How Autonomous Vehicles Will Change the Built Environment

According to William Gibson, “the future is already here – its just not evenly distributed yet” – one of the problems of change, such new driverless cars from cars with all kinds of different drivers; some on cell phones; some on drugs and some just dreaming in the traffic, is that the mix of drivers and driverless cars will not be a smooth transition , it will be filled with social and human problems such as affordability, intractability of people and their resistance to change, lags on legislation, thus the conversion to the machine-like future portrayed in movies such as Minority Report, is probably unlikely, as with most such utopian techno-fixes, and it fails to address the other problems underlying the present eco-crisis, those of equity, conspicuous consumption, extreme fanatical religions etc, etc.. Here in the the global south, it will take some time, some doing, yet it would be great to have fewer highways, machines that respect and avoid cyclists and pedestrians automatically ….unlike present day drivers.


Driverless vehicle highway / Natalia Beard, SWA Group Driverless vehicle highway diet / Natalia Beard, SWA Group

Imagine a future with autonomous vehicles, ordered through a subscription service, shuttling passengers safely to any destination at up to 130 miles per hour. Now think about what this means for our streets and highways, parking infrastructure, public spaces, and even the organization of our communities. At SXSW Eco in Austin, Texas, Kinder Baumgardner, ASLA, president of landscape and urban design firm SWA Group, took us through a wild thought experiment, showing us what a driverless future could look like. He believes the majority of travel will be autonomous by 2050, with huge implications for our built environment.

According to Baumgardner, there are 1.2 billion cars in the world today, and that number is expected to grow to 2 billion by 2030 as automobile ownership surges in China and India. All of these drivers spend about 30 percent of…

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