Passeggiata Nuova: Social Travel in the Era of the Smartphone

Mondschein, Andrew
Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management. New York University. Working Paper. October 10, 2011

Italians have engaged in the tradition of the “passeggiata” for centuries. In villages and neighborhoods, residents come out each evening to stroll. On these strolls, they see and are seen, and they exchange pleasantries, gossip, and news. Today, however, a new, decentralized kind of passeggiata may be arising, thanks to high levels of mobility and the unprecedented availability of location-based information through mobile devices and other information technologies (IT).

As social networking accelerates, and individuals share ever more information with their community, the inclusion of location in that mix will facilitate a decentralized passeggiata where community members continually meet up across the city to reinforce the ties initially made through social networking. This travel will take advantage of the relatively high levels of mobility, whether by car or transit, available to many city dwellers. This research reviews the literature of several disciplines into order to understand information technologies’ potential effect on travel behavior. The review suggests that such technologies may encourage an increase in social travel, or at least a change in social travel patterns. A 2007 Chicago-area travel survey is used to test the hypothesis that availability of information technologies would result in an increase in non-work, social trips to places beyond what would normally be considered an individual’s “home range.”Results, while preliminary, do indicate a positive relationship between a particular type of information technology, the cellphone, and social travel across longer distances, and to neighborhoods on the edge of urban core. Further, the use of cellphones appears to have a particular effect on the location of walk trips, facilitating pedestrian social and recreational activities a long way from home.

The influence of social networking platforms and location information on activity and travel behavior represents a further evolution in the structure of cities and their role in people’s lives, facilitating ever more complex and flexible patterns of activity through the urban milieu. Expanded social travel presents planners with opportunities to energize less-known and potentially neglected parts of a region, as well as the challenges of sustainably providing access between all parts of that region.