Marianne Reeb is a futurologist and studies trends long before they reach our everyday life. Helge Janzon takes care that these ideas and findings are implemented in terms of future-oriented mobility concepts. He operates within the central company strategy. Thus the topic Smart Cities has accompanied them both for a while. We have talked to them about how our cities may look in 20 years.
What will we see as we stroll around in the city of the future?
JANZON: More room. We will use space very differently than we do today. Parking at the curb will be inconceivable. Urban space is much too valuable for that. Unused traffic lanes will also be a thing of the past. Today we’ve got two, three or even four traffic lanes on the streets between two rows of buildings, and on either side of the street there’s also a sidewalk. In the city of the future, there will be fewer traffic lanes.
REEB: There could be four lanes during rush hours. But in the future we’ll be more flexible: When the traffic thins out, we can turn these four lanes into two. And on Sundays we could close the streets to traffic completely. Today we believe in having permanent structures, but in the future LEDs on the asphalt, combined with connectivity, will help us flexibly react to every situation.
What will these newly available spaces be used for?
REEB: They will offer spaces for human contact. I think that the reason why people live in cities is that they want a sense of community. Of course everyone wants to have a private sphere, but people also want to be together and communicate with one another. The newly available space can be used by cities to offer more cultural activities. It also creates more space for business and retail. That, in turn, will increase the number of jobs. Individuals won’t have to travel as far. There will be more time for community, because I will leave my neighborhood less to run errands.
How will we travel when we have to leave our neighborhoods after all?
REEB: All kinds of possibilities exist, ranging from private cars to local public transportation and shared mobility. “Emission-free” is a keyword that will apply to all of these options. The present is so diverse. That’s why I’m convinced that the future won’t be one-dimensional. It’s unlikely that there will be only one single solution. I believe there will be a bigger mix of means of transportation. We’re going to think a lot more about which means of transportation is right for which situation. The challenge will be to optimally link these means of transportation together. There will be well-functioning transportation hubs where, for example, my train arrives and my pre-reserved vehicle is already waiting for me.
Why do people use sharing services?
REEB: The concept of sharing isn’t attractive to everyone. People have a need for flexibility. That’s where these offers come into play, and supplement the mobility mix.
JANZON: Daimler also offers these kinds of integrated solutions. I’m glad that we, as a company, addressed this transformation early on and that we can call ourselves a mobility services provider today.
The private car is a symbol of independence and flexibility. What role will it play in the future?
JANZON: We make a distinction here between urban and rural regions. I think that outside the cities there will still be a great need for private vehicles over the next 20, 30, and 40 years. And in the urban centers as well, there will always be people who own cars so that they can go on outings on the weekend, for example. But only in a very few cases will the vehicle be standing directly in front of the owner’s home. Instead of that, on the outskirts of the cities there will be parking hubs that can be easily reached by other means of transportation.
Will we still be driving our own cars?
REEB: A lot of driving will be highly automated. And that will provide us with completely new possibilities. Today I might fly to another city and rent a hotel room so that I can be there to attend a meeting the following morning. In the future, I could travel overnight in my autonomously driving Mercedes-Benz. As a result, in the future my hotel stay will be limited to taking a shower and having breakfast, and I’ll save a lot of time.
JANZON: Moreover, automated carsharing verhicles can save space. In future they will drive on to the next customer after I step out of it. So I don’t have to park the vehicle. That way we can reduce parking spots in inner cities and make better use of the gained areas.
Many people like to do the driving themselves.
REEB: I think that in most cases these people just don’t like to give up control. But in order to have control over my car, I don’t necessarily have to have my hands on the steering wheel. There are other options. I will tell the vehicle of the future what it should do. I could also individualize my car. My driving style is rather sporty, so in the future I could order my autonomously driving car to liven up the tempo a bit. That way I can actively shape the way I travel. That’s important. In my opinion, the feeling that you’re influencing and shaping something is more important than doing the driving yourself.
The cities of the future also have to be actively planned and shaped. Who should participate in the decision-making?
REEB: Areas that are as complex as mobility and urban concepts must be worked out cooperatively. Many cities are now involving their citizens in this process. For example, in Stuttgart there is a real laboratory for sustainable mobility culture. It’s where proposals are developed and exchanged regarding how the state capital could and should look like in 20 years’ time.
JANZON: As a provider of mobility services, we too have been called on to engage in a dialogue with the city during an early phase — rather than later on, when there is a concrete call for tenders that we respond to. In the future, cities will be built up in much more complex ways than they are today. Urban planning concepts are becoming more and more integrated and networked. These concepts look highly individualized and even elegant, but at the same time their implementation is becoming increasingly challenging. That’s why there’s a need for expert advice, and we are glad to provide it. So far we’ve been welcomed everywhere with open arms. That’s because every city has to find its own way to deal with the complexity and create a livable city of the future. Our wide-ranging mobility portfolio that every city can flexibly integrate into its own concept can assist with that. These concept will naturally turn out differently. But there will also be overlaps. For example, I’m certain that many cities will gradually exclude through traffic from their city centers.
How will this be done? In Singapore, people already have to buy an expensive license if they want to register a car. Could this model catch on elsewhere?
JANZON: It will look different in every individual city, because no two cities are alike.
REEB: You can control this process by means of laws and prohibitions, but I think it’s more effective to depend on incentives to encourage public-spirited behavior.
Do you mean subsidies?
REEB: I hadn’t thought of that. My proposal is going in another direction. If I know that the B14 highway in Stuttgart is full of traffic, I could advise some drivers to use another route. Today that might take them three minutes more. In exchange, they would get ten mobility points, which they could use next time to park their cars for free. That way you can leave people free to make their own decisions while at the same time rewarding them if they act in the public interest.
Won’t people have misgivings about this approach? After all, people might worry about data security.
REEB: There have already been initial small-scale trials of this approach. In the trials, 70 percent of the participants said they were willing to share their data. In this way, a third of the potential traffic jams could be avoided. China will introduce this kind of scoring next year. An evaluation system will then reward people’s behavior. In spite of the cultural differences, I’m convinced that in 20 years we could be implementing a similar program. In the future too, customers should always be able to choose what data they make available to the public. If this data is used for the benefit of individuals and the community, and if the responsible handling of this data is ensured, many people would be in favor of a system like this one.
In your opinion, what requirements must be fulfilled by a well-functioning mobility concept for a livable city?
REEB: In Berlin I can go to a streetcar stop without having to look at the schedule. That’s because I know that a streetcar will be coming within the next five minutes. But that alone is not enough. A livable city also has to offer well-paid jobs. That gives people some leeway regarding their quality of life and allows individuals to organize their lives as they wish. The economic component also plays a role.
JANZON: But there are soft factors as well. A stroll along the Neckar River in Heidelberg can boost the quality of your life tremendously.
REEB: So can a walk along the Spree River in Berlin. A city needs to provide places where people can enjoy themselves.
How would you describe your smart comfortable city in three words?
JANZON: More stress-free. Livable. Green.