Slide 1 Technology is the answer
I’d like to begin with a little scepticism about new technology. Of course “Technology is the answer“, said Cedric Price in 1966. He also said, “But what is the question?”
What are the questions that we are trying to answer in the pursuit of autonomous vehicle technologies?
I don’t think it’s enough to talk about intelligent mobility from the perspective of the driver alone. I’d like us to think about its benefits for cities as a whole. And the risks too, if we focus too much on the vehicle and not enough on what’s around it: the city.
Slide 2 Measuring connectivity – existing
And I’m not against technology. I run a tech company, called Space Syntax, that has developed tools which measure the connectivity of street networks. They show how the layout of towns and cities affects the way they’re used by people – and how patterns of use affect the social, economic and environmental performance of places.
Slide 3 Predictive modelling – new developments
We’ve developed predictive modelling tools that measure the impacts of new urban developments.
Slide 4 Darwin masterplan
And we use these tools to create designs for new urban places, sometimes entirely new towns and cities throughout the world.
Slide 5 Urban Value analysis
Our technology shows how connected street networks are much more valuable than disconnected ones.
Slide 6 Fragmented/integrated cities
And it’s therefore clear to me that a sustainable city is one that is integrated not disconnected. Where the street is a place for people both on foot as well as in vehicles. This is how cities always were and it is how they always should be.
Slide 7 Car-centred planning
But it’s not how cities have been planned for the past century, where the car has been king and people have been increasingly disconnected, with terrible results for physical and mental health, not to mention the economic vibrancy of urban centres.
Slide 8 Streets
So I’ve no doubt that we can benefit from intelligent mobility technologies. But we also need great streets for those vehicles to drive along in the company of people on foot. Great streets like the Ramblas and the Champs Elysées.
The trouble is that planners worldwide are generally not designing great streets.
Slide 9 Human transaction
And we ultimately need to move beyond just thinking about walking, driving and parking – to thinking about the real purpose of towns and cities – which is to facilitate transactions between people. Social and economic transactions.
We innovate much less when we’re in cars than when we’re sat around tables with friends and strangers.
Therefore, if autonomous vehicles can use road space more efficiently then I suggest that we repurpose that road space for stationary activities like eating and drinking rather than leaving it be filled up with more autonomous vehicles.
Slide 10 Yellow lines
But I do look forward to a future where parking can be automated and we won’t see the appalling defacement of our streets with badly applied yellow paint.
Slide 11 Pot holes to plant pots
And so in summary I hope that in our cleverness to apply digital technologies to the advancement of driving we will also leave some space for ingenuity in the design of the streets in which those vehicles drive.