Martin Emanuel

The biography of a street – a step towards a more sustainable city

You walk down Linnégatan in Gothenburg. Pick up your phone, open an app and the history of the street unfolds. Chalmers researcher Martin Emanuel hopes that this vision soon will become reality and that it will increase the will for change for a more sustainable urban environment.
​Historical knowledge can motivate people to change and make it easier for us to accept changes that will lead to a more sustainable society. Martin Emanuel, researcher at Technology Management and Economics at Chalmers, is convinced.

A rich picture of the street’s development

Through his research, Martin Emanuel wants to paint a rich and nuanced picture of the changes that a street has undergone during one hundred years – the biography of the street. Currently, he studies Linnégatan in central Gothenburg. Quantitative data such as traffic bills and apartment prices are collected, as are photographs from the archives of the Museum of Gothenburg and historical material concerning political decisions and urban construction processes. Together the different sources will map the development of the street.

“As a historian, I can convey a sense of how the street has evolved. This can give insight that more sustainable city traffic solutions have existed than the ones we see today, and raise some thoughts that things could look different.”

Digital platform next step

In the next step, the researchers want to connect the material to a digital platform.

“Possibly an app where you can walk around the city and see how the streets once looked, and how they have changed in terms of character and traffic situation. By making the material available to both decision makers and people in general, we can put questions about sustainable urban mobility in a relevant and tangible context.”

Increase the will for change

When changes in city traffic infrastructure are planned, factors like changes in flow and traffic safety are evaluated. If a broader evaluation is made, that also includes historical insight, the actions and changes made today can be put in a longer time perspective. This will provide a wider basis for decision makers and planners, and can increase the acceptance and willingness to change of people in general, believes Martin Emanuel.

“Such knowledge can make it easier to argue for changes, such as reduced car traffic. As we all know, car traffic has not dominated our cities historically.”
The researchers collect three types of material:
  • Quantitative data such as traffic bills and apartment prices. These tell who could afford to live on the street and give a picture in figures of what the traffic looked like.
  • Traditional historical sources of political decision-making, as well as urban and traffic planning. This material tells, for example, if the street has been widened, whether a bike path or a tram line has been abolished. These sources can also show how other changes, such as a shopping mall opening nearby, may change the character of the street and who moves there.
  • Photographs can show how people actually used the city space, as opposed to plans that tell the imagined future use of a street. By studying photographs, one can also capture details that city and traffic planners did not think about, such as how people bring their goods from the store and home. What did they put on the carrier, how did they carry their things, did the pedestrians stay on the sidewalk?
About the project
The pre-study "Mixed methods for the Biography of a Street" is funded by Chalmers Area of Advance Transport, as part of the area’s focus on the transition to future transport systems. Per Lundin and Martin Emanuel at the Department of Technology Management and Economics participate in the project. For more information contact Martin Emanuel, +46 704 91 43 48.

Text and photo: Emilia Lundgren
Archive photo of Linnégatan: Museum of Gothenburg

Published: Mon 27 Nov 2017. Modified: Thu 30 Nov 2017