Imagine our city streets without the sound of traffic, without traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, line markings, bollards and signs, car-related advertising, kerbs and parking meters. Imagine if we stripped away every single thing related to the automobile except for one tight efficient ribbon of hard surface.
Well, it’s all on the way, and sooner than we think.
For 100 years we have had a love affair with the car [or is it a love-hate relationship?]. We have designed our neighbourhoods, our towns and our cities around the needs of the car.
We are now entering an unprecedented phase of the automobile which will completely transform the way we plan cities. A short while ago I posted some thoughts about the ‘autonomous car’ and how that might change street design. Since then that thought ricocheted around inside my head to the point where I’ve followed the trend through to a scaled-up impact on city design.
The Car Hive
- The autonomous car drives itself, and will be networked with all other cars. They’ll communicate with each other. They’ll swap music and share data on us [their customers];
- When we need to get from A to B, we’ll summon a car through an App, and the nearest available car will be tasked for our journey and come to pick us up. All driverless. We’ll simply pay-for-service based on the amount of energy we use. No more designated driver.
- These cars will have their own culture and economy where they will source their own energy from the grid [all renewable juice] through discreet recharge points, and even trade with each other. When we use the car it will debit from our account.
- Because the cars all have crash-avoidance tech, they’ll drive nose to tail at speed, they won’t need any street signage, speed limit signs, speed humps or parking signs, won’t even need headlights or indicators… all gone. They’ll just self organise and cooperate. No more white-knuckle cycling in the city.
- Private car ownership will eventually disappear. Today we have ‘collaborative consumption’ schemes like GoGets… Tomorrow we’ll simply have a ‘utility’ that is transport and we’ll pay based on usage.
- Eventually [I give it only 12-18 months] we’ll see electricity utilities, who are right now waking up to the death spiral of rooftop solar, branching out into EV [Electric Vehicle] fleets which run off the utility’s renewable energy… they’ll add value back to their network and remain viable.
Sound speculative? Not really, at least, all the technology is out there now. Masdar City for example is tinkering with some of the above components.
The real thing to watch will be when the realisation hits that the bottom will fall out of so many automobile-related industries and businesses – the scale of this economic shift will be ‘autogeddon’ for many companies.
The Car Hive itself will make possible a type of ‘autotopia’ where city design is de-coupled from the needs of the car, and we will re-focus on pedestrianism, active lifestyles and the compounding benefits to our health [not to mention our overloaded health systems]. If we want this near-future to evolve in the right direction we need to be planning appropriately right now.
This future might sound daunting and even a little socialist, but I don’t think we need to read anything into it. It’s just economics at work, and it excites me that our advances in technology will enable us to re-focus on great place-making, safe and green streets, and a multitude of new industries.