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Research that gives a voice to practitioners and activists

OA research stories: Marco te Brömmelstroet

In January we revealed the top 10 Taylor & Francis open access articles published in 2017; those which had received the highest number of downloads during the year. Among the top 10 is ‘Travelling together alone and alone together: mobility and potential exposure to diversity’, published in Applied Mobilities.

Marco te Brömmelstroet (Photo by Teska van Overbeeke)

We caught up with lead author Marco te Brömmelstroet to find out more about the research and why it has had such an impressive impact. Marco began by telling us about the focus of his group’s work.

“Our research starts from the notion that mobility, our ability to go from A to B, is a fundamental part of the fabric of our societies. In the way we think about and plan for mobility, there is a central mindset that suggests that the time that we spend between A and B is actually of negative value; we only undertake that for the value of the activity we do at B. This leads to spending a significant part of funding and energy into either ‘reducing travel time’ or making mobility ‘more seamless’. 

“But what if there are important benefits attached to the time we spend traveling?”

“In the paper we explore the individual and societal benefits of engaging with the social and spatial environment through which we travel. We find that the so called ‘exposure to diversity’ has profound effects on qualities such as sense of belonging, mutual trust and overall well-being. We than discuss how walking, cycling, transit and driving allow for this in different ways. While the personalized cage of self-driving cars is tempting at first, it might be dystopian when it materializes as a dominant means of mobility.”

Marco and the team have had a very positive response to the article. This has come not just from other researchers but also campaigners and professionals working in related fields.

“I think the paper resonates with many people who feel that the dominant narrative around mobility – more, faster, individualized, and seamless – puts us at risk of losing important qualities of living together.“

“Many people working in the professions of urban or transport planning around the world sent us feedback suggesting that the paper provides them with a language to express that feeling.”

Marco also points to the work his team has done to raise awareness of their research over a long period of time through a successful Twitter account, which is followed by practitioners and activists around the world, as well as via the popular media and in a documentary the group has produced.

He believes that the success of this paper shows one of the benefits of publishing research open access, especially for articles that are of interest to a wider readership.

“Our thinking was informed through engagement with society, it is paid for by tax payers’ money from at least two countries, it is reviewed by colleagues, and it should be part of the wider debate around how we think about and plan for mobility.

We should aim for as open access as possible for papers that offer conceptual reflections that can/should inform wider society.”

 


Marco te Brömmelstroet is Associate Professor in Urban Planning at the University of Amsterdam. He holds master degrees in Infrastructure Planning and Geographical Information Management. His teaching in Planning Bachelor and Master’s programs centers around the (problematic) integration of land use and mobility and ways to improve this. He is also the founding Academic Director of the Urban Cycling Institute.

Alongside Marco, the authors of this successful open access paper are Anna Nikolaeva, Meredith Glaser, Morten Skou Nicolaisen, and Carmen Chan. The Urban Cycling Institute is a leading multidisciplinary group which combines a critical academic stance with a strong practice-oriented approach around the role of cycling in our cities and societies.


 

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