Quality of cities, the magazine of the RATP group that shows THE CITY DIFFERENTLY.

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Interview with Sarah M. Kaufman

Sarah M. Kaufman is Adjunct Professor at New York University (NYU). Her expertise as Associate Director of the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation and as an Affiliate of the Future Today Institute makes her a specialist in 21st century mobility.

Can futurism actually predict the future?

S. K. We cannot truly know what is coming. We can only be certain of uncertainty. All we can do is look for signals. Futurists look for how certain developments are forming into trends and how those trends might play out into different scenarios. We then evaluate whether those scenarios are likely or unlikely.


What do the signals suggest about the future of urban mobility?

S. K. Most of the current thinking is focused on the impending arrival of automated vehicles. Humans are very flawed drivers: we don’t respect the speed limit, we run red lights. Automated vehicles are programmed to always obey the rules. With increasing automation, I believe we will have much safer streets. But even in a future of driverless cars, city-dwellers will still need metros and busses. There is very broad agreement around the fact that the world will become increasingly urbanized.

There will be a real need for public mass transportation systems that can efficiently carry millions of people every day. To combat the appeal of having one’s own car, decision-makers in this sector must look for ways to improve the mass transit experience: for example, by providing digital information, entertainment, air conditioning, music and other things that help people enjoy the ride.


"We cannot know what is coming. All we can do is look for signals."

Sarah M. Kaufman,
Adjunct Professor at New York University (NYU)

How has the pandemic affected your thinking on the future of cities?

S. K. There is clearly going to be a post-Covid adjustment period. Right now, there is a lot of noise about how Covid is the end of cities because everyone will work remotely. But cities don’t exist just for working. Cities exist for interactions, for diversity, for culture, for finding enjoyment in the presence and company of other people.

You cannot get these things to the same extent outside of cities. People live in cities. People spend time in cities for many reasons, not just for work. So, I think that the most probable scenario is that cities will have a rough few years, economically, and then people will be back.

You’ve said that you like to give a megaphone to those who need one. Who needs to be better heard today, to create successful cities tomorrow?

S. K. Across the transportation industry, everywhere in the world, diversity at the leadership level needs to be improved. In the United States, women make up less than 20% of executive positions in this industry, and it’s even lower for people of color and for people with disabilities. When these voices aren’t represented in leadership, the transportation systems created cannot adequately serve their needs.

Thankfully, in the US, many cities are now working to have more diverse leadership teams; but the private sector remains largely white and male, here and elsewhere, and that needs to change. We cannot have a singular perspective driving transportation decisionmaking.

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