Embassy of Mobility DDW: Finding balance between efficiency and quality of life

By 4 November 2019Blog

Embassy of Mobility DDW: Finding balance between efficiency and quality of life

Many Dutch cities were designed from an efficiency perspective in the 1930s. Now that the world is changing, we are forced to go back to the drawing board. This time we’re doing things differently; not efficiency, but people come first when designing mobility solutions.

“If you plan for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places” – William H. White, The social life of small urban spaces (1980)

Dutch Design Week 2019

“If not now, when?” was the theme at Dutch Design Week (DDW) 2019. More than 350,000 visitors came to Eindhoven to discover the innovations of tomorrow. During DDW, designers, entrepreneurs and visitors enter into a dialogue. This proves that Dutch Design doesn’t necessarily refers to a nationality, but to a mentality. The willingness to involve each other in the design and creation process.


Embassy of Mobility

This year, the Embassy of Mobility was a large dome in the middle of Strijp-S. The entire week, designers, municipalities, Dutch Railways, Rijkwaterstraat, Six Fingers and various mobility providers gathered here to talk about the future of mobility. The goal was not to get answers, but to discover the mobility issues of the future.

Embassy of Mobility

Quality of life vs Efficiency

At the Embassy of Mobility, every day of DDW had a different theme. On Friday, October 25, the dilemma ‘Quality of life VS Efficiency’ was on the program.

“Our society is set to get from A to B as efficient as possible. We want to reach our destination quickly. What if we designed our mobility from the perspective of viability”?

The Embassy organized a debate on Friday where I was invited (because of my role as visiting professor at TU Delft) together with Boyd Cohen (Iomob), Alwin Beermink (Park Strijpbeheer) and Niek Verlaan (City of Utrecht) to discuss “the mind shift from thinking from efficiency to thinking from quality of life”.


Cars are not an environmental but a space issue

When moderator Rick Pijpers (Six Fingers) asks the audience how they traveled to Eindhoven today, the majority replies “by train”, only a few came by car. It is not new that there is a shift from ownership to use. Shared Mobility is not only good for the environment, but a vital component for the quality of life in a city.

Alwin Beermink (Park Strijpbeheer) says that parking in his area has been a challenge for many years. According to him, cars are not an environmental problem, but rather a space problem. Because the majority of our cars are stationary, he opted to invest in Shared Mobility solutions through his own Mobility Program: Mobility-S. The money saved by not investing in car parking is invested in quality of life. All forms of transport, such as public transport, (electric) shared cars and bikes and parking spaces are available through the Mobility-S program.

Not only cars cause a space issue. In many cities even the footprint of the bike is becoming a problem. Utrecht is a good example of this. The bike footprint was therefore one of the starting points in the BNA’s research project about the city of the future.

Design for people

Niek Verlaan (City of Utrecht) shows that the street not only has a mobility function, but also an important social function: it is a place to meet each other. Verlaan is inspired by the architecture of Lisbon. The Municipality of Lisbon asked its residents about their most beloved meeting places. The answers then served as a starting point for the (re)design of the city. It is clear that the quality of life for the City of Utrecht comes first, efficiency comes second.

Embassy of Mobility DDWNiek Verlaan (l) and Alwin Beermink (r)


How do we keep our cities livable in the future?

In the debate it soon became clear that we are paying a lot of attention to the quality of life in our cities. But how do we keep it that way in the future? In the research program we do at TU Delft on PACT (Partnerships in Cities of Things), we look at how we can live together with ‘Things’. What are the effects on our quality of life when we start living in a frictionless society?

During the debate, I outlined a number of future scenarios that gets people thinking. Imagine, for example, that the planning of our journey in a “public transport pod” will be optimized based on the travel goals of all passengers. You no longer know in advance how long you will spend on your trip, unless you pay for that extra service. A logical further development of current systems like the Intercity Direct that work with allowances. But how would you feel if your travel time was extended, because the CEO sitting next to you was given more priority?



Paper M.L. Lupetti, Nazli Cila, Iskander Smit
Near Future Cities of Things: Addressing Dilemmas through Design Fiction

Another example from the Future Scenarios-paper is the Pizza Delivery bot that asks a customer how she is feeling, because she has only ordered one pizza. “Are you suffering from a broken heart?” A strange and undesirable future scenario for many of us.


Human-centered design is paramount

We live in a society in which we are being ruled by technology more and more. The quality of life is determined by algorithms and the digital layer, the so-called Code / Space. Employees in the gig economy (meal delivery staff, Uber drivers) already have an algorithm as a manager. How do we continue to make our choices ourselves? That’s a dilemma that we will have to deal with a lot. One thing is certain; IoT or technology, human-centered design must always be the starting point. Self-determination of our lives goes one step further. Only that way we can continue to guarantee that quality of life comes first when it comes to designing the mobility of the future.

Iskander Smit op Dutch Design Week 2019Left to right: Rick Pijpers, Alwin Beermink, Niek Verlaan, Boyd Cohen and Iskander Smit

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