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Editorial: Urban Mobility and Social Inequity

Klaus J. Beckmann, Tilman Bracher, Markus Hesse

Editorial: Urban Mobility and Social Inequity


There is no disputing the importance of spatial mobility and transport for society. Nevertheless, the established planning and transport disciplines have turned their attention to the many dimensions of social change only relatively recently. In view of the continued importance of mobility, however, this subject matter has increasingly become a focus of research in the social sciences. The initial interest was to identify groups exhibiting expansive patterns of personal mobility, such as groups adopting “modern” lifestyles or commuters. Recently, other groups reliant on mobility have been identified, like children, older people, and immigrants. Among these groups, limited mobility opportunities are probably more widespread than the statistical average in mobility surveys suggest.

Social disadvantagement and deprivation play an important role in this context. This is all the more true in the urban context. Urban studies, which have traditionally taken a major interest in the socially inequitable spatial distribution of income and ethnic groups (cf. segregation studies), have so far paid hardly any attention to traffic nuisance and mobility opportunities. Where urban planning is concerned with deprived neighbourhoods, mobility and transport play no special role (cf. the federal policy programmes “Socially Integrative City”, “Urban Redevelopment East”, “Urban Redevelopment West”). Vice versa, marginal social groups or urban areas considered disadvantaged have so far hardly caught the attention of social science mobility studies, or at least not in Germany. However, such localities deserve greater scrutiny. They record high traffic-derived nuisances (emissions, urban planning deficiencies), and groups localised in these areas generally have less access to mobility, nor can they escape nuisances. Sustainable urban development strategies must, however, cope with both categories of problem – environmental compatibility and social balance.

The focus of this issue of the DfK is on spatial mobility in the context of social inequity. The articles consider different aspects of the subject. Various social groups are examined that have hitherto been outside the mainstream of urban and transport research; and certain urban problems or sub-areas are investigated that have so far not been given due consideration in their significance for mobility and transport.

Klaus J. Beckmann, Tilman Bracher und Markus Hesse take a detailed look at social inequity in the urban context, investigating the mutual links between deprived urban neighbourhoods, mobility, and transport. On the basis of a brief assessment of socio-spatial development trends in cities and urban regions and a systematic account of various forms of urban spatial deprivation, the authors discuss specific patterns of mobility practices in deprived urban areas; secondly, they examine the problems prevailing there and what possibilities residents have to escape or cope with them. An integrated urban development policy worthy of the name must begin at both ends of the effect chain and develop appropriate strategies.

Gerhard Steinebach and Martin Rumberg systematise the broad spectrum of socially selective adverse impacts of traffic on urban neighbourhoods. In addition to air pollution, traffic accidents, divisive impacts, and design, functional, spatial, and technical infrastructure deficiencies, traffic noise is a key indicator for the impairment of residential and recreational quality in the life space. On this basis, the links between traffic-related environmental impacts and social problems in neighbourhoods are classified. Owing to the very heterogeneous and incomplete state of knowledge on the subject, it is relatively difficult to demonstrate these links in spatial terms and to assess their significance. Finally, the article examines possible space-related abatement strategies differentiated from a settlement and social structural point of view.

Markus Hesse and Joachim Scheiner deal with the role of suburban areas as potential problem neighbourhoods in the fragmented city. The authors investigate not the inner city neighbourhoods typically seen as problematic but the surrounding areas of cities. Taking as their point of departure demographic changes in the context of specific life-cycles of suburban areas, they examine the thesis that, in the course of urbanisation, suburban areas also assume certain negative properties of the city, especially those associated with increasing density or growing interdependence with the core city. On this basis, they investigate the extent to which the specific location, structure, and endowment of these areas present risks for the future, and what suburban areas can or should do to adjust to such changes better than in the past.

On the basis of data from the German Mobility Panel, Bastian Chlond and Peter Ottmann look into what distinguishes the mobility and activity behaviour of single parents from that of families with two adults. Owing to the specific double burden for single parents of earning a living and rearing children, mobility is considered particularly important. The mobility of this group of persons needs to be highly efficient. The car and its use capability are extremely important; on the other hand, single parents exhibit greater multi-modal behaviour than others. They spend more time outside the home – owing both to a relatively high level of gainful employment and for leisure purposes. From a spatial point of view, the authors stress that an urban life space offers better conditions for single parents in their life situations that a non-urban environment.

Birgit Kasper, Ulrike Reutter and Steffi Schubert examine the mobility of people with an immigrant background in (West German) cities, a subject that has hitherto been largely ignored by transport research. On the basis of an overview of transport behaviour, the authors judge that there are differences between the mobility of immigrants and Germans that cannot be ascribed solely to socio-economic status. The decisive factors are the diversity of this target group and gender-specific differences. The authors go on to examine choice of residence and how general conditions in deprived urban areas are coped with. It transpires that, owing to the lack of data and knowledge on the mobility of people with an immigrant background, the mobility and traffic needs and requirements of people living in urban problem neighbourhoods are largely unknown, so that considerable research is needed.

Lucas Harms investigates the mobility of ethnic minorities from the perspective of the Netherlands. On this subject little information has been available to date as regards mobility rates, trip frequencies, destinations, and modal choice. The article provides an overview of various aspects of mobility among the most important ethnic minorities in the Netherlands: Turks, Moroccans, Surinamese, and Antilleans. The information is based on a large-scale survey conducted in 2004 and 2005. The author examines whether and how the various aspects of mobility differ between ethnic minorities. This is also compared with the mobility of the ethnic Dutch. It turns out the immigrants are less mobile than the ethnic population. In general, immigrants use public transport more often and bicycles less frequently.

Eva Kail and Elisabeth Irschik present activities carried out in the context of a gender-mainstreaming process in the Viennese pilot district Mariahilf. The focus is on measures in neighbourhood-related public transport and traffic, especially pedestrian traffic. Many steps have been taken to improve walking comfort, to enhance experience value and the subjective sense of security in order to improve the attractiveness of the public space. On the basis of a wide-ranging assessment of the current situation, the quality criteria laid down in the 2003 Traffic Master Plan were systematically applied to the district, the necessary measures defined, prioritised in terms of pedestrian network hierarchization, and the costs assessed. In this process, gender mainstreaming means placing particular value on target-group specific assessment of the impact of planned measures, developing appropriate tools, and fostering awareness among administrative personnel for the quality requirements of pedestrian traffic down to the detailed level of the project. This allows alterations in the demands made of the local residential environment owing to social change to be identified with particular efficiency and goal-orientation, and to take appropriate measures to meet them.

The articles show that forms of social and/or spatial disadvantagement in cities are closely related to the question of mobility, transport and traffic, from both a negative point of view (pollution) and with regard to possible strategies for action by local authorities and the public. In this respect, urban social segregation and fragmentation can also be interpreted as reactions to increasingly problematic living conditions, which sections of the urban population can escape thanks to their privileged access to mobility. An integrated urban development policy would, in contrast, explicitly aim to diminish adverse impacts for everyone. Among other things, organising everyday life on a low-traffic basis is a precondition for cities to continue exercising their traditional role as engines of integration. Current documents like the Leipzig Charter on the Sustainable European City (1) or the position of national urban development policy (2) show that this subject has at least made it onto the political agenda. Putting it into practice remains a major challenge.



(1) Bundesministerium für Verkehr, Bau und Stadtentwicklung (BMVBS) (ed.) (2007): Leipzig-Charta zur nachhaltigen europäischen Stadt, Berlin. (back)

(2) Bundesministerium für Verkehr, Bau und Stadtentwicklung (BBR) (ed.) (2007): Auf dem Weg zu einer nationalen Stadtentwicklungspolitik, Meckenheim. (back)

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