The finest cities in the world are meccas for pedestrian activity. Their streetscapes offer ample spaces for people to walk, bike, or scooter. Their layouts enhance the quality of life by providing easy access to amenities, like cafés and public parks where groups can gather without feeling cramped or hurried.

Experiencing life in a pedestrian-oriented city serves as a reminder that urban environments work best when they prioritize human experience. Unfortunately, pedestrian cities like Copenhagen and New York are the exception rather than the rule. Most cities put the requirements of cars ahead of the needs of people, and the amount of square footage cities set aside for car lanes and parking spaces inhibits their capacity to offer pedestrian friendly experiences.

This is set to change. The widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles and the proliferation of ridesharing services will afford cities a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reclaim valuable urban real estate for people. Autonomous vehicles will be capable of maneuvering in close proximity to one another and will operate within narrower travel lanes, thereby allowing city planners to reduce the width of streets. Rather than sit unused in parking spaces, autonomous vehicles will spend the majority of each day circulating the streets, providing additional and effective ridesharing services to commuters and significantly reducing on-street parking. It is projected that autonomous vehicles could reduce overall parking demand by 90 percent, which would liberate hundreds of millions of square feet for other uses.

At Gensler, autonomous vehicles and ridesharing services are integral to our vision of reimagining cities as amenity-rich, pedestrian-oriented communities. We envision urban spaces where commercial and residential buildings open up onto broad streetscapes filled with cafés and parks. Multimodal transit corridors integrate driverless car lanes, bike paths, and light rail lines to provide a variety of easily accessible commuting options. Retrofitted parking garages accommodate modular, prefabricated housing units and pop-up retail spaces.

AVT connect logoJOSEPH BRANCATO is scheduled to continue the dialog at our AVT Connect event on September 26th.
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To achieve this vision, our firm is partnering with organizations that share an interest in reclaiming urban space for people. We have worked with Reebok on an adaptive reuse concept that transforms gas stations into publicly accessible fitness hubs. We’ve conducted significant research into retrofitting parking garages for other uses and helped clients convert above-grade parking structures into office space, retail outlets, and hotels. Now, we’re looking into the possibility of transforming garages into supportive housing units for the homeless.

Cities already house a majority of the world’s population, and they will continue to grow in the immediate future. Shaping the future of all cities starts with emphasizing the importance of human experience. Autonomous vehicles and ridesharing services not only represent safer, more efficient forms of transportation; these technologies will allow us to create a more human-centric urban paradigm in which amenities enhance everyday life, and the pedestrian experience drives community-planning strategies.

It is critical that the architecture and design community stay ahead of this issue. As the stewards of the built environment, we are in position to influence public policy and create the design and planning strategies that will shape the cities of tomorrow. This is our moment to reclaim cities for people and reconfigure the urban fabric for generations to come.