Is this the future we want?
A while back, TreeHugger covered an MIT conference about the future of suburbia. Joel Kotkin announced that “this is the reality we live in, and we have to deal with it. Most people want a detached home.” Economist Jed Kolko (then with real estate website Trulia) predicted that “Population is growing faster in the South and West than in the Northeast and Midwest.”
This year, much of Florida and Houston in the south are under water; in the west, thousands have been forced to flee their homes because of wildfires. In Arizona, there are water wars with California. These areas don’t look so attractive right now. But professor of landscape architecture Alan Berger and Joel Kotkin continue to peddle the idea of infinite suburbanism, described by Berger in the New York Times as “a different kind of suburban development that is smart, efficient and sustainable.” Or as a tweeter described it back during the conference,
In Berger’s suburb of the future, flooding is no longer a problem.
In sustainable new suburbs, house and lot sizes are smaller — in part because driveways and garages are eliminated — paving is reduced up to 50 percent and landscapes are more flexible. The plant-to-pavement ratio of today’s suburb is much higher than that of cities, but the next generation of suburbs can be even better at absorbing water.
The roads are all one-way and teardrop shaped, full of autonomous cars while the skies are full of drones.
The neighborhoods will be friendlier for pedestrians, with sidewalks and paths that connect to open spaces and communal areas. Before we had fenced-off backyards. In the future we’ll have common recreation spaces or vegetable gardens….Because these suburban homes will not have driveways or garages, front yards can be bigger, devoted to ecological functions or recreational activities.
It’s an interesting vision, if you believe that self-driving cars will be shared (I don’t) or that you think people won’t fence in their backyards (I think they will); if you think that designing cities for AVs and drones makes more sense than designing them for pedestrians and cyclists; and if you believe that in the future nobody will go to stores (because drones). Berger summarizes his vision of a green, suburban, automated future in another article, an interview with Hyperloop One:
The new spatial economics of automation will create huge environmental dividends. Reduced paving will lead to less urban flooding, less forest fragmentation, soil conservation, more groundwater recharge, and more landscape to use for common goods. Total automation will radically change the daily needs of various population segments. I can imagine increased long-distance commuting and mobile office vehicles, drone delivery for many errands, on-demand care and newly mobile elderly segments, and the elimination of drunk driving to name a few.
In their world, investment in transit is a mistake. Kotkin says “billions have been spent on light rail and subways in dispersed urban areas like Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas and Atlanta but this has not increased transit share. New technologies will soon make these systems even less relevant and useful.”
Instead we have a vision of autonomous cars, drones, hyperloops and infinite suburbia. There’s a book coming out, but this will make a great movie.