Ground transportation and climate change

A one-day conference exploring the future of land-based transportation.

November 3, 2018
10:00 a.m.

Transportation: Connection and its costs

How do we imagine transportation futures at a time of climate change? The Five Thousand Pound Life: Transportation explores the relationships between different forms of mobility and climate change by asking scholars and practitioners to unpack the varying relationships between mobility, development patterns, and energy use. We hope to achieve not only deeper understanding of the impact of existing transportation modes, but also projections of less carbon-intensive, more inclusive transport futures.

Learn more about the Five Thousand Pound Life project, and view past events on aviation and sea shipping.

Overview of Connection and its costs: Land

The current discourse surrounding mobility, the movement of goods, and cities is focused on convenience and mode rather than considering the production of greenhouse gases. This conference will look at radical changes happening in urban transportation through the lens of their potential climate change impacts.

In New York, a 24/7 subway system, citywide bus network, growing web of bike lanes, and dense, walkable neighborhoods provide New Yorkers with personal transportation options that minimize the production of greenhouse gases. Still, according to the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, transportation accounted for 29.9% of the city’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. On-road vehicles also emit particulates and other air pollutants such as nitrogen and sulfur oxides, which contribute to asthma rates and premature mortality. The City is working to identify opportunities for further emissions reductions from cars and trucks to achieve New York’s goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80% by 2050.

Advocates for new technologies such as driverless vehicles, electric cars, and digital applications claim that they are responding to climate change imperatives, but these claims need to be further examined. Do new options for personal mobility such as scooters, electric bicycles, and ride-hailing services truly impact the production of greenhouse gases? Are these technologies limited to certain communities of wealth? How can the movement of goods to and in the city be more energy efficient? And what kinds of ideas are architects bringing to the discussion?

This conference will engage scholars and practitioners in questions about the future of land-based transportation. The League is also organizing a Mobility Innovation series that will engage innovators and entrepreneurs to address themes raised in the conference.

The conference has been organized with the assistance of Jesse LeCavalier and Daniel Aldana Cohen.

Conference schedule

10:00 a.m.

Rosalie Genevro
Executive Director, The Architectural League of New York

10:10 a.m.

Anthony Townsend
Transportation consultant, author of Autonomous Vehicles: Future Scenarios for Cities, in partnership with the National League of Cities, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the Aspen Institute Center for Urban Innovation, and Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia.

10:50 a.m.–12:20 p.m.
Personal mobility and New York City
Rapid innovation is taking place in the autonomous, shared, and electric vehicles sectors, at the same time that New York’s public transportation systems are suffering service declines brought about by deferred maintenance and inadequate investment. What are the implications for the future mobility of New Yorkers? Who benefits and who loses as new technologies take hold in the city? What are the environmental impacts? Presentations by Jennifer Roberton, transit policy advisor in the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability; Bruce Schaller, Schaller Consulting; and Mimi Sheller, Director of the Center for Mobilities Research and Policy, Drexel University, and author of Mobility Justice: Politics of Movement in an Age of Extremes. Session moderated by sociologist Daniel Aldana Cohen of the University of Pennsylvania, author of the recent white paper “Climate Justice and the Right to the City.”

Lunch break

1:00 p.m.–2:30 p.m.
The movement of goods
The movement from place-based retail to online distribution has dramatically affected global consumption patterns and the transportation systems that undergird them. What are the implications for land use, labor, and the environment? Presentations by Adam Lomasney, Senior Project Manager, Ports and Transportation, New York City Economic Development Corporation, and Steve Viscelli, Senior Fellow, Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, University of Pennsylvania and author, The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream. Session moderated by designer Jesse LeCavalier of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, author of The Rule of Logistics: Walmart and the Architecture of Fulfillment.

2:45 p.m.–4:45 p.m.
The architectural response

Autopia 2.0? A cautionary tale from the United States of the Automobile
Gabrielle Esperdy
In the 21st century, urbanists are rightly studying the ways that electric and autonomous vehicles might transform our cities, but seemingly every technological advance also prompts waves of overblown rhetoric about the brave new urban world that will soon be upon us thanks to extended battery range and self-driving software. Such technofuturist euphoria has a decidedly familiar ring, and these uncanny echoes of earlier debates suggest that now might be a good time for some historical perspective. Architectural and urban historian Gabrielle Esperdy will take a look in the rearview mirror to scrutinize the way the automobile influenced urban form and urban thought in the middle of the 20th century, with reference to projects both realized and visionary and a focus on how architects and planners theorized the transformative power of mobility. Esperdy is an associate professor of architecture at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Her new book, American Autopia, examines how the automobile shaped midcentury architectural and urban discourse in the United States (forthcoming 2019).

The space of the street
What possibilities open up if we can recapture the space of the street for living instead of for vehicles? Designers and planners including Amina Hassen of WXY Architecture, Urban Design and Planning, Adam Frampton of Only If Architecture, Oliver Schaper of Gensler, and Sabina Uffer of Buro Happold present projects that address emerging opportunities for changing the way we use our streets.

5:00 p.m.–6:00 p.m.


The Five Thousand Pound Life: Transportation is organized by The Architectural League of New York and co-sponsored by the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.

This project is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

The Five Thousand Pound Life is also supported by Oldcastle Glass.