Technology, Uncertainty and Urban Futures

Technology can be used for building, for navigation, to shape experience, and as recent debates on smart cities illustrate, even for controlling cities. Driverless technologies have the potential to bring all four of these capabilities together in an unprecedented manner. As a result, policy makers around the world are in a simultaneous state of excitement and anxiety. Their excitement stems from the possibility of greater transportation efficiencies and fewer accident deaths. Their apprehension stems from the substantial financial risk associated with current investments to accommodate technologies that are still in the development stages.

Mind Map for The Driverless City


Click here to download the Driverless City Mind Map
As a first, but very important step toward structuring that conversation, our team has created a mind map for The Driverless City. Mind maps are diagrams used to organize information about a particular topic or problem. Mind maps help clarify and establish hierarchies around a central idea. Around the idea of The Driverless City, our team has identified four major “spaces” of opportunity:

  • Street Space: the network of directional landscapes that accommodate the flow of people, goods, services, and vehicles throughout cities. This space comprises the greatest part of the civic realm.
  • Parking Space: the substantial portion of the urban realm dedicated to part-time or full-time vehicle storage.
  • Commuter Space: the transitory and recurring routes between home, work, school, or other occupations.
  • Delivery Space: the network of urban infrastructure and facilities dedicated to the transport, import, and export of goods.

Each of these spaces becomes a conceptual container for a number of relevant issues that are further organized by scale: vehicle to ecosystem, vehicle to metropolis, vehicle to city, vehicle to infrastructure, vehicle to neighborhood, vehicle to block, vehicle to vehicle, and vehicle to human. The mind map has been an invaluable tool for organizing our work. We also expect it to be of great use for others outside of the project by formalizing the vast constellation of issues that compose The Driverless City.

Mobility and Urbanism in History

Modes of transportation affect the characteristics of cities by imprinting their speed, propulsion technologies, safety parameters and dimensional constraints on the urban surface. What evolution of urban space will occur with the advent of driverless vehicles? What policies can be promoted to direct this change…and toward what ends?

A crosswalk from Pompeii shows the grade separation of vehicular traffic and pedestrian traffic. Chariot and cart wheel base dimensions had to be standardized to pass through crosswalk stepping stones.

Mobility and the 21st Century City 

Platoons, flocks, herds, and swarms: Diagramming traffic formations at the first DCity team workshop

In the early 21st Century, street space is already under contentious reconsideration. Bicycle advocates have mobilized political influence at local levels to claim space on city streets. Bus rapid transit has been prioritized in some cities to improve transit by decreasing travel times. Driverless cars are entering into this context of contested street space. Each of these, and others, have challenged the allocation of areas for various modes of transportation and the surfaces along which they travel.