For the past 200 years, cities have invested significantly in building their rail, road and highway networks. But as cities grow, more and more people have become reliant on mobility, and transport networks are struggling to cope with increased usage. The result is traffic congestion, pollution and social inequalities. Vincent Loubière, Airbus Urban Mobility Director of City Integration and Infrastructure Development, believes that increasing flexibility in the urban transport system could help redistribute activities to declining areas, thereby attracting more people and introducing a more virtuous circle of development across regional territories.
The challenge for cities is to evolve from this mindset and to see themselves as part of a larger picture, within a regional urban network and a natural ecosystem.
Vincent Loubière, Director of City Integration and Infrastructure Development, Airbus Urban Mobility
Q. In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing cities today?
Many cities have become densely populated and increasingly centralised, leading to large quantities of waste and pollution that we are unable to manage. And the struggle to provide a decent public transport service is forcing people into car dependence. This growth of cities along linear infrastructure is a heritage of the industrial era and our economy. With the current ecological crisis, we have to wonder if this model has not reached its limits. The challenge for cities is to evolve from this mindset and to see themselves as part of a larger picture, within a regional urban network and a natural ecosystem.
Q. How can cities help to create a sustainable future for our planet?
Cities have a valuable position within the Earth’s ecosystem, as well as our social and economic infrastructure. If we can improve city operation, this could bring large-scale benefits to people and the environment. But we will need to reconsider what we mean by a “city” and take it to a new dimension. Collaboration at every level is fundamental to developing the solutions that can address this major challenge of sustainability. For that, the involvement of citizens is paramount.
Q. How does mobility—and specifically urban air mobility—hold one of the critical keys to creating sustainable, more liveable cities?
Let’s be clear: we shouldn’t transpose our current mobility patterns onto urban air mobility. It’s not a mass transport solution. Its value lies in how it can encourage a mindset shift in our movement habits. Because we’re no longer reliant on linear infrastructure, it can act as a transport hub across the territory, instantly connecting remote locations to the rest of the transport network. It also has the potential to complete the mobility mix: being a component of a multimodal door-to-door journey enables greater efficiency in time and distances. This could lead to a redistribution of businesses and populations, thereby reshaping city morphology. Cities could become a collection of smaller compact hubs, distributed and interconnected across regions, rather than one giant one, and we could see a more virtuous circle of development.
Q. You’re leading a team of architects, urbanists and engineers to conceptualise urban development strategies and mobility master plans that leverage city skies. What are some of the challenges and opportunities?
There are a variety of aspects that we have to consider. The beauty of urban air mobility is that it doesn’t require a large volume of new infrastructure. It has a very small footprint and low land-use impact compared to traditional transport modes. However, safety, noise and visual impact are key considerations. We have engaged with public bodies, authorities and public transport operators, such as RATP, to carefully address these questions, and to define how to make urban air mobility right for the city and its inhabitants.
At the same time, most cities have evolved over centuries, which results in a lot of infrastructure constraints. We need to work out how we can smartly integrate take-off and landing areas—i.e. vertiports—within the highways, railways, waterways and airports we already have. We can bring additional value to these assets and transform their design and function. Inter-modal transport is vital to urban mobility: we must think holistically. If we get it right, we could revolutionise the way we move.
This is where Airbus Urban Mobility brings added value. We go beyond the technology: we co-develop with cities the digital infrastructures they need to animate a holistic mobility system.
Q. For you, what is the most exciting thing about redesigning the urban landscapes of tomorrow?
This is an opportunity to rethink and improve the way we live. No single person has the answer, and it will take each of us as citizens and professionals to contribute collaboratively to the solution. Mobility has such a big impact on how we live. The chance to create smarter cities that are compatible with our ecosystem and benefit everyone is an incredibly exciting challenge. We have to be bold and ambitious.
Vincent Loubière is a speaker at the Urban Futures Global Conference, from May 22 to 24 in Oslo, Norway. He will speak on how collaboration is critical to helping cities and citizens to create disruptive practices that have the power to make our cities more liveable, more inclusive and more sustainable. See the UFGC speaker programme here.