IAA Voices Conference Special: Interview mit Nadja Gläser

Nadja Gläser is a Project Leader at the Boston Consulting Group. With a degree in urban planning, she works at the consultancy on sustainable and urban mobility - and always at the interface between cities and industry. On September 23, 2022, she will moderate a panel discussion entitled "The Road toward Zero Emission Urban Mobility" at the IAA Transportation.

How to shape it: What will the ideal inner city look like in 2030?

The ideal inner city would be greener than it currently is. We would have open spaces for recreation, dining, play, and meeting with others. Road traffic would take up far less space.

Yet the fact of the matter is that we have infrastructure in place that is not so easily altered. This is not just due to the ideal of the car-friendly city of the 1950s, but also to the principle of division of functions within a city. There were separate spaces for all sorts of needs, which led to streets being far wider than they would be today.

The current ideal of the 5-minute city in which everything in a neighborhood can be reached in 5 minutes thanks to its mixed-use layout is a noble goal. Achieving this with the current infrastructure would take much longer than we would want, and than would be necessary for the traffic shift. However, I believe that we are all on track toward using urban spaces more for local recreation than for mobility.

Based on current developments: What will the inner city realistically look like in 2030?

Some cities are much more progressive than others. Hamburg, for example, is under a lot of pressure to develop because spaces are very constricted. Cities like Hamburg have two mindsets: We have to save space, and digitization can help, because we have to smarter in how we use our vehicles and spaces. Hamburg is well on the way toward its goal in this regard.

These changes require a change in the mindset. We have to show people that new mobility concepts work, and go on from there. The debate is often led by the idea of sacrifice, when instead it should be more about that the residents can gain. What does "comfortable mobility" mean for people? We should also ask this while developing new mobility services. The public hand can certainly learn from industry in this regard. For example, I picture convenient, on-demand shuttles in place of many individual cars. This saves space and resources without limiting mobility. Cities also need a reliable partner that can provide affordable mobility, in accordance with the city's criteria for sustainability.

Nadja Gläser. ©BCG

Unfortunately, a lot of those business models aren’t currently profitable.

I'm aware of the challenges. Ridesharing and hailing concepts are not yet stable business models. But I believe that, as conditions change, it will be possible to roll out new services with large fleets and that the automotive industry could benefit from.

This requires political action, because we need security in planning and ambitious framework conditions from the cities themselves. This would allow industry to respond better with new concepts than it currently can.  

Everyone would also benefit from being bolder. Tasks that at first seem too great could result in something new, leading to international market leadership. The problems that we have in our cities are not just a German phenomenon, after all. Policy, society, and industry should consider some new big exports.

Is it time for cities and municipalities to exert more pressure?

Cities have to provide livable, affordable, low-emission, compact mobility. If one looks at the issues surrounding emissions and competition for space, the urban traffic system is reaching its limits, especially as cities have grown so rapidly in recent decades. We now see that everything has to be more integrated: the energy and traffic infrastructure, living areas like residences, work, and education. Exciting concepts in this regard are currently being sought out, and the conditions for this must be laid by the cities themselves. It should work hand in hand.

The interconnected city: What exactly does it look like?

For me, a city is smart when digitization is not an end in itself, but rather makes a city more sustainable.

There are multiple opportunities in the field of traffic: One is to make routes more efficient. For example, they can be consolidated with ride hailing, or take place at different times to avoid congestion. Digital apps can help people meet up or provide transparency of the traffic situation so that environmentally friendly decisions can be made.

Compact space can also be used more efficiently, which could solve problems in other sectors as well. One example is outpatient care: If it were possible to reserve a parking space digitally, caretakers would be able to care for more patients with the time available to them because they would spend less time looking for a space. Technically everything is possible, but we have to coordinate these concepts across different sectors. This requires additional resources and new organizational models.

But that takes a lot of energy. Will we be able to do all of this with green power?

The vast majority of experts agree that we will only be able to make cities climate-neutral with 100 percent green power. Along with the comprehensive expansion of wind and solar energy, we should further develop concepts for the integration of vehicle- or homeowners in one decentralized energy system. In light of geopolitical developments, decentrally generated power could soon become a business model.

Does society have to be more proactive here?

Absolutely. Some German cities, such as Munich and Leipzig, have made it their goal to become climate-neutral by 2030 as EU model municipalities. But not we need concrete concepts that can facilitate that. The cities require expansive partnerships with industry, residential building societies, project developers, and residents. One example of such a partnership is the Bündnis für Wohnen (Residential Association) in Hamburg. Over 10 years ago, the city formed an agreement with various actors for accelerated and socially compatible residential construction. This accelerated processes, and the clear priorities in the agreement took pressure off the real estate market. We need precedents like this to expand the charging infrastructure, among other things. An alliance of energy providers, residential building societies, and supermarkets or other actors with spaces where people are present for longer than ten minutes, for example. The city not only serves to modernize, but also to drive and shape this development.