Category Archives: Write-ups

Write-up of past events or experiences related to transport geography.

‘On demand: Cultural economies of access and ownership’ (RGS-IBG Session write up)

This write up by Brendan Doody (University of Cambridge) and Lizzie Richardson (Durham University) is about the TGRG sponsored session ‘On demand: Cultural economies of access and ownership’ which took place at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2016.

The session ‘On demand: Cultural economies of access and ownership’ was organised by Brendan Doody (University of Cambridge) and Lizzie Richardson (Durham University). This theoretically and empirically diverse session was well attended and attracted an equally varied audience which included social, cultural, environmental, economic and transport geographers. This diversity is reflective of the way in which the ‘sharing’, ‘collaborative’, ‘gig’ or ‘access’ economy is challenging, renegotiating and reworking the ways in which resources are consumed and used across various sectors. In this ‘post-ownership’ story, citizen-consumers are increasingly paying to access goods and services ‘on-demand’, which may be ‘shared’ with other users.

The original call for papers encouraged participants to question and complicate the narrative of ‘post-ownership’ to describe trends associated with the sharing economy. More specifically, it encouraged participants to reflect on three related concerns:

  1. To what extent does access query normative understandings of, and practices associated with, ownership?
  2. What are the implications for access for the qualities and/or quantities of resource usage?
  3. How are emotional and ethical attachments realised through everyday negotiations of access and flexibilities of demand?

Each of the five speakers explored one or more of these concerns drawing on different empirical and conceptual resources.

Brendan Doody and Lizzie Richardson’s paper ‘The urban life of demand’ employed the notion of demand as a way of thinking about the changing nature and intensities of life in the city. Drawing on a range of examples they examined four aspects of experience associated with the city ‘on-demand’: 1) circulation; 2) logistics; 3) authenticity; and 4) familiarity. In the case of familiarity, they noted how as many of these platforms become part of the mundane urban landscape they are creating both senses of connection and disconnection in the city. For example, the growth of and universality of platforms such as Uber provide users with familiar senses and experiences of movement even in cities they have only just arrived in. Meanwhile platforms such as Airbnb and Vrumi where individuals hire rooms or people’s houses either for accommodation or workspaces are rendering once private havens somewhat unfamiliar as users co-occupy these spaces. Overall, the aim of the paper was to provide a preliminary sketch of the city ‘on-demand’ as a way of opening up more debate and discussion.

Robyn Dowling (University of Sydney) and Jennifer Kent’s (University of Sydney) paper explored ‘What does it mean to share a car?’ Drawing on interviews conducted in Sydney, Australia and their earlier work they used a social practice lens to examine meanings, materialities and skills involved in private car-sharing. Interestingly, they noted that a significant attraction of these services for some participants is that a number of parking spaces in central Sydney have been allocated exclusively for these vehicles. Thus using these schemes reflects an unwillingness to share public parking infrastructure. Moreover, these shared vehicles become users own personal spaces and reflecting this people do not want to know who has been in the car before them. Previous users often leave, however, various material traces (i.e., radio station, seat position, rubbish) and thus Dowling and Kent stressed the skills or ‘work’ involved in dealing with these issues. Their paper in this way questioned whether private car-sharing enterprises should be understood simply as forms of collaborative consumption as they also entail varying degrees of exclusivity.

Benedikt Schmid’s (University of Luxembourg) paper ‘Diverse economic organizations: Logics, access and ownership’ drew on ethnographic fieldwork conducted at Hobbyhimmel, an open workshop based in Stuttgart, Germany. For a small fee this non-profit organisation offers participants interested in crafts, art, repair, recycling and upcycling the opportunity to access different work spaces which are set-up with a range of equipment, appliance and tools and other forms of support (e.g., instructions, courses and encouragement). Drawing on theories of practice and institutional logics, Schmid explored the diverse materials, meanings, skills and logics underpinning these alternative economic practices highlighting the ways in which they both challenge and reproduce more traditional economic practices.

Gareth Powells  (Newcastle University) paper interrogated: ‘The shared grid: Materially connected demands and the new deals for energy’. He drew particular attention to the challenge that managing the late afternoon/evening peak (1600-2000) in electricity use presents for energy suppliers in the UK. In the past this peak has been managed on the supply side by reinforcing electricity network. More recently there has been growing political and commercial interest in managing demand as the increased range and diversity of sources of electricity generation will make it less predictable and controllable. Drawing on preliminary research in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK, Powells explored customers’ views on shifting from unit to service-based agreements with their energy company. Under this model, customers would potentially pay for services such as comfort (i.e., a home heated to 18-22 degrees) rather than the amount of energy they use and could be rewarded for flexibility when there is load limited supply. The paper is illustrative accordingly of how the UK energy sector is gradually moving away from its traditional logic of efficiency to one of sufficiency.

Lizzie Richardson’s (Durham University) paper ‘Consuming the workplace: Demand and work representation’ considered some of the connections between demand and work that are opened up by practices of ‘mobile working’ afforded by digital technologies. Drawing on ongoing research funded by the RGS-IBG and now the Leverhulme Trust, the paper outlined the apparently contradictory trend in which the form of work – its organisational structure- tends towards increased labour market flexibility/insecurity (e.g., ‘gig economy’ jobs), whilst the substance of work – individual working activity – can tend towards a greater depth and breadth of skills (e.g., the individual flexibility seen in co-working offices).

The session as a whole demonstrated the ways in which geographers can help to question and interrogate extent to which access-based models help to challenge normative understandings of, and practices associated with, ownership, the qualities and/or quantities of resource usage and the emotional and ethical attachments realised through everyday negotiations of access and flexibilities of demand.

GIS for Transport Applications workshop

The TGRG-sponsored ‘GIS for Transport Applications’ workshop took place in Leeds earlier this month. It was was the most popular of all workshops put on as part of the GIS Research UK (#GISRUK) conference. The aim was simple: to showcase and develop the growing expertise of Geographical Information Systems within the Transport Community.

Read below to hear about this event and see links to the free online tutorials developed for it.

Winning map from the ‘GIS4TA’ workshop

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‘Urban and suburban geographies of ageing’

This write up by  Debbie Lager (University of Groningen) and Chiara Negrini (Kingston University) is about the ‘Urban and suburban geographies of ageing’ at the recent conference. The session was sponsored by the Urban Geography Research Group (UGRG) and the Geographies of Health Research Group (GHRG) but many of the presentations and areas of discussion are of particular interest to transport geographers interested in mobility and ageing.

The ‘Urban and suburban geographies of ageing’ double session was sponsored by the Urban Geography Research Group and the Geographies of Health Research Group. It was organised by Debbie Lager, Bettina van Hoven (both University of Groningen), Chiara Negrini (Kingston University) and Tim Schwanen (Oxford University). Both slots were well attended and marked a renewed engagement among geographers with the different socio-spatial configurations and inequalities of later life. The session covered a wide range of topics. The first slot brought together geographers engaged with mobilities and immobilities in old age. In particular, it looked at the transport dimension and the experiences of older people in navigating the outdoor environment. The papers in this slot discussed the meaning and accessibility of suburban and retail environments for older people, conflicting discourses around mobility scooters, urban design and older people’s engagement in cycling activities, the experiences of going outdoors after a recent fall and the challenges of suburban ageing. The second slot discussed a variety of issues around (minority) older adults (i.e., ethnicity and sexual orientation) and urban design, in particular housing and spatial distributions of older populations. Through different theoretical and methodological approaches, the papers in this slot highlighted the diversity in the ageing population’s social and spatial practices.

MOBILITIES AND LIVELIHOODS IN DEVELOPING URBAN CONTEXTS

The TGRG and Developing Areas Research Group (DARG) jointly hosted a three-part session at the RGS-IBG annual conference on mobilities and livelihoods in low income country urban contexts. While this is the first collaborative session between these two research groups, at least in recent years, the wide-ranging discussion generated by the 13 papers presented indicates the value of bringing together researchers whose approach and prime focus may differ, but whose common concern is to understand and contribute towards improving the lives of marginalised residents of rapidly developing urban areas. This write-up, by TGRG chair Karen Lucas, provides detail on each of the 13 talks.

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MOBILE PHONES, MOBILITY AND TRANSPORT IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

Two panel sessions exploring the growing linkages between travel/transport organisation and mobile phones in Africa were held at the African Studies Association biennial conference at Sussex University in September 2014, organised and chaired by Gina Porter from Durham University and sponsored by the DFID-funded Africa Community Access Programme.

The remarkable expansion of mobile phone networks in Africa is bringing a tangible new dimension of connectivity into transport and access equations on the ground: now-feasible interactions between virtual and physical mobility are helping to reshape access potential, even in many hitherto remote areas (especially where linked to the rapid uptake of transportation modes such as the motorcycle-taxi). Phones can cut travel costs and time, reducing the number of long, potentially hazardous road journeys on poor roads in badly maintained vehicles, in regions with among the world’s highest accident rates and where highway robbery and other types of harassment associated with travel may be widespread. Better distance management through phone use may be particularly closely associated with populations with very low disposable incomes, and/or whose physical mobility is limited, for instance by disability, infirmity, age or gender. A write-up of these sessions, by Gina, who will give the keynote Hoyle Lecture speech at next year’s RGS-IBG conference, follow.

Continue reading MOBILE PHONES, MOBILITY AND TRANSPORT IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA