Friday, June 4, 2010

The Economist on future mobility

The Economist highlights presentations from the Audi Urban Future Award, where six teams of architects show their visions for cities in 2030. From the article:
Pretty much all of the presentations assumed that cars would be self-piloting within 20 years, and that their interiors would, to some extent, be transformed into extensions of living spaces.


I think self-driving cars are likely going to happen. I don't think it is a stretch to expect them within twenty years, though we certainly haven't seen such radical technological advances in the past twenty years. (Here are some 1990 models.)

The Economist does take a critical view of the exercise, however, by first challenging personal mobility but then tempering their view by acknowledging the challenges of planning future cities.
Another, more radical step would be to question the notion of personal mobility itself. At the moment, people need such mobility because there are things they want to bring home as well as places they need to get to. Electronic networks may change that. It is not completely far-fetched to imagine charming, vast and dense cities in which most human movement takes place on foot while most movement of goods is by robot delivery systems.

But perhaps the whole exercise is misconceived. Cities are perfect examples of the sorts of system that emerge from unplanned preferences even as they seem to demand large-scale planning. The question is whether the patterns of that emergence can be shaped by changing the objects of desire, or whether it is necessary to change the desire itself. If the former, then experts in beautiful buildings and sleek aluminium have a chance. If the latter, the question becomes a whole lot harder.
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