about: a brief history
Transportation is at a crossroads, not only in the Detroit region but worldwide. With the accelerating pace of urbanization, population growth, globalization, and demographic shifts, our transportation activities already seriously threaten our climate, our environment, biodiversity, energy security, social equity, productivity, and urban competitiveness.
Meanwhile current transportation systems are becoming less effective at supporting us in meeting our daily personal and business needs. Those with cars spend increasing amounts of time sitting in congested traffic and increasing amounts of money to pay and care for them, and those without cars (including a rapidly growing aging population) suffer decreasing access to the necessities of life, faced with a sprawling, car-based infrastructure and no other available or feasible options. Those both with and without cars breathe increasingly bad air.
Many proposed solutions do not fully address transportation’s complex human, physical, and political context. For example, alternative fuels alone, while focused on environmental concerns, do not address the land-use, health (e.g., obesity), water-quality, or safety implications of auto-based solutions. Pricing mechanisms alone as a disincentive to car use without providing affordable alternatives only add to the economic burdens of the working poor and elders on fixed incomes.
The Birth of SMART
Deep concern about these trends prompted Carl Simon of the Center for the Study of Complex Systems, along with John Sullivan, Irving Salmeen, and the late Kenneth Haas of Ford Motor Company to address the "sustainable mobility challenge". That is, "to ensure that future generations have access to adequate mobility resources to meet their needs and aspirations while maintaining the health, integrity, and resilience of supporting environmental and social systems." Simon and colleagues brought to this challenge the methodological discipline and tools of complex adaptive systems, namely, to explore how complex adaptive systems thinking might shed light on the increasingly complex challenge of transportation in this emerging context.
They initiated a number of modeling studies, and over time the group connected with Thomas Gladwin (of the University of Michigan's Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise) who brought a global business and environment perspective to the dialogue. Together, assisted by Moira Zellner (then a doctoral candidate, now a SMART member representing the University of Illinois-Chicago) and Nicholas Cucinelli (then an MBA/MS candidate, now CEO of Octillion Corp.), they organized a university-wide conference on transportation and complex systems in June 2003. At this event, the need to connect to the urban and regional context for transportation became clear, and Douglas Kelbaugh and Jonathan Levine of the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning joined with the group to collaborate in the organization of a second conference, "From Mobility to Accessibility," in February 2004.
A Risky Undertaking
Between these two conferences, Simon, Gladwin and Sullivan proposed that CARSS aid the elaboration of what they saw as a “risky undertaking”. In their description, few have ventured to approach sustainable transportation at the multi-scale and dynamic coupled systems level being proposed. As we discovered while seeking support for our first workshop, few foundations and industry representatives are ready to consider an integrated, systematic, long-run approach. Our initiative risked spinning its wheels. So CARSS leadership and staffing facilitated our way forward through a risky “incubation” period of exploring and then clarifying SMART’s objective, building a sustainable collaboration between researchers and reflective practitioners in business and industry, and funding a period of time to demonstrate the power of an integrated, systematic approach.
SMART as Catalyst
What was notable from the June 2003 workshop was the convergence of “new urbanism” perspectives—as articulated, for instance, by Kelbaugh—and “new mobility”— illustrated by Susan Zielinski and the “Moving the Economy” initiative that she then led in Toronto. CARSS urged the initial leadership group to invite Kelbaugh and subsequently Levine into the leadership group. CARSS director David Featherman also encouraged the project to bring Zielinski, an accomplished urban planner, to Ann Arbor as the “chief operating officer” and a professional colleague of the fledgling program. Zielinski joined the project and the CARSS staff in December 2004 as Managing Director of the SMART program.
With Zielinski as a catalyzing agent and with financial support from Ford Motor Company (in particular through new SMART member David Berdish of Ford Motor Company) and from the National Science Foundation Human and Social Dynamics Program, this growing trans-disciplinary leadership group adopted an overarching goal to catalyze systematic and fundamental transformations of mobility / accessibility systems consistent with a sustainable human future. The key aim of the work has been to uncover a set of “tipping points” along with integrated (not single fix) solutions that guide the evolution of such systems toward environmental, social, and economic sustainability. This systems approach to the dynamic, diverse, and interdependent problems of sustainable mobility and accessibility aims to address not only technology, but also human and social dynamics, economics, government policy, and environmental issues in an integrated, balanced, and objective way.
More recently, SMART has refined its geographical scope to “global urban regions,” recognizing that the world’s population is not only aging demographically (already in many world regions and on the verge of doing so in many others) but it also is increasingly urbanized. Thus a major concentration of the “sustainable mobility challenge” is to address an increasingly urbanized and hence increasingly complex and multi-faceted context.
City projects in Michigan and around the world have continued to gather momentum, as has SMART’s research collaborative and sustainable transportation research agenda. Some progress is also being made on new educational opportunities related to SMART themes. This is all within a context of a growing SMART learning and doing community both across all related departments and institutes at the University of Michigan, and with partners around the world.