Musing: "Old Mobility" = mechanical solutions to biological problem

I like this concept, and while by itself it may not move the earth I would like to invite your comments and suggestions on this formulation which, self-evident though it may seem, some of us at least may find of use from time to time.  We need to get a firm handle on the reasons why old mobility thinking is proving so hard to dislodge. This quick characterization may be of help.

In a conversation yesterday with Katherine Freund of ITNAmerica, during which we were discussing her   participation in the forthcoming World Share/Transport Forum in Kaohsiung next month, the conversation rolled around as to the reasons why the narrow binomial choices which seem inevitably to frame the transport policy issues/choices in most places – i.e., either spend money to help cars or public transit as the two main options – are destined to fail. And in the process we eventually worked our way around to the phrase . . .

Old Mobility = Tries to fashion basically mechanical solutions to deal with what are in fact biological or organic problems. *

I like it because I feel that it gives us in a nutshell an explanation for why we are failing so badly in the sector.

Without wishing to be disrespectful to anyone in particular (we are all in any event prisoners of our pasts), is it reasonable to say this? The older generations of experts, institutions, and problems solvers are locked into mainly mechanistic approaches and ways of thinking: i.e., here is the problem we face, here is how we are going to fix it, and off we go. Solve problem, and then go fishing.

But when and if we shift over to new mobility thinking, what we have come to understand is that we are not going to “fix” the problem or problems, because it is not their nature nor that of complex interactive systems to be “fixed” in this sense. Rather we are ready to work with them over time within a more complex strategic frame, try this or that here of there, use 21st century feedback systems and logistics to get a flow of information about actual performance and impacts, and then tweak as infinitum. If it sounds like nurturing a child, it is no coincidence.

I hope this is not too muddled to exclude understanding, and that there may be something here eventually useful and at least worthy of your comments.

Eric Britton

PS. Or as Lao-tse just may have said: “How can a man, riding on an ox, looking for an ox, ever find an ox?”

PPS. One of my Chinese colleagues who is working with us on the Kaohsiung project, said that she felt this approach has parallels with the tradition of foot-binding of women in ancient China -纏足. A mechanical solution to a biological problem?


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