Home Connected Car Self-Driving Autonomous Cars Are About To Transform The Suburbs

Autonomous Cars Are About To Transform The Suburbs

7 min read
View original post.
People look back at an autonomous self-driving vehicle, as it is tested in a pedestrian zone in Milton Keynes, north of London, on October 11, 2016. (JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

By Joel Kotkin and Alan M. Berger

Suburbs have largely been dismissed by environmentalists and urban planners as bad for the planet, a form that needed to be eliminated to make way for a bright urban future. Yet, after a few years of demographic stultification amid the Great Recession, Americans are again heading to the suburbs in large numbers, particularly millennials.

So rather than fight the tide and treat suburbanization as an evil to be squeezed out, perhaps a better approach would be to modify the suburban form in ways that address its most glaring environmental weakness: dependence on gas-powered automobiles. The rise of ride-sharing, electric cars and ultimately the self-driving automobile seem likely to alter this paradigm. In most other ways, suburbs are at the least no more damaging than dense cities, and they are superior in terms of air quality, maintaining biodiversity, carbon sequestration and stormwater management.

We may well be on the verge of evolving a new kind of highly sustainable, near–zero carbon form, one linked by technology, and economically (and increasingly culturally) self-sufficient. Autonomous cars will remotely park in solar-charged sheds off-site, to be called to the home through handheld devices, thus eliminating the need for garages and driveways. With safer vehicles that can see and react to situations better, roadways will be designed with much less paving to mitigate stormwater runoff and flooding. Homes will have drone delivery ports built in, greatly reducing the number of daily household trips and congestion. With much less redundant paving and more undisturbed land, autonomous suburbs will expand parks, bike trails and farms, and reduce forest fragmentation. Some of the next generation of suburbs will be anchored by main street districts, some of them restored, while others will be built from scratch, as we have seen in places like the Woodlands outside Houston and Valencia north of Los Angeles.

Taming the car

The traditional urbanist view of suburbs is that, if they must exist, they should be linked by mass transit to the city core. But in the U.S., outside of a handful of older cities, transit ridership is stagnant or in decline despite billions in investment from federal and local sources. In Europe, where bullet trains efficiently link suburbs to cities, strict local and national land use policies and high tax subsidies block development of peripheral land, making compact city forms possible. The U.S. has no national land use policy and we highly doubt voters will agree to much higher taxes to protect peripheral lands from development. Our vast geography allows us to spread out: The U.S. is more than 2.5 times the size of the E.U.

Simply put, the advantages of private transportation are, for the most part, too compelling in a country dominated by long distances and dispersed development. Elon Musk recently shared a brutally honest critique of mass transit. “It’s a pain in the ass,” he said. “That’s why everyone doesn’t like it. And there’s like a bunch of random strangers, one of who might be a serial killer, OK, great. And so that’s why people like individualized transport, that goes where you want, when you want.”

In fact, no regional rail system has managed to make any sort of dent in car use. Since 2000, the increase in workers driving alone has been 15 times the increase in those using transit. Even the Progressive Policy Institute, a research organization affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Council, has noted, “The shortest distance between a poor person and a job is along a line driven in a car.”

Comments are closed.

Check Also

Why Smart Cities Of The Future Won’t Be Built In A Day

View original post. While smart cities have been in the public consciousness for a long ti…