Cars take up a ton of real estate in America’s cities. From local roads and on-street parking stalls to elevated highways and multi-story parking garages, cities devote 50 to 60 percent of their space to cars. If we could reclaim this valuable land from vehicles, imagine the many ways cities could be transformed. Autonomous vehicles (AVs) have the potential to become a major catalyst for urban transformation, providing cities with the opportunity to reclaim their urban public space. As cities prepare for the advent of AVs and other new mobility technologies, Amna Ansari, Architect and Urban Designer at SWA Group, believes that design professionals have an essential role to play. During the Land8x8 Lightning Talks in Houston, TX, Ansari explores how we might shape these emerging technologies to ensure that streets are given back to the people – not cars.
Not too long ago, self-driving cars were merely a fantasy, but now it appears that their adoption isn’t too far away. PwC estimates that by 2030, 40% of the mileage driven could be done in autonomous vehicles. With the coming rise of AVs on our city streets, city planners are already projecting the impact this technology will have on cities and communities. Depending on how cities leverage these new technologies, the outcomes could be beneficial to ease congestion and reduce pollution or could further exacerbate congestion and sprawl. To ensure that the changes will enhance instead of hinder the urban experience, cities need to set the right policies in place.
Streets designed for AVs have the potential to be safer, quieter, narrower and more efficient – allowing room for other uses to fill in. These auto-centric city spaces previously used for parked vehicles or wide lanes can be re-purposed to provide lush tree plantings and parklets, gracious sidewalks and bike lanes, and additional public transportation options. Due to reduced parking needs, land currently used for surface and garage parking can be reclaimed for parks, housing, community space, or other much needed amenities. Some cities are already considering ways to free up land for development, including boosting mass transit and cutting down on excessive parking requirements.
“As designers, let’s guide these emerging techs to take shape based on what we value first – cities, and how we can improve, maintain and protect our habitats.” – Amna Ansari
Before long, AVs will have a strong presence in our public realm. If leveraged properly, these technologies will create new and beneficial opportunities for the urban environment. In order to shape the future we want to see, it is vital that design professionals are involved in the discussion. As cities begin to think about how to incorporate AVs into future planning, Ansari reminds us that we should ensure public space is given back to the community.