Driverless cars are part of the new digital age: sophisticated
software makes them autonomous and lets us order them on command. Urban
and suburban residents won’t have to own cars when a large pool of
vehicles can circulate throughout the city based on demand, making for
much more efficient use of the cars.
Most notably, cars
wouldn’t be driven for a couple of hours and then left parked for 20+
hours every day. This could completely transform the need for street or
underground parking and allow us to rethink all the current “dead”
parking spaces. More efficient vehicle use could also mean we won’t need
the same number of multi-lane highways running through our city
downtowns. Like with parking spaces, these newly liberated lanes could
be repurposed for green space—parks, urban farms, trees to cool our
Imagine only one or two lanes of New York City or
London’s avenues being used. Imagine the multiple ring roads of Beijing
or Mexico City down to a few well-circulating lanes. More efficient,
better-coordinated traffic could surely be a major step in making
downtown areas much more livable. A recent paper by London development
planner Stelios Rodoulis predicts that not only would there be lower
emissions levels, there would be less clutter, fewer signs, no street
parking … all this new space could be rethought to dramatically improve
inner city living.
The barriers to this future city are less
technological than social. And just like with the advent of the car,
there will be exciting opportunities but also countless unforeseen
challenges. But the prospect is exciting.
For example, the
repurposed space could make room for additional housing that is denser
and taller to accommodate the more than 2 billion new urban residents
expected in the next 35 years. Neighborhoods could be rethought in
ensure they are walkable and cycle-friendly, and provide connectivity on
a much more human (not car!) scale. Carlo Ratti of MIT’s Senseable City Lab suggests that we could use large parts of the new space to
build much needed parks and public spaces.
We could also grow
more food in downtown areas that were previously dedicated to parked
cars, which would reduce some of our current distribution requirements,
and thus reduce miles traveled by trucks. We could plant more trees to
create better shade and help filter pollution and fine particles,
creating healthier neighborhoods.
We could plant green
infrastructure, such as bio-swales and rain gardens, to help manage
polluted urban storm water run-off, improving urban resilience. And we
could make sure that cities are places where both nature and people
thrive, including biodiversity corridors that help wildlife navigate
through the city rather than view it as an obstacle.