Part 2: Mobility means changing location – are we more mobile than we were in the past?

  • Posted by Gerhard Pramhas
  • On 20. May 2019


Why do we have to change our whereabouts an average of four times a day, as we noted in the last blog post? Who or what circumstance forces us to be mobile? This question calls for a look back into history. How did our ancestors live? How were their occupational activities structured? Let’s embark on a short journey through time and enter the age before motorised individual transport – or MIT for short – began its triumphal advance.

Mobility on foot

In the age of early industrialisation, the first “industrial zones” sprang up in the regions surrounding coal and ore deposits. Aside from the fact that this heralded the beginning of massive CO2 emissions, the social aspect is of great interest. Workers’ quarters were built close to the production sites. Why? Quite simply: The day-to-day journey to work – which is nothing other than mobility – was largely travelled by foot. If we further assume that humans move at approximately 5 km/h, this results in a reasonable distance of roughly 2.5–5 km between home and work; in other words, a distance on foot of around 30 minutes to one hour. And this is exactly how the workers’ housing developments were constructed. Does this time span look familiar to you? More about that later.

The railway was not a means of mass transport

Schools and shopping facilities were also located within walking distance so that these changes of location could be carried out within the same time range, as well – that is, around 30 minutes to an hour. Industrialisation also marked the beginning of the railway age, which meant that greater distances could be travelled, albeit only for the very few who could afford to. Given both the railway network and the prices, however, trains were not yet a “means of mass transport”. Public transport was also in its infancy, and apart from the first railway lines, there was only the horse-drawn tram. Local public transport, LPT, was still not a major factor. Mobility for most people was therefore only possible on foot.

Mobility by car

Does that mean our ancestors were less mobile than we are today? If the number of location changes is used as a benchmark, no. If the distance travelled per change of location is being measured, then we are much more mobile today. To this day, we still spend around 30 minutes to an hour to get to work every day. To this day, we still drive – mostly by car – to a shopping centre to do our shopping. How much time are we willing to spend on this trip? You guessed it: 30 minutes to an hour. The existing infrastructure thus compels us to be mobile.

This raises the next question: Which came first? The shopping mall or the car? What came first? The jobs on the outskirts of town or the car?

The answers are simple and unambiguous. Travel by car allowed us to cover distances of 20–100 km in the period of 30 minutes to an hour. And our employers and suppliers responded and relocated to areas where the land was less expensive, and we followed them.

How does your situation look? Do you also spend about 30 minutes to one hour changing your location? What are your general thoughts on the topic of mobility today?

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