Blog / Cover Story

Eco Altitudes [Land8x8 Video]

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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.

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Image: UltraBarrio

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.


This video was filmed on June 26, 2019 in Houston, TX as part of the Land8x8 Lightning Talks sponsored by Anova Furnishings.

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Published in Blog, Cover Story
Stephanie Roa is a designer at LandDesign – a highly-collaborative design firm offering urban design, planning, landscape architecture, civil engineering and branding services both nationally and internationally. She is a registered landscape architect and enjoys working at a variety of scales ranging from urban mixed-use developments to agrarian-focused master planned communities to small-scale complex site design. As a socially responsibly designer, Stephanie is passionate about creating high-performance landscapes that strengthen connections between people and place. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from the University of Maryland, College Park with a minor in both Sustainable Studies and Landscape Management. She is an advocate for sustainable landscape solutions, achieving both LEED Green Associate and SITES AP credentials. Stephanie is a contributing writer for Land8, where she enjoys writing about the pressing issues and transformative innovations that are driving the profession forward. She is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and the Urban Land Institute (ULI), actively serving on the ULI Washington Young Leaders Group Education Committee. In 2019, she was awarded the ULI Rising Leaders Scholarship for September 2019 - June 2020 and is a participant in the 2019-20 ULI Washington Mentorship Program. Follow Stephanie on Twitter at @stephroa2.

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