Personal mobility

Experts explore the links between urban transportation systems and climate change.

December 18, 2018

Recorded on November 3, 2018.

Climate change and economic inequality pose immense and inextricable challenges to the United States: How to reimagine the American way of life to address the impacts of global warming, and how to build a new and robust economic structure that offers viable and sustainable livelihoods and lifestyles across the income spectrum for all Americans.

The Five Thousand Pound Life—an Architectural League initiative of public events, digital publications, and a planned design study—is a contribution to what must be a collective effort spanning geographies, generations, occupations, disciplines, and ideologies to address these challenges.

The above video documents one segment of the Architectural League’s 2018 Ground Transportation and Climate Change conference.

Bruce Schaller, in an interview, discusses what is happening on New York’s streets today, including how the advent of services such as Uber and Lyft, the decline in dependability of mass transit, and cultural attitudes about who should control the streets affect the way we move in New York now.

Next, Jennifer Roberton discusses the transportation work of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, including efforts to increase the electrification of transportation and increase the share of city trips made using sustainable modes. Mimi Sheller examines a variety of alternative transportation futures, and suggests the critical questions we need to ask to ensure that new modalities do not simply continue the inequities of existing arrangements.

Daniel Aldana Cohen, who works on the political sociology of climate change, introduces Townsend, Roberton, and Sheller.


Daniel Aldana Cohen is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, where he directs the Socio-Spatial Climate Collaborative, or (SC)2, which investigates the intersection of social and ecological inequalities in the built environment, with an eye to broad public engagement and public policy. His work focuses on the politics of climate change, investigating the intersections of climate change, political economy, inequalities of race and social class, and political projects of elites and social movements in global cities of the North and South. His work on the first per capita map of New Yorkers’ carbon footprint was featured in The Nonstop Metropolis: A New York Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Jonathan Jelly Shapiro.

Jennifer Roberton is a Transportation Policy Advisor for the New York City Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. She is involved in implementing the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability’s transportation portfolio through the lens of reducing citywide greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, as outlined in the “Roadmap to 80×50” and the “1.5 Climate Action Plan.” She also supports New York’s sustainable municipal fleet plan, which includes creating the largest electric vehicle fleet of any US city. Roberton previously worked with planning non-profits in Toronto and for the City of Toronto, where she promoted alternative modes of transportation.

Bruce Schaller researches and consults on transportation policy and operations, with specialized expertise in taxicab and vehicle-for-hire operations and regulation. He has worked throughout North America on projects to improve urban transportation services and enhance the efficiency and sustainability of transportation operations, and co-authored a Transportation Research Board study of emerging mobility services. Schaller served as the New York City Department of Transportation’s Deputy Commissioner for Traffic and Planning (2012–14) and Deputy Commissioner for Planning and Sustainability (2007–11), providing leadership for development and implementation of DOT’s programs for the safe, efficient, and environmentally responsible movement of people and goods on the city’s streets.

Mimi Sheller is a professor of sociology and the founding director of the Center for Mobilities Research and Policy at Drexel University in Philadelphia. She is President of the International Association for the History of Transport, Traffic and Mobility; founding co-editor of the journal Mobilities; and associate editor of Transfers: Interdisciplinary Journal of Mobility Studies. She is author of twelve books, including, most recently, Mobility Justice: The Politics of Movement in an Age of Extremes (Verso, 2018). Sheller has also worked extensively on post-disaster recovery and climate adaptation in the Caribbean.