Cities across the globe are facing diverse challenges related to development but many strive for the shared goal of achieving environmental and social sustainability with compact urban form and high accessibility, lower segregation and better social equity. For this reason, there has been a long-standing interest in understanding how cities and societies function, how they form, and how their future growth and development can be modelled using systematic computational approaches.
Why accessibility? One of the most important and widely used conceptual and analytical tools to understand the functioning of cities and the wealth of issues related to developing our urban environments is the concept of accessibility. Accessibility binds together issues of land use, transportation and socio-economic aspects which all constitute factors that can either enable or hamper (planning of) a good and sustainable future. Accessibility has been widely used as a tool to understand the abilities of people to move in cities by different travel modes at different times of the day (i.e. How much time it takes to reach a destination?). Accessibility, as a measure of opportunity, plays a key role in assessing how equitable our urban or rural environments are for different groups of people. Hence, the notion of accessibility has long been an important tool for planning, as equity and social justice are acknowledged as basic human rights by United Nations.
Novel data fosters new insights. With the current ‘Big Data’ paradigm, new sources of data can be mobilized to produce a more in-depth understanding of cities, urban processes, and how people can move and access places. Developments in information and communication technologies (ICT) have dramatically improved our capability to analyze various social phenomena as vast amounts of data is continuously being gathered describing different processes in the society. These processes does not only make it possible to study the dynamics of our living environment in-depth from various perspectives including transportation, social and human–environment interactions, but also foster better planning in “smart cities”. For example, social media data can be used to understand the social realities and attitudes of the citizens in cities.
Putting modal equity on research agenda. The lack of information about how equitable cities are by different transport modes has been widely recognized. Scientists and planners are also missing generic and practical tools to analyze equity based on multiple travel modes. Understanding how equitable cities are for citizens having unequal access to different travel modes is crucial: it enables to evaluate the fairness of prevalent planning practices, and adjust them accordingly if needed. Comparative international studies can help to increase our understanding about the role of modal equity in the development of good and functional cities.