The city of the twentieth century, especially post-World War II, had an identity inextricably linked to the “automobile”. So far the first two decades of the twenty-first century has kept that narrative alive but there may finally be a large enough disruption on the horizon that we could see a near-term future where “city” will also mean “no drivers allowed”.
I’ll admit that this idea is not a new one – Bernard Rudofsky called for the near-exile of the car in his 1969 release of “Streets for People” but even in 1973’s Copenhagen the idea of car-free Sundays was seen as an anomaly with, perhaps, the insinuation of poverty or crisis. In sharp contrast, modern Copenhagen is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2025 and their plans to build cycling highways are now regarded as a future-facing vision of the city of tomorrow.
A change great enough to displace the hegemony of the car in urban planning is both daunting and exhilarating. In the same way that the Industrial Revolution and mass production brought a wave of urbanization and city building to much of the globe, a city without drivers will force us to rebuild our urban environment to mirror the new realities of globalization, interconnectedness, and the necessity for sustainable design. As with any hegemon, it is not a single change that has challenged the status quo but instead a group of rapidly emerging technologies all working in concert – solar energy, smartphones, autonomous electric vehicles, and sensor-enabled cities (among a host of others).
It’s not unreasonable to imagine that kids born today will soon view car ownership the same way we currently view horse ownership when you consider the ubiquity of an always-connected smartphone moving data through high-speed networks to autonomous-enabled ride hailing platforms (already being trialled at Uber and Lyft) and tie all that into an electric grid that provides low cost and carbon-free power. In Singapore it is already more affordable to use Uber every day than to own a car and Singapore’s urban environment, density, and position as an innovation leader are all reflected in this reality (imagine how low the cost can go when you don’t have to pay a driver!). When we go from owning a car (a large asset that we utilize only one to two percent of the day) to transport-as-a-service, parking lots will largely vanish (forty percent of most commercial development square footage is given to parking) and the shape of cities will change as commuting becomes a time to sleep, read, or work.
Autonomous vehicles, like most new technologies, will also place new challenges on our society. The largest employment sector globally is transport and logistics with close to ten percent of the workforce being paid to drive in some US states. We could also see a return to lower density suburban developments if commuting is no longer as taxing (financially and emotionally).
If you are interested in helping to overcome these challenges while realizing the tremendous potential of this wave of change, buy your tickets to C-Tribe now. It’s okay if you drive yourself there 🙂