‘Sticky Flows’ and ‘Productive Frictions’: Untangling the Mechanisms of Street Urbanism

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Streets are the ultimate ‘places of movement.’ Adopting a mobility perspective on street urbanism, this paper analyzes how the interaction of movement, places, and people explains the range of activities and socioeconomic opportunities supported by the streets of Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam). The context is one of a tangible transition from motorbike to car mobility. This paper aims at identifying mobility-specific mechanisms through which a mobility transition brings about sociospatial change. Mixed methods served to analyze data collected through participant observations, video recordings of street life, and interviews with street users. The results show a consubstantial relationship between today’s dominant motorbike mobility and vibrant street activity. In contrast, car mobility is negatively correlated with street life. Motorbike mobility is characterized as a ‘sticky flow’ – low speed, thickness, and propensity to seep in and out of the curb. It is argued that such flow is conducive to ‘productive frictions’ between movement and the built environment. By connecting people on the move and people in places, these frictions play a significant role in the production of streets as integrative spaces of opportunities. The mobility transition in HCMC is one towards fewer and fewer points of productive frictions in the urban space.
Mobility, Street Urbanism, Ho Chi Minh City