Public Space and Mobility Management

  • Author: Andrew Carpenter
  • Date: September 13, 2018

Public space design and land use planning are closely linked. Read our post on the latter to learn more.


In order for mobility managers to understand the areas of greatest need in their own community, it is critical to know how people interact with their environment. This information can assist in identifying the needs and potential opportunities which can then be communicated to local decision makers.

Because mobility is psychological as well as physical, knowing how the built environment influences individuals and groups moving through it is a key component of maximizing mobility into and within a certain area. The Gehl Institute in New York has launched the beta version of their Open Public Life Data Protocol, which planners and mobility managers can use to assess how public spaces affect behavior, and vice versa.


Feet first to healthy communities

Mobility managers should consider Play Streets, a design “intervention” that blocks of segments of road and allowing neighborhoods to use the space as parkland. These “play streets” spaces empower local residents by giving them control over a space they normally don’t have, and allowing them to utilize those spaces as their imagination sees fit. Especially since play streets are focused on communities with minimal access to outdoors and amenities, this becomes an even more important resource as it can offer safer spaces to play, walk, and live that which directly impacts overall wellness.

For mobility managers, play streets are an ideal space to connect with residents who need access to services beyond what play streets can offer. These programs create welcoming spaces for community members to engage with their neighbors and with any resources that officials like mobility managers may want to extend to vulnerable populations, such as information on mobility management programs to access important resources.

Designing a public space that welcomes people into it, and encourages them to interact with their surroundings and the people nearby, is vital to helping people participate in their community, a supporting ideal of mobility management.  Ultimately play streets could transform into variations of Barcelona’s now-famous superblocks, which knit large swaths of city together by reprioritizing active transportation over car movement, or health districts, with similar measures that focus on promoting wellness. Making the space open for people of all abilities to access civic life is a form of mobility, and such spaces can accomplish this.


Behavior, quantified

On top of understanding how people navigate their spaces, there are now tools for communities to visually identify gaps in mobility. Using maps and other digital tools can help identify areas where mobility is limited due to both direct and indirect factors,  such as transit coverage, poverty, housing affordability, and health care access.

One example that gives a quick glance into how land use and mobility management come together is TransitScreen’s Mobility Score tool. It provides a score for any address that reflects the choices people have to move around their city, and how long it would take before they can access them. This means that in a space with the same number of bus routes, those with longer times in between buses have a lower score than those where a person can expect something within a few minutes.

The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy has developed the Consortium for Scenario Planning. Mobility managers can harness this to involve their cities with envisioning a future that gives people options and makes housing and vital amenities more accessible for all community members.

The variety of tools available can help mobility managers a voice in guiding decisions on how the built environment evolves. It is important to include mobility and accessibility in conversations from the beginning of the decision-making process. Understanding land use implications on these themes carries important influence that can empower decisionmakers to choose projects that best serve the community.

Mobility managers can use these tools and ideas to lead the community in envisioning the way we want to live in cities. By starting with the design, and focusing it on the humans within those communities, stakeholders can build the neighborhoods, towns, cities, and regions that work for the people within them, and make it easy for them to do their thing.


Image Credit: Alan Light, Flickr, CC BY 2.0


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