When the Covid-19 pandemic finally fades one major lifestyle change it created probably wonâ€™tâ€”the ability to give up the daily commute in favor of working from home. International architectural, development and planning firm Gensler is focused on that sea change in how we go about our business and is working with communities and automakers on the concept it calls the â€ś20-minute city.â€ť
During an extensive conversation, two Gensler executives explained the concept as really a combination of de-centralizing business districts where people conduct business and making more mobility choices available, especially to those who live in economically-challenged communities. Whatâ€™s not a key mobility element, is the private automobile.
â€śWe think about it in terms of access shed by how far they can walk. Somebody who chooses not to own, or canâ€™t afford or isnâ€™t able to drive an automobile, their access shed is limited to how far they can walk in a given amount of time,â€ť said Dylan Jones, a senior associate and leader of Genslerâ€™s mobility lab. â€ťIf that person has access to a bicycle, that access shed goes from how far you can walk in 20 minutes, which might be, at best, a half a mile, it expands to three miles. The sheer area you can access, the opportunities you can access, the number of jobs you can access, it expands incredibly.â€ť
The imperative to work remotely may have been sparked by the need to contain Covid-19 through social distancing, but it also created a distrust of public transportation and ride sharing for fear of infection.
Jones points to research revealing sales of electric-powered bicycles jumped 190% in June compared with the same month a year ago.
But not everyone has the option of eschewing public transportation to get to their jobs or school said Andre Brumfield, principal and global leader for cities and urban design at Gensler. He points out a large number of front line workers are people of color who have not only been hit hard by Covid-19 but have limited resources shutting them out of choices beyond public transportation. Worse, he says, their neighborhoods have been largely ignored by companies offering affordable options.
â€śOver the last several years, we have been witnessing that shared bike programs and shared scooters were only happening in trendy areas or neighborhoods,â€ť said Brumfield. â€śThere are neighborhoods with people of color saying, are we going to have an opportunity to participate in this? There will be some people in those same communities who will say, when you see shared bikes stacked or scooters, that itâ€™s basically the mobility equal of Starbucks showing up in your neighborhoods.â€ť
The conundrum of how to achieve this sort of mobility equity while still remaining relevant is an issue Gensler is addressing with what Dylan Jones terms some â€śbig international automakers.â€ť
"Theyâ€™re asking themselves existentially, where do their brand positions fall?â€ť said Jones. â€śWhereas at one point it had to do with identity and what was on your driveway, identity now may be communicated through whatâ€™s on your Instagram feed."
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic hit those who had access to micromobility options such as scooters and e-bikes were using them in favor of driving. Jones cites Gensler research that reveals from 2018 to 2019, micromobility trips increased from 86 million to 134 million trips with 46% of those trips replacing those in autos.
At the same time, public transportation faces the challenge of losing passengers who are unhappy about cleanliness and safety. Thatâ€™s another head scratcher for Gensler as it works with transit companies to overcome their shortfalls.
â€śThis is a real issue for us in our communities. How do we do you provide a safe, equitable and intuitive mobility construct that people can opt into?â€ť said Jones. â€śSo, weâ€™re really helping them focus on not just the technical aspectâ€¦but what are simple user experience levers we can play with to help support enjoyable trips?â€ť
â€śWe have to think about how all of these modes of transportation fit into our public realm and experience, and whether they are pedestrian friendly and encourage ridership,â€ť added Brumfield.
Toss into the mix the move to electrification and both autos and public transportation become less vital to the 20-minute city where destin