Tag Archives: cities

Self-Driving Cars Will Improve Our Cities. If They Don’t Ruin Them

Without planning, self-driving cars could increase congestion, widespread unemployment, and reduce tax revenue, says Zipcar co-founder Robin Chase on Backchannel.

Most of what has been written about self-driving or automated vehicles (often abbreviated as AVs) focuses on subjects like their technical aspects, the regulatory battles to license them, or the fascinating but remote dilemma of a self-driving car being forced to choose between holding its course and hitting grandma, or swerving into a troop of boy scouts. There’s relatively little discussion of the speed and scope of change, the impacts that go well beyond the auto industry, or the roadmap to unlocking the enormous upside potential if we actively guide the trajectory of their adoption.

We’re at a fork on that roadmap. One direction leads to a productive new century where cities are more sustainable, livable, equitable, and just.

But if we take the wrong turn, we’re at a dead end. Cities are already complex and chaotic places in which to live and work. If we allow the introduction of automated vehicles to be guided by existing regulations we’ll end up with more congestion, millions of unemployed drivers, and a huge deficit in how we fund our transportation infrastructure. We will also miss an opportunity to fix transportation’s hereto intractable reliance on liquid fossil fuels (and their associated pollution).

Right now, we’re not even alert to how crucial the choices are. In fact, we’re falling asleep at the wheel. Most people in charge of shaping cities — mayors, transportation planners, developers, and lawmakers — haven’t realized what is about to hit them and the speed at which it is coming. They continue to build as if the future is like the present.


In a 1964 essay for the New York World’s Fair, Asimov looked ahead to a prosperous world of 2014 — 50 years in the future. Among his visions: Suburban houses would move underground, leaving the surface free to agriculture and parks.

In the real world of 2016, people are moving underground, but only where economics drive them there, in densely crowded cities like Beijing, says Megan Logan on Inverse.

Underground living has advantages, mainly natural, effective climate control. But human beings just like fresh air and natural light. Logan says:

Underground spaces aren’t exactly inviting and homey by nature. More than that, though, being underground taps into a baser fear or instinct of being buried alive, which doesn’t necessarily scream “rest and relaxation.”

I think these are solvable problems, piping in fresh air and using fiber optics or some similar technology to direct natural light to where people are.

On the other hand: Our bedroom overlooks the backyard deck. A few years ago we decided to put a roof on the deck, which blocked out direct light in the bedroom. Our thinking at the time was, who needs sunlight in the bedroom? The only time you use the bedroom is at night, right? And we like sleeping late when we can, so more darkness in the bedroom is good, right? I still sometimes regret that decision — I underestimated the pleasures of waking up to sunlight.

I think Logan overlooks one major reason Asimov predicted underground housing in 2014 — and vast, closed-in cities in stories such as the novel “The Caves of Steel.” Asimov was a self-described “claustrophile.” He loved closed-in artificial spaces. That’s one of the reasons he wrote so many hundreds of books; he was happiest alone in a small, windowless room, lit by artificial light, tapping at his typewriter.

Isaac Asimov’s Suburban Subterranean Paradise Really Wasn’t All That Implausible