Geographical Perspectives of Active Mobility Policy and Behavior-Changing Subjects


  • Zayra Castillo Hafencity University Hamburg


behavioural insights, Active mobility, SUMP, sustainable mobility, policy diffusion, developing country context




Cities can help citizens make environmentally-friendly choices by making those choices more convenient and less burdensome. They can also encourage changes in social behavior to promote low-carbon practices. Behavioral change is seen as a strategy to address emission reduction targets, and policy instruments are considered crucial for achieving these changes. The importance of policy shifts has been highlighted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2022) and academic research. However, challenges remain in reducing emissions, especially in the transport sector where private car dominance is a major obstacle. Nevertheless, there is a growing awareness that city design should prioritize pedestrian-friendly environments, which are essential for urban success. To achieve this, cities are shifting away from cars and providing other mobility options, such as active mobility, which includes walking and cycling for functional purposes (Brown et al., 2016).

This study focuses on the collective subject and examines how cities can influence low-carbon behaviors, bringing together perspectives of social practice and Foucault's concept of "the conduct of conduct"(1982). It also explores the relationship between policy initiatives and related multi-level governance strategies. The research uses an analytical framework developed by Dowling et al. (2018), they created a threefold typology to categorize behavior change initiatives based on their constituted subject. Furthermore, this research employs a multi-case study approach. It focuses on active mobility frontrunner cities in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. The research uses geographical perspectives. It follows an information-oriented approach to select the cities. The cities are Hamburg, New York, Bogota, and Singapore. The analysis includes a qualitative content analysis of Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs) from each case study city. This provides insights into policy initiatives aimed at reducing car dependence and promoting active mobility to achieve emissions reduction goals. The study also examines the governable subjects targeted by these initiatives and their linkage with specific levels of governance. Comparing and contrasting the results across the case studies sheds light on the dynamics of behavior change. It does so in the context of evolving transport policies and the active mobility revolution. The study emphasizes the role of governance in shaping urban settings through laws and policies. It adds nuance to understanding how cities can make low-carbon behavior changes. It also sheds light on policy capacities in guiding urban mobility transitions.


Brown, V., Diomedi, B. Z., Moodie, M., Veerman, J. L., & Carter, R. (2016). A systematic review of economic analyses of active transport interventions that include physical activity benefits. Transportation Policy, 45, 190-208. DOI: 10.1016/j.tranpol.2015.10.003

Dowling, R., Mc Guirk, P., & Bulkeley, H. (2018). Governing Carbon Conduct and Subjects: Insights from Australian cities. In A. Luque-Ayala, S. Marvin, & H. Bulkeley (Eds.), Rethinking urban transitions: Politics in the low carbon city (pp. 184–202). Routledge, an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group.

Foucault, M. (1982). The Subject and Power. Critical Inquiry, 8(4), 777–795. (Accessed: 14 November 2023).

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2022). Sixth Assessment Report: Mitigation of climate change. Working Group III (Sixth Assessment Report). International Panel on Climate Change.