Navigating transformation: Sustainable Mobility and Public Spaces in the Austrian Context


  • Lisa Gallian TU Wien
  • Barbara Laa TU Wien


governance, Sustainable Urban Planning, public space, sustainable transformation, transport




The rise in harmful greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation, especially road traffic, is a significant environmental concern. In Austria, the transportation sector poses a big challenge for the environment, contributing to about 30% of the total GHG emissions in 2019 (Anderl et al., 2020) and increased emissions since 1990. Beyond just emissions, the conversation on sustainable transport must include historic developments, how our society and economy have transformed due to the widespread use of cars in the 20th century.

Although some academics still promote solely technological solutions such as electric vehicles or e-fuels to counter climate change, there is widespread acknowledgement across disciplines that the transport system has to change fundamentally, in line with a social-ecological transformation (e.g. Brand and Wissen, 2017). Despite these shifts in academic discourse and planning practices, global trends still reflect an increase in motorization and private car mobility, with limited implementation of transformative policies in most countries.

In this study, we look specifically at the role of public space in sustainable mobility and analyze the institutional conditions for a social-ecological transformation. Public space is an essential interface for different disciplines to meet current challenges and negotiating and balancing different interests. While for decades street spaces in many cities and regions were planned exclusively for motorized individual traffic, pedestrians and cyclists were put together to the remaining public space. To redesign public space for sustainable mobility modes, social interaction, and attractive places to stay, it must be reclaimed through forward-thinking urban and transport planning in terms of systemic change through local action.

We address the following research questions: (1) What institutional conditions exist in Austria when it comes to social-ecological transformation of public spaces and how do they influence local implementation?, (2) What key barriers and leverage points can be derived for a social-ecological transformation of public spaces?, (3) What recommendations for action result for politics, planning and administration?

The research questions aim to explore the rules and conditions in Austria that either help or hinder these transformations in public spaces. Institutional conditions in mobility tend to be complex and context dependent. Studies of institutions help to gain a better understanding of how they shape the behavior of actors and how political, economic, or social systems function. We draw from institutional theory to understand and explain organizational and individual action and therefore for (institutional) change. According to Karlsson et al. (2020), the identification of institutional factors - which can have either obstructive or beneficial effects - must consider different levels of analysis: macro, meso, and micro. While the macro level encompasses broader societal and political factors, the meso level consists of private actors and various formal organizations operating under different jurisdictions, from regional public transportation authorities to municipal planning departments.

Methodologically, our analysis is divided into three different approaches: a focus group with professionals from the mobility sector, an extensive literature review covering scientific, legal, and planning documents, and guideline interviews with experts who have been involved in seven different case studies. The expected outcomes aim to provide nuanced insights into institutional conditions, identify key barriers and leverage points, and offer practical recommendations for transforming public spaces in Austria.


Anderl, M., Geiger, K., Gugele, B., Gössl, M., et al. (2020). Klimaschutzbericht 2020. Umweltbundesamt. Umweltbundesamt. Wien.

Brand, U., & Wissen, M. (2017). Social-ecological transformation. International encyclopedia of geography, 1-9.

Karlsson, I. C. M., Mukhtar-Landgren, D., Smith, G., et al. (2020). Development and implementation of Mobility-as-a-Service – A qualitative study of barriers and enabling factors. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 131, 283-295. doi: 10.1016/j.tra.2019.09.028