Power to the people

19 September 2022

We might live in the age of social media, of virtual connections and isolating binge-watching, but nothing can replace in-person contact.

To that most unique human experience – to the pleasure of travelling across town to meet and cherish family and friends – is dedicated the 16-22 September European Mobility Week.

‘Better Connections’, this year’s slogan, features four elements that by interacting come to shape modern mobility: people, places, packages, planning and policy.

People are at the centre of the transport universe and by highlighting their role, the campaign seeks to carve a new direction: to give residents the power to choose, to enlist people in the decision-making process and offer mobility solutions that work first and foremost for citizens’ lives.

Ultimately, authorities’ decisions will remain just ink on paper if people are not convinced about embracing sustainable change.

People at car-free day in Brussels, 18 September 2022
People during car-free day in Brussels, 18 September 2022. By D. Berretta

That might mean offering better public transport options that simplify and speed up work commutes; building better cycling and walking infrastructure; or improving road safety around schools.

A recent example from Germany’s Bremen illustrates how enlisting residents in the decision-making process may prove crucial to solving community problems.

A community comes together

European cities were planned and built over the centuries, way before the invention of cars, so residents today are too often forced to compete and even fight for space.

That was the case in Bremen’s Hulsberg district – dating back to the 1940s, the neighbourhood lacked pavement space for pedestrians. Parked cars dominated the narrow streets and stole space on the curb, which made walking particularly hard for those with reduced mobility and families with kids in a stroller. The situation was further exacerbated by conflicts erupting between pedestrians and residents who insisted on parking their cars right in front of their homes.

A narrow street in Bremen
A street in Bremen. By Matthijs Photography

With the help of the EU-sponsored SUNRISE project, city authorities in Bremen took a participatory approach and turned to residents to identify challenges and solutions.

The process involved meetings, plans and discussions with neighbourhood representatives in search of common ground. The negotiations eventually led to a successful outcome: the municipality freed up 1.6 kilometres of pavement from cars and gave it back to pedestrians, with parking fines further enforcing the new measures. The neighbourhood, meanwhile, found a renewed sense of community and a successful participatory model to follow in the future.

Is everyone on board?

Citizens play a critical role in spawning change in all other aspects of sustainable mobility. For example, authorities recommend leaving cars at home to cycle and walk instead. But what would convince people to give up habits and even comfort? How can local and national authorities make a compelling case for active mobility?

People at car-free day in Brussels, 18 September 2022.
People during car-free day in Brussels, 18 September 2022. By D. Berretta

These questions will be at the centre of a discussion on mobility and energy in Brno on 21 September. The event will be part of the ‘Urban Mobility Days’, a three-day event coinciding with European Mobility Week. The ‘RePowerEU: the power of behavioural change’ panel debate will link today’s energy crisis with on-the-ground efforts to reduce oil demand.

The discussion will be moderated by Eurocities’ Juan Caballero, the Campaign Manager for European Mobility Week; it will also see the participation of European Commission officials along with local representatives from Ukraine.

Enrol the youth

Young Belgian students on European Mobility Week's opening day
Young students in Brussels learn about European Mobility Week’s on 16 September 2022.

Although the shift to sustainable mobility requires the involvement of citizens of all ages, children and young adults feature prominently in this year’s European Mobility Week activities – this is a further sign that municipalities and campaigners increasingly rely on the younger generations to make change a reality.

This year’s European Mobility Week coincides with the 2022 European Year of Youth, which celebrates and seeks young people’s involvement to spearhead a greener, more inclusive and digital future.

Learn more about how local authorities can engage with future generations and help them tackle the challenges ahead.

Next, read about the Future Mentors programme that sees young people mentoring their local leaders about the cities of the future; and find out how youth can further help shape their own future by acting as city advisors.


Daniela Berretta Eurocities Writer