Not one of the 130 people who rocked up to a debate on the future of mobility, held in Paris on Tuesday, came by car. Many more participants didn’t make the journey at all, but their #mob2025 tweets were projected on stage and picked up by the panel. It was certainly the most interactive event I’ve ever been to, with iPads wired to almost every seat to encourage live blogging. I duly tweeted away, wondering what counted more: my actual presence or my virtual one…
Virtual guests missed out on particularly tasty canapés and the buzz in the Comptoir General, the French capital’s leading venue for sustainability. It’s an abandoned hotel, reclaimed by a group of green creatives who have turned it into a bit of a natural history museum, with butterflies pinned in glass cases and plants shooting up through the floorboards.
Funny, then, that this carbon-conscious debate led by thoughtful future-hunting folk who hardly ever take the wheel, was dominated by… the car.
We’ve invested so much time, energy and infrastructure in our four-wheeled friends, that it’s hard to know whether we drive them, or they drive us. We have restructured our cities around them, and tied our social status to them. Now, we are reinventing both the vehicles themselves, and how we use them. Paris is launching Autolib, the world’s first municipal hire scheme for electric vehicles: I saw the charge points and dedicated parking spaces popping up on boulevards. Zipcar and other car share platforms are gaining popularity, and taxi-sharing is catching on in New York.
But do cars really deserve to be at the heart of the debate about the future of movement and transport? Tuesday’s fast-paced conversation took the odd spin off-road: what about transforming our cities in favour of pedestrians and cyclists? What about changing our homes and offices to make it easier to share resources with others nearby? What about that fundamental question: what do I really need to get this job done? Where would I be most effective? The web makes long-distance workers of all of us, observed one panellist, “whether we like it or not”.
The fact that Renault was sponsoring the event, produced by EcomobilityTV, is the easiest explanation for the ghostly presence of the car in a room of non-drivers. More often than not, we put our mouth where the money is. It’s wise to remember that the money may well be elsewhere in years to come. - Anna Simpson