Ford's City of Tomorrow
Ford’s rendering of a future City of Tomorrow. Analysts suggest autonomous driving, connectivity and electrification will help create more than 100,000 industry jobs in the next decade, including up to 30,000 jobs for engineers with degrees based in computer-related subjects.

How to Reboot Urban Planning

There’s a ton of job potential in mobility and city planning, but some argue the current training isn’t tailored enough to address the challenges we’ll face 5, 10 or 15 years from now. Could “mobility engineers” be the answer?

If we want to solve things like traffic, bike safety and transit deserts, we need a new type of city planner—someone who understands how people move. On this episode of the No Parking Podcast, Argo AI CEO and co-founder Bryan Salesky and I talk to one of the true experts in urban transportation.

Jessica Robinson is one of the most popular and well-respected people in the mobility space. She co-founded the Detroit Mobility Lab and Assembly Ventures and chairs the Michigan Mobility Institute.

In a world of armchair theorists, Jessica is the real deal. She was one of car-share pioneer Zipcar’s marketing managers 10 years before “mobility” captured the Zeitgeist, after which she became director of Ford City Solutions, now known as Ford Smart Mobility.

Most importantly, she’s an avid cyclist. I wouldn’t trust anyone to solve urban mobility unless they’ve ridden a bicycle next to traffic in an unprotected bike lane.

Jessica Robinson is the Chair of the Michigan Mobility Institute, which is establishing a Master of Mobility Degree through Wayne State University. (Submitted)

“We really have two problems today,” Jessica said of the mobility field. “One is we see not enough people entering the industry. We also see those that have been around for some time, or even new entrants, don’t have the skills they need to be successful for the types of jobs we see in the future.”

The challenges aren’t limited to public officials. Jessica saw problems with private mobility investments long before I did, and she wasn’t afraid to say it: “I think scooters have shown that there was a need that wasn’t being met. I don’t think the current form of deployment is going to stick around. I don’t think anyone likes piles of scooters on their corner.”

One of her solutions is a partnership between the Michigan Mobility Institute and Wayne State University to offer an 18-month Master of Mobility engineering degree starting in 2021.

“If you look back in history, we did not have mechanical engineers before we had steam engines. We did not have aerospace engineers before people flew,” she said. “What we’re hearing from employers is they want people that understand the context of what they’re designing and driving, and we think that’s through mobility engineering.”

Jessica said she believes there’s the potential for “tremendous” job creation as the industry evolves.

“For everyday workers we need to support fleets, autonomous delivery or otherwise,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re developing that training to help people take those new jobs as well.”

Hear their full conversation here or wherever you get your favorite podcasts.

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