Barcelona and Covid-19 era: where does virtual mobility win over human (im)mobility?

By Fiammetta Brandajs from Universitat Rovira i Virgili

The current COVID-19 crisis is boosting online activity – everything is increasingly shifting to the digital sphere including mobility.
Which urban areas are most resilient to physical break in mobility?

The latest studies by theorists from different disciplines analyze the bidirectional relationship which links mobilities to digital technology as enabling infrastructure for human mobilities on a large and local scale; as multiplier agent people’s mobile practices; and as an articulating factor of social, physical, mental, and financial relations. Therefore, the ways in which technologies reshape everyday activities and interpersonal relations, as well as connections with others and connections with the wider world, provides a predictive insight into the geographies of the social gap which emerge at territorial level by mapping out “hyper-mobilized” territories rich in technological components that contrast with others “hypo-mobilized” that are poor in functions, and little considered by both public administrations and private investments. This has become increasingly topical with the outbreak of COVID-19, as physical immobility has strongly fostered virtual mobility, revealing a wide disparity among populations in which those with higher income are able to access technology that can ensure work continues digitally during social isolation.

The attempt to analyze the digital disparities within the municipal boundaries of Barcelona is based on the analysis of the synthetic index (Digital Mobility Index), which evaluates both trends in citizens’ usage of technological and digital services and key variables which define the underlying socio-demographic structure of digital development. Finally, a focus on the resulting interdependencies between corporeal and digital mobilities/immobilities based on the study of the mobility of the population during the period of the state of alert.

Key findings

The resulting geographical configuration is illustrated in the two figures below:

 

Figure 1aDigital Mobility Index and Socio-Demographic Digital Propensity, Barcelona city

Figure 1b Physical Mobility during Covid-19 outbreak in March 2020, Barcelona city

 

Figure 1a

  • The neighborhoods of the Ciutat Vella district, the most cosmopolitan areas of the city that attract the most tourists, stand out with high Digital Mobility Index values supported by the general high Socio-Demographic Propensity Index value as expected due to a multiplicity of factors such as strong population renewal thanks to ‘globals’ and the ‘mobile population’, who are skilled, networked, and have purchasing power; a mainly tourist-oriented economy that is currently technology-based (hospitality platforms, etc.).
  • There are some constants throughout the urban territory and neighborhoods that seem to have incorporated more than others the idea of mobility through the digital environment in a transversal way by encompassing all its variables. These include the vast area of the most privileged neighborhoods of the north-west and south-east axis (coastline), which are the best equipped and most active in the network.

Figure 1b

  • The neighborhoods of the old town move from a high ranking from a digital point of view to the first displacement category in physical mobility during Covid-19 outbreak. This has highlighted the economic monoculture linked almost exclusively to tourism which has turned them almost totally physically immobile territories.
  • The north-west the areas and the coastline neighborhoods, other top-ranked digital mobility territories that are almost totally immobilized during Covid-19 outbreak suggesting a labor mobility supported by a technological substitution.

Conclusions

The immobility caused by COVID-19 has underlined that those who used to move the most physically are now those who move the least, replacing most of their activities with virtual ones since their mobile lifestyle never fully connected them with the surrounding territory, placing them on an almost self-sufficient technological island.

See full paper: https://doi.org/10.3390/info12100421

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