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The second coming of the car

Blue hour by Ryusuke Komori on 500px.com

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As a kid growing up in the suburbs of Toronto, I remember when getting my driver’s licence and getting a car were some of my biggest priorities. 

As soon as I turned 16, I went immediately to get my learner’s permit and then enrolled in a driving school so that I could shorten the time required until I could drive on my own. Every month counted at that age.

It was such an important milestone that people born earlier in the year were seen as lucky. Because someone born in January, for example, could gain their driving independence before someone born at the end of the year even got their learner’s permit. As silly as it sounds to me right now, that spread was huge back then.

But the world has changed and we are at the dawn of a new era: driverless cars. 

Sooner than most people think, we are no longer going to drive ourselves around cities. I absolutely believe this. That means no more steering wheels. No more traffic calming measures on quiet residential streets. Safer streets. Perfect traffic information because all the cars will be networked. And a dramatic increase in urban efficiency. (Relevant post: The tragedy of the commons.)

I can’t wait for this happen.

Reid Hoffman, who is the co-founder of LinkedIn, recently wrote a fascinating article on autonomous vehicles called, Driving in the Networked Age. And in it he argues that cities should be starting to look at banning human-driven cars and generally putting in place policies to support networked autonomous cars. In fact, he sees it as an opportunity for Detroit to reestablish itself as the 21st century motor city.

Again, I don’t doubt that this transition will happen. I think it’s a question of when, not if. But I also think that it’s going to be incredibly important to think about what driverless vehicles will mean for our cities and the built environment. 

It’s once again an example of Marshall McLuhan’s famous phrase: The medium is the message

Cars as a medium have had a profound impact on the way we live and the way we build our cities. We know this. But the medium is now changing. And while simply taking out the driver may seem like a small change, it is not. Have a read of Hoffman’s article.

I’m excited about the possibilities. I don’t really like driving anymore. But let’s make this second coming of the car more positive for cities than the first. Deal?

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