Outside

Look outside. What does your block look like right now?

If you’re in the suburbs in the United States, it’s probably a bunch of houses. And a residential street that feeds into larger streets, that feed into even larger highways. Each small subsegment of your city might have a stripmall with a coffee shops, a few restaurants, or a bank, a laundrymat, pharmacy, gas station, etc… the stuff we need everyday. If you’re lucky, they’re only a few minutes down the road.

60 years ago, they would all have been privately owned. Bob’s barbershop. Katz Deli. Joan’s pharmacy. Tim’s gas station. They would have been within walking distance.

But then the automobile stretched things out. Capitalism and Economies of scale led to consolidation. Today it’s not Bob’s barbershop, it’s Supercuts. It’s not Katz Deli, it’s Taco Bell. CVS & Walmart. Chevron. Bank of America. You don’t know the owners – nobody does.

Luckily, the landscape has been shifting. Amazon has led a fierce charge to revolutionize supply chains and logistics and has delivered a death blow to traditional retail and the way we used to get the things we needed. Because once you go amazon prime, you never go to the store again.

Currently, our demand fulfillment engine is driven largely by delivery people. But soon (I’d say ~2025), many of these delivery people will be replaced by delivery robots.

The death of big box retail has been covered over and over. Good riddance to malls. I know I won’t be shedding any tears.

The neighborhood of the future

What then, when we don’t need to drive to stores anymore? With the advent of electric vehicles, gas stations go away. With autonomous vehicles, car ownership becomes uncommon. Garages, driveways, and roadways need to be redesigned for pedestrian use. What becomes of the highways? The stadium parking lots, the auto mechanic shops? Pay parking meters?

We’re on the cusp of a revolution in urban and suburban design and planning that holds a wealth of potential for sustainability, health and wellness, and just generally nicer communities. This future is within reach and I’m excited to see it develop over the coming decades.

Take a minute to think about your town. Think about all the parking lots. Then think about a world where they didn’t exist. What would you want to take its place?

Follow me on twitter.