By Monika Zimmermann, Deputy Secretary General, ICLEI
Transport is a main challenge and a main concern for cities wanting to move on a path towards sustainability. Low air quality, traffic congestion, lack of safety and climate-altering emissions are all problems that afflict our cities and that make mayors and city officials scratch their heads and decide to pursue sustainable transport options.
But ecomobility, as we call it, does not happen overnight.
Shifting away from modes of transport that have dominated our cities for decades, in some cases for almost a century, requires planning, patience, technological solutions and, above all, consensus.
Making cities ecomobile is a process.
Certainly, bike paths, shared mobility and investments in electric vehicles and charging stations are going to be needed to turn around the way people move in our cities. And this is exactly what many ambitious cities all over the world are doing. Think about the very advanced bicycle culture in Copenhagen and Amsterdam, or the groundbreaking bus rapid transit systems that have changed daily commutes for millions of people from Bogota to Guangzhou.
But ultimately, what is required is a bold effort at transformation, one that involves the community and that invests energy and resources with long-term plans.
For a month, the neighbourhood of Hamasen will experience what ecomobility could look like in Kaohsiung. This entails a physical transformation of the urban infrastructure and a shift away from the car-centred paradigm, towards a vision for a more liveable, shared and intelligent city.
Kaohsiung is currently suffering from air pollution, largely due to the current modes of fossil fuel based mobility. It also has problems of traffic congestion and road accidents. The streets are filled with cars and scooters, taking most public space away from residents.
To change all this, the city developed a vision for improving the lives of its residents, which requires a new way of thinking, and planning urban transport. It also requires changes in the way the local administration manages spaces and mobility. More importantly, the transformation towards ecomobility entails a continued learning process for Kaohsiung city staff and residents. Together, they are designing this experiment and will ultimately decide what it means for the Hamasen neighbourhood and for transport in Kaohsiung.
The real value of the festival lies in the fact that it takes place in a real neighbourhood, with real residents. It is a true living experiment of transformation. It is, essentially, the start of a process that in due time will very likely see Kaohsiung become a true ecomobility champion.
The most important part of the project is in fact the constant exchange of the city with its residents to support deeper mindset changes that will allow ecomobility to take root during the festival and beyond.
At the moment, the city government is busy setting up bike, electric car and electric scooter sharing stations throughout the city. They are also building the first Light Rail Transit (LRT) on the island and have imported electric buses which are now operational.
The city is also committed to engage its community, enlisting a renowned local storyteller, to create awareness among school children and organising community engagement workshops with the support of over 150 ambassadors that are spreading the word and discussing with everyday citizens the pros and cons of trying out a different approach to urban transport.
The EcoMobility World Festival will take place in Kaohsiung this October, bringing experts in the field and local leaders from all over the world, as was previously done in Johannesburg, South Africa and Suwon, Korea. The seeds of ecomobility are spreading.
In fact, the EcoMobility World Festival, which takes place every two years, is looking for its next home. A host city willing to take on the same challenge that Kaohsiung has taken on. A city willing, like so many others before, to walk the path of ecomobility and bring an entire community around it, at its own pace and through its own, unique, approaches.
The success of this project won’t depend on how many cars will be taken off the road or how many more bikes will be seen in the neighbourhood. Its success will depend on how much it will have created the conditions for a long-term transformation.
To read more about the EcoMobility World Festival, see: www.ecomobilityfestival.org/