Mobilities Turn

“To remain stationary in these times of change, when all the world is on the move, would be a crime.”

Thomas Cook 1854, (Urry 2007, p. 14)

The world is on the move. Thomas Cook (1808-1892), the founder of the travel agency Thomas Cook & son, said it as a slogan for his time, and the world has kept on moving since. At the time of Cook, people in the US travelled on average 50 metres per day. Nowadays an American travels on average 50 kilometres per day. Citizens of the world move 23 billion kilometres; by 2050, it is predicted to increase to 106 billion kilometres (Urry 2007). Everything moves nowadays; business people, students, holidaymaker, refugees, asylum seekers, backpackers, sports stars and so on, as well as information, gods and foods. Everyone expect fresh bananas in the grocery store in the middle of the Northern winter and the latest news in the TV showing live pictures from the other side of the world. The movement of entities from A to B is essential for the society, which planners have been aware of for a long time. The Enlightened planners wanted to create a city that function like a healthy body with freely flowing entities (Urry 2007). Mobilities has become culture, which means mobility is not only rational and technical systems that move entities around. This knowledge leads to the ‘mobilities turn’ saying that mobilities is much more than just movement (Jensen, 2014). Designing mobilities are not only a question of creating ‘the healthy body’, but also an examination of what happens in the flow of people. Mobilities are both linked to issues such as social norms, culture and identity, as well as the instrumental acts of structuring flows of traffic (Jensen 2014).

The Danish novelist, H.C. Andersen (1805-1875), wrote in his self-biography in 1855 that ‘to travel is to live’ (Andersen 1975). This quote has become a mantra for many people, as it focus on all the experience that will shape you as human when you travel. Travel affords meeting new culture, which will broaden the perspective of life and culture. Zygmunt Bauman (1925-) argues that an image of the mobile nomad is the vagabond and the tourist. They both travel through other people’s spaces without taking active part of the local everyday life. They have their own code of practice and set their own standards for happiness (Urry 2007). The difference between the two types of nomad is that the vagabond is moving without a destination, whereas the tourist pay for the freedom to disregard local concern and feelings (Urry 2007). It seems that movement creates a feeling of freedom and broader the perspective of the travellers, but is it the same case with everyday movement? Kevin Lynch (1918-1984) summarizes in the book ‘Good City Life’ the cost of person transportation:

“The common emphasis on the cost of travel reflects the underlying assumption that travel is sheer waste time, an unproductive factor like leather trimmings or coffee break. Supposedly everyone hates it, unlike the coffee break. Yet driving for pleasure is the most common form of outdoor recreation in the United States. A pleasant trip in good company through a fine landscape is a positive experience. We might think of travel as a pleasure, rather than a brief and necessary evil.”

Kevin Lynch (Lynch 1981, p. 194)

Lynch is pointing at the same problems and potentials as ‘the mobilities turn’. He argues to introduce scenic qualities to the everyday movement (Lynch, 1981). Georg Simmel (1858-1918) postulates that the humans seek adventures. The humans are willing to put itself through danger to experience the panoramic view. Adventures occur when the human being is out of the usual continuity of the life. The life in the cities have become ‘too easy’, so the citizens have to travel outside the city to places of adventure to experiencing a body that might come to life. Simmel talks about a ‘body in motion’ as the state where the humans become natural and get to know the nature. The adventure makes it possible for the body to escape the blasé attitude (Urry 2007). Simmel summarise; “we are adventurers of the earth”; but these adventures only appear when tensions “have become so violent that they gain mastery over the material through which they realise themselves” (Urry 2007, 25). Both Simmel and Lynch point at a need redevelop the life in the cities – to make scenic movement that though activation the body creates an everyday adventure. The big question is how?


Andersen, H. (1975). The fairy tale of my life. New York: Paddington Press.

Jensen, O. (2014). Designing mobilities.

Lynch, K. (1981). A theory of good city form. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Urry, J. (2007). Mobilities. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

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