain

How can we design a zero-commuting city? What are the important attributes of a walkable community? How can we invent the future of mobility so that it is human-centric and sustainable? These questions were all discussed at ReImagining Mobility, an event hosted at the Kursaal in Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain on April 5th, 2022. The event was led by MUBIL, a foundation that collaborates with both non-profits and industry professionals with the aim to turn Spain’s Basque Country into a global reference point for new and innovative mobility modes. The MUBIL team was joined by MIT City Science, a team of urban researchers who were invited to add insight and inspiration at the public talks and to serve as catalysts for a workshop on the topic.

New models and opportunities

Ane Insausti and Kent Larson on stage at ReImagining Mobility

Ane Insausti of Mubil opened the event stressing the importance of collaboration to enable more accessible and sustainable mobility options for citizens. Furthermore, she stressed the importance of creating collaborations between industry, academia, and government in the Basque country to work together to develop new technologies for environmentally-friendly mobility. Ane then welcomed Kent Larson to the stage to give an overview of research from the City Science group which included data-enabled decision making, transformable spaces and new sensors to better understand human behavior.

Kent began his talk with a call to action: ‘We are experiencing a moment of intense innovation.’ He then focused on the urgency to create a new model to better understand current cities and to offer solutions for more sustainable communities in the future. Kent showed a model outlining several ways that we can reduce carbon emissions, from allowing for live-work symmetry by providing new affordable housing options, to introducing new lightweight mobility, to offering amenities within a walkable distance.

Lightning Talks presented by (top left to bottom right): Luis Alonso, Jaime Mendez, Naroa Coretti Sanchez, Roman Orus, Andoni Medina, Thomas Sanchez Lengeling, Maitane Iruretagoyena and Gabriela Bila.

Insausti and Larson’s talks were followed by several lightning talks from various experts in the Basque ecosystem and/or from the MIT City Science team. This included talks from Luis Alonso on new energy modeling opportunities, Jaime Mendez on sustainable mobility options, and Naroa Coretti Sanchez on lightweight, agile and transformative systems. Roman Orus addressed the uses of quantum computing for mobility, Andoni Medina looked into the importance of vehicle dynamics and Thomas Sanchez Lengeling proposed individual collective transport as a new mode choice. Finally, the talks covered mobility in the developing world with a talk from Maitane Iruretagoyena and finally Gabriela Bila discussed the importance of bringing new ideas to a broad audience by creating and installing museum exhibits to inspire both reflection and beauty.

In totality, the ideas from the main stage presentations expressed both an optimism and a sense of urgency. The presenters all sought a future that is more equitable and innovative and each emphasized different opportunities and ideas to move society forward towards a more comprehensive and sustainable future.

A vision for the future

The main stage was followed by a three-hour workshop designed and facilitated by the MIT City Science team and MUBIL. The workshop had eighty participants, including representatives of the MUBIL ecosystem working in mobility-related companies, research institutions, and start-ups.

Justin Blinder and team (left) brainstorming data-based non-profit social projects, while Ane Insausti and Luis Alonso (right) work with a team on multi-functional vehicle design ideas.

The workshop started by immersing participants in a vision of future mobility proposed by the MIT City Science team. The proposed concept described a future in which cities may be composed of high-performing walkable districts. In these districts, collaborative fleets of ultra-lightweight shared and autonomous vehicles would provide different mobility services. The workshop proposed four challenges that reflected on different dimensions of mobility:

  • Multi-functional vehicle design ideas
  • Proposals for fleet owner start-ups
  • Data-based non-profit social projects
  • Designing the Basque version of a walkable district

Challenged by these prompts, participants collaboratively imagined a more efficient, sustainable, and equitable future mobility. Despite the short time, teams could brainstorm, develop, and even build LEGO and playdough prototypes for their fun, unique, and creative ideas. At the end of the workshop, the teams had three minutes to pitch their proposals and share their experiences. After the event, some participants highlighted how the event had helped them to step back for a day from their everyday work and rethink mobility from the ground up. Others described that they had found this event inspiring in terms of seeing how the local community has many shared values and interests regarding future mobility, which could lead to interesting new projects and collaborations

The Basque context

San Sebastian near Bahia de la Concha. PC Maggie Church

While the Kursaal event and workshop served as the anchors of the ReImagining Mobility event, it was hard to miss the overall context of the community as the MIT team had a few additional days in San Sebastian with the MUBIL team. Throughout these days the teams discussed new ways to disrupt current markets and opportunities to use data-enabled research to inform better decision making. In addition, the teams explored the city, remarked on its beauty, and took an opportunity to look further into the place and the people. The concept of a 15-minute city has long been considered by Kent Larson and the MIT team, an idea that since its conception has seen heightened interest globally in various contexts. Here in the Basque country, the researchers noticed the incredible walkability of the place, something supported by the city’s density, housing in proximity to the city center, and a culture of pintxos (small bites of food ordered from restaurant to restaurant while enjoying a walk and glass of wine with friends.) Also of note was the age diversity of the people throughout the urban center with a presence of young children playing while the elderly enjoyed markets and amenities in the same areas. Finally, the architecture itself stood out — a combination of a French and Spanish style offering something uniquely Basque, and even when the city expanded beyond its initial urban center, this architecture was continued into new areas, creating a common language both in the place and in the people.

Stay Tuned…

MIT and MUBIL researchers hope to continue a collaboration well into the future. Other players may be involved as well including Tecnun University, and individuals and supporters from the Gipuzkoa council, the local seat of government. It is hoped that this longer collaboration will allow the researchers to further explore several topics including the walkable community, fleet mobility and swarm systems, and urbanism and the elderly, to name a few. In her opening remarks for the event Ane Insausti insisted that “at MUBIL…every single thing we do, we do it together with partners in the private score, public institutions and in academia.” We hope to hold on to this collaborative spirit as we continue to reimagine mobility in the years to come.

The MIT and Mubil teams at the Mubil offices.

The MUBIL and MIT teams would like to thank the following team members who helped to make this event possible:

Mubil:
Ane Insausti
Amaia Azpiazu
Aitor Irigoien
César Gutierrez
Ainhoa Saizar

Other Workshop facilitators (from the Gipuzkoa Provincial Council):
Unai Andueza
Jon Gurrutxaga
Jabier Larrañaga

MIT Team:
Kent Larson
Luis Alonso
Maitane Iruretagoyena
Naroa Coretti
Margaret Church
Thomas Sanchez Lengeling
Gabriela Bílá
Andres Rico Medina
Justin Blinder
Arnaud Grignard
Mireia Yurrita
Leticia Izquierdo

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