Metamorphosis - A conscious mobility

Metamorphosis - A conscious mobility

‘In the METAMORPHOSIS project, we actively engage children in research into planning urban spaces.’ Loek Hellebrekers explains why.

Last week, Lisette Hoeke (ABEL) was telling us about the Horizon 2020 project DIGNITY, in which the themes of digitisation and transport poverty are studied, and which focuses on mobility for everyone. The METAMORPHOSIS project – a Horizon 2020 project as well – which Loek Hellebrekers (ABEL) is working on, has some ground in common with it. His project team is carrying out research into the way in which we can make districts and cities more child-friendly and so, more inclusive and active by minimising car dependency.

Conscious mobility choice

‘In the project, we actively engage children in our research into planning urban spaces,’ says Loek. ‘If you can make children aware - at an early age - of planning a neighbourhood, this will contribute to a more conscious mobility choice at a later stage. When planning it, we take a child’s perspective with this idea in mind: when you design something for the most vulnerable group, others will certainly benefit from it as well.’

Visiting a district with children

‘This means concretely that we are going to visit a district together with children, and explore the neighbourhood, for example the school. The children indicate what they think of certain things by making a thumbs-up or thumbs-down sign. It often concerns things that we as adults are not aware of at all. A crossroads where cars are racing by, or a pavement full of parked cars, as a result of which there is no space at all to walk safely, let alone play!’

Translation into a policy plan

‘We are expanding this research – which we are conducting bottom up – to more schools, and subsequently, the findings will be translated into a policy plan for – in this case – the city of Tilburg. Students of our degree programme in Built Environment are assisting us. The idea is that we will start small and that it will have an increasingly big impact - through the children’s parents because in this way, those parents are also becoming more aware of their own mobility choice.’

Understanding that things could be done differently

‘We have noticed that closing down a road temporarily also works well to create greater awareness. Close down a street, for example for one or more days for an activity or a festival and people realise that things can be done differently. By claiming a certain area, people are going to behave differently. Where cars are parked normally, there is now space for children to play all of a sudden. In this way, a skate rink was built in Merano, one of our partner cities, and it has never been removed.’

Get going with new awareness

‘Actually, the theme is more topical than ever. Now that everybody spends a lot of time at home in these corona times, the car is mostly standing still. Some 90% of parking spaces are occupied virtually continuously. And now that we go outdoors in our direct environment, this is what strikes us all of a sudden. If only because you notice that it is hard to keep 1.5-metre social distancing simply because there are too many cars. The professionals of the future, i.e, our students, should get going with this new awareness.’

Collaboration in Europa

‘In the Netherlands, we are well advanced with making cars less important in our direct everyday surroundings. Of course, the Netherlands is pre-eminently a cycling nation, and campaigns such as Veilig naar school (Going to school safely) have been running for years. In that sense, we serve as an example to other countries. In this project, we are collaborating with seven European cities, for example Southampton, Munich, Graz and Zürich, and three consultancy firms and the universities of Dresden and Southampton.’

High on the agenda

‘Municipalities should really have the guts to push back on cars in the city. We have been running this project for three years, and what you see in Tilburg, where we started small as well, is that the theme has been fully integrated into the mobility policy. Sustainability and livability is high on the agenda, and it is wonderful that we can make a contribution to all this with this project, interns and graduating students, and with our first-year students who are doing the fieldwork!’

Further details can be found on the corporate website of BUas and on the project website of METAMORPHOSIS. Of course, you could always contact Loek Hellebrekers.