I asked my 2 year old son what t-shirt do you want to wear today and he said, "the Robot shirt". Like most 2 year olds he has a fascination with robots, cars trucks and all sorts of other machines. His fascination is a mixture of fear and excitement; Drones, he says, "no, no like it" but very excited by things like garbage trucks which to me are far more dangerous and smelly.
Shortly after my son was born and I tried to take him hiking with a carrier pack I traded my Mini Cooper in for a Subaru. My Subaru is nothing like Bill Gottlieb's green station wagon which once haunted the streets of the meatpacking district in New York, nor like the Volvo owned by Ikea magnate Ingvar Kamprad, nor like the Subaru Brat driven by Reagan before he became president.
|" I don't even like old cars. |
I'd rather have a goddamm horse.
A horse is at least human,
for God's sake." -J.D Salinger
|Polishing the bumper of a monster|
truck in a handicapped spot.
This theory that Americans love their cars much as appendages of themselves, in the way one loves one's pet, or horse is the only way that I can explain why in American culture, particularly in the suburban American cities west of the Mississippi and mostly in California, we have devoted a massive swath of the physical real estate footprint to cars. I think that it is because we think of the car as an extension of our self, it goes everywhere with us, we think of it as an expression of our personality, we live out of our cars. As cars were once extensions of ourselves, so too have phones, and selfies, become extensions of our selves in our narcissistic culture. The idea of robotic cars is closed connected to another utopian ideal, that of car sharing. In a former life, I did live in New York and did make use of Zip Car occasionally. Yet the car sharing mentality, like the bike sharing mentality, while certainly having it's merits, namely almost completely eliminating the need for parking in the public doman, simply will not catch on in a self absorbed, individualistic culture that exists in America today. People will not be dropped off in driverless cars and then wait for the next one to come in an endless cycle of musical chairs shuffling from one driverless taxi to the next. As this man polishing his bumper demonstrates, Americans love their horses far too much.
I went to the doctor the other day, and as I was in the elevator going back to my car, I glanced at the emergency exit map for the property and snapped a photo of the map of the medical offices that sums it up fairly well, the majority of space on the property is taken up by cars.
Just imagine what the world would be like if, instead of using that space for cars, it could be dedicated to solutions for homelessness, or a market for healthy food co located with the doctor's offices, or gym space, or a park, or a community garden, just any number of wonderful uses instead of cars. As I walked to my car to go home, I wished I had not driven to the doctor's office, and as I listened to the radio program about the controversy around SANDAG's transportation plan , the controversy about carbon emissions and public transit in San Diego rumbled through the back burner of my mind like an N or Q train rolling over the Manhattan bridge at midnight. I thought back to all the ways my life has changed since I stopped using public transit. It is impossible basically to get around and make appointments on time without a private vehicle in California, yet it occurred to me that the only way to get me out of my car now is if the line in the Starbuck's drive through is too long, or there is literally no place to park. Driverless cars will change all that.
If our streets and roads and highways are hot hostile expanses of noisy concrete and asphalt which drag all aesthetic appeal from any urban environment, think how this might change with driverless cars. Recently I had the opportunity recently to visit Rome a fitting example for the development of this idea, as all roads, to borrow a phrase, do lead to Caput Mundi. To see how things can change over centuries, consider the Piazza Navona. On the left, the Piazza Navona can be seen at dawn as the remnant of the inner ring of a large athletic competition arena, in which the dawn solitude makes it easy to imagine back to a time of cheering gladiators and chariots racing around that ring, much as cars today dominate urban streets.
To the right is a video of the Piazza Navona in late afternoon, from essentially the same vantage point, when it is swamped by pedestrians and tourists. Now imagine, the consequences if what used to be city streets clogged with cars and parking for the last fifty years became pedestrian avenues. Every main street and downtown district in the US would cease to have a requirement for parking on the main street with driverless cars, as cars could simply valet their occupants to the desired destination, and then be off to park in a single centralized urban parking garage, and summoned to wherever the owner desired once the pedestrian had finished their urban walkabout. Several years ago, I had a conversation with a friend who became the mayor of a small California city. One of the challenges facing the city was a debate as to whether the main street and downtown parking should be free, or should incur parking charges and meters, and at what cost.
The nature of this debate would be fundamentally different were driverless cars an option, as driverless cars could simply valet their occupants, and urban retail streets could be given over to outdoor cafes, beautiful fountains, gardens, and play areas for children. The regional planning budgets and frameworks for civic and regional planning are about to be thrown completely out the window when driverless cars become standard in the next decade,as referred to here, think of the disruptions the technological revolution will have on airport rental car parking garages, the city codes one must revise to turn a mega mall parking lot into a city park or a community farm, and the effect on housing in what are forecast to be the megacities of the future. One only has to look to Piazza Navona to see that the same space can look dramatically different when taken over by pedestrians, and that over the years, a public space can morph into many different uses.
Our ideas of parking garages might change dramatically if cars became driverless, as options to pack, store, and wedge cars systematically and by algorithm without the need for occupant egress could increase the efficiency of the parking process. Instead of being driven, cars could be hung via cable on the sides of buildings, stacked, and taken into deep underground storage locations with less need for ventilation due to the cars being driverless and, in the near future, with an emission free electric drive mechanism eliminating the need for underground ventilation almost entirely.
As I walked around Roma and later, Firenze, I began to wonder how it was that people with
|If we see further, it is because we are|
standing on the shoulders of giants. -Isaac Newton