How Cars Will Shape the City of the Future.

The car industry is progressively changing and evolving. This is significant in revolutionising the shapes of our cities, which will adapt to accommodate a new concept in mobility.

Published: September 2016
Video/Photos: BMW GROUP / WWW.DW.DK

It’s inevitable: cars will be self-driving. BMW Chief Designer Karim Habib says: “We predict that mobility will become increasingly diverse. In the not-too-distant future, most cars will probably drive entirely autonomously. We will get around using robots on wheels.”

 

BMW has already launched the carsharing service DriveNow and, earlier this year, announced its plans to produce fully autonomous vehicles by 2021. In addition, the elegant BMW 7 Series offers driver assistance systems. While the BMW VISION NEXT 100 concept vehicle includes a driver mode, it also has an autonomous mode. Both the Rolls Royce and MINI VISION vehicles include self-drive capability, and the MINI VISION NEXT 100 explores the concept of carsharing.

 

Wherever you are, as a MINI owner, you’ll be able to call an automated MINI to come to you just like you do an Uber taxi. “Current projections indicate that level four, fully autonomous models will be available to consumers by 2025,” states the City of the Future report by the National League of Cities (NLC) in the US. The NLC is an advocacy organisation devoted to strengthening and promoting cities as centres of opportunity, leadership and governance.

 

Future-City_RH1

“It’s almost a foregone conclusion: in the future, cars will be self-driving.”

 

This will radically alter the way we get from one place to another and our experience of mobility. For one thing, it will be easier for people to get around. Senior citizens, children and those with disabilities will be mobile and independent. And, for another, families and households will need fewer personal vehicles to serve their needs.

 

Future-City_RH1

“It’s almost a foregone conclusion: in the future, cars will be self-driving.”

Both the Rolls Royce and MINI VISION vehicles include self-driving capability, and the MINI VISION NEXT 100 also explores the concept of carsharing.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) estimate that self-driving cars will make it possible to serve the needs of passengers to reach their destinations with 80 per cent fewer cars. Automated and connected cars will be more efficient drivers because they’ll be able to navigate better and follow each other more closely, which could mean that roads will be able to carry five times more traffic than they can at present. And, with fewer cars on the road, traffic will flow more freely and we’ll be able to get to our destinations faster. Driverless cars will also be safer – there will be fewer accidents, and roads will be safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

 

But it’s our experience outside our vehicles that will change radically – for the better, it seems. Firstly, our cities will change shape as large areas of our cities will no longer be built around our need to accommodate our cars.

 

Secondly, fewer cars and better traffic flow in cities will mean that the trend towards building more and bigger highways will slow and halt. And, because cars will be connected, cities will probably not even need traffic lights.

 

Future-City_RH2

In the city of the future, people will swap seamlessly between modes of transport, from driving to cycling to walking. Local street-level activity and shared public space will drive local economies.

 

Thirdly, there will be less need for parking. We use our cars to get to and from work, but during work hours, they simply take up parking spaces. At this moment, about 30 per cent of all the cars driving around in cities are looking for a parking space. Self-driving cars do not need parking spaces. They can simply drop off passengers and go home. Or, in the case of carsharing schemes, rejoin the flow of traffic to fetch their next passenger. According to the City of the Future report: “In many US cities, more than 40 per cent of all land is occupied by roads or parking.” All that urban space could be devoted to something else, such as parks, green spaces, pedestrian walkways and public spaces. Some advantages to this would be cleaner air, healthier people as we would be inclined to walk more, and social interaction as a result of the increase in public spaces – basically, the overall quality of life would improve.

 

With less need for parking spaces, this vacant space can be redeveloped as residential space for flats and apartments. This would entice more people to live in the city. Urban sprawl would be a thing of the past as cities become denser and more diverse. People will be able to travel further – a part of the population may well choose to live right out of town in peripheral areas. In fact, as cities become greener and denser, and others live further out, the familiar middle ground of suburbia may well fade from the urban landscape.

 

The City of the Future report suggests that people will not be “stuck” with their cars. They will swap between modes of transport more readily. For example, their car will drop them off in one place, and from there they could walk and then hop onto some form of public transport, or take a bike from a bikesharing scheme.

 
Future-City_RH2

In the city of the future, people will swap seamlessly between modes of transport, from driving to cycling to walking. Local street-level activity and shared public space will drive local economies.

They'll interact in public spaces more, and they'll be safer.
Quality of life will improve.

More public space and more time spent walking in shared public space will begin to affect our economic activity, from how we shop to how we interact with our environment. More pedestrians means more local shoppers on the ground. “Individuals who are biking or walking tend to spend more money in local businesses than individuals in cars, and bicycle infrastructure projects create more jobs than all other types of public works and road infrastructure projects,” says the City of the Future report.

 

The idea can be extended to the way that cities work to drive the broader economy, too. Urban Theorist Richard Florida, the author of the bestselling 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class, said in an interview: “If factories were the organising principle of the industrial age, cities are the central organising unit of the new creative economy.”

The city and the way it works creates the conditions for ideas to germinate that actually drive the economy. “The economy has shifted from a production-based model to one that is driven by ideas, creativity and innovation,” says Florida. “Human brainpower and creativity are the key input in today’s economy.”

 

He also argues that cities that will successfully nurture and grow ideas and creativity are those that foster tolerance and interest in diversity. He lists examples like London’s Shoreditch, Pittsburgh in the US, and Mexico City’s La Condesa and Roma neighbourhoods. Closer to home, these include The Maboneng Precinct and Braamfontein in Johannesburg.

 

The kinds of city spaces that automated cars might create are dense, open public spaces with less congestion and fumes, safer environments, and healthier, happier and more tolerant individuals. Could this be the ultimate driver of future prosperity?