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INTENTIONAL COMMUNITY AND RESP ONSIBLE AUTONOMY IN THE NEW MOTOR AGE

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2018 EDITION

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NERA LERNER


MARTIN PARR


ATLAS LEGEND HOW TO USE THIS ATLAS….......................13 MAP KEY…................................................29 EXPERT INTERVIEWS…...............................51 HAMMURABAI..........................................65 RESEARCH AND INTERVIEWS….................77 SAY HELLO TO AVA…................................95 RAPID IDEATION LAB................................115 AUTOMIC FAMILY MANAGEMENT…..........131 DETOURS AND DESTINATIONS................139 PROMENADE...........................................155 AUDIENCE AND MARKET.........................167 SERENDIPITY...........................................187 UNCHARTED TERRITORY.........................197 SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY…....................203


FERDINANDO SCIANNA

Hold for Nera


do people think of when they drive? On short “ What trips, perhaps of arrival at a destination or memory of events at the place of departure. But there is left, particularly on very long trips, a large area for daydreaming or even, God help us, for thought. JOHN STEINBECK


HOW TO USE THIS ATLAS R OA D TO U TO P I A

At the dawn of the motor age, the post-war period when mass-produced vehicles first became affordable to millions of people, two competing visions emerged, each illustrating starkly different images of what the consequences of car culture might be. One image was utopian; the massproduced car would extend more freedom and independence to millions of people. It saw the rapid emergence

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of drive-in theaters, drive-in diners and service stations as exciting venues for social connection and commerce. The car, in this construct, was a shining emblem of a bright and progressive future enabled by the gleeful adoption of new technologies. This vision was depicted in numerous works of literature documenting youth culture of the ‘50s and ‘60s, quintessentially in George Lucas’s canonical film, American Graffiti. In this film, middle-class high school


of the rise of the middle class and wellpaid factory work (like the manufacture of automobiles) conspicuously eroded the class divide in America. Not coincidentally, this period also saw the birth of consumerism. The broad diversity and accessibility of new products, and the impulse to “keep up with the Joneses” by acquiring items with accelerating velocity, contributed to this movement. In fact, General Motors’ (GM) triumph over the once-dominant Ford was predicated on insights into

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age youths, in a small American anytown, cruise through their comingof-age in hot rods. Their wholesome (if mischievous) misadventures are illuminated by the soft neon glow of the future. After enduring ten years of depression and ten years of war, providence was smiling once more on America and cars represented this bright future. The automobile seemed to transcend some of the fundamental tensions in American life: Cars were emblematic

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YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

EUGENI FORCANO

the peculiar contradictions of consumer culture. Unlike Ford, which offered a limited range of utilitarian value vehicles, GM designed class consciousness into their cars. As David Halberstam noted in The Reckoning, “a customer might start off buying a Chevrolet, and then move up to an Oldsmobile as his or her economic fortunes advanced. At the upper reaches of the product hierarchy could be found Buicks and Cadillacs for those who enjoyed above-average financial success.” If consumerism carried with it increased class consciousness, it also carried the promise of increased class mobility, and was gleefully embraced as an antidote to the status quo. The automobile also seemed to finally present a cure for another vexing American paradox: the Jeffersonian dilemma. For centuries, Americans have generally impugned great cities as cesspools of moral decay, coarse culture and financial corruption. However, America’s vastness meant that small towns were necessarily isolated from culture, learning and institutions. As technological anthropologist Rudi Volti noted: “The desire to leave urban ills behind was especially strong in the United

States, where a Jeffersonian belief in the morally suspect nature of city life was coupled with medical theories that ascribed a variety of health problems with overcrowded living situations… Much of the automobile’s appeal lay in its ability to free rural people from the physical and cultural isolation that


ROBERT FRANK

was a characteristic feature of life in the countryside. The operating radius of a horse and buggy essentially defined the world that rural people inhabited.” At least in the beginning, it seemed that these trends would ease the tensions which had traditionally characterized American social and economic life. All of these changes happened with unprecedented speed and at the end of a decades-long streak of cataclysmic bad luck. To many, the automobile represented the permanent attainment of a bold, progressive future, a reward for endurance through hard times and adherence to the American way. But the optimism was not unanimous.

beginning, America’s most progressive social critics could accurately predict some of the consequences of America’s obsession with cars. John Steinbeck notably bemoaned the choking conformity inherent in a world made small by cars. Everything from the music to the food to the town itself became homogenized. This self-satisfied mediocrity was obscured, in Steinbeck’s eyes, by old- fashioned American boosterism: “In one matter all states agree—each one admits it is the finest of all and announces that fact in huge letters as you cross the state line. Among nearly forty I didn’t see a single state that hadn’t a good word to say for itself. It seemed H I G H WAY T O H E L L a little indelicate. It might be better to Another school of thought saw the let visitors find out for themselves. But automobile as an inherently corrupting maybe we wouldn’t if it weren’t drawn influence on society. Even from the to our attention.” H O W TO U S E T H I S AT L A S

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Others worried about the coarsening of culture. Would adolescent youth, liberated from traditional family obligations by newfound motorized mobility, tread a destructive path away from conventional moral values? It is frequently forgotten that the middle age between childhood and adulthood emerged simultaneously with consumerism in the post-war period. Would the exotic cultures formed around the newly forged teenager cause young people to turn their backs on their

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parents’ hopes and aspirations? These anxieties also shade popular depictions of the era. In the film Rebel Without a Cause, defiant “juvenile delinquents” defend their fragile egos in drunken drag races while their warhardened parents vainly wonder what they did wrong. By the time the film was completed, its star, teenage heart throb James Dean, had died—in a crash while speeding in his Porsche Super Speedster. In its full bloom, car culture did not


created both repressive roles between husband and wife and between parent and child. In many ways, the motor society only entrenched the disparities and injustices of the past. Yet cars also fulfilled many utopian promises, empowering millions with seemingly superhuman freedom through mobility. Few would give that up, despite decades of maddening consequences. In the words of Rudi Volti: “The very freedom promised by the

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just create new youthful traditions, it also came to mediate nearly everything in the lives of billions of people—the jobs they held, the relationships they pursued and the structures around gender, race and class. For example, the suburban atomic family home, by its nature, required mothers to become parttime chauffeurs for growing children. Before the auto age, most families lived in walkable towns or dense urban regions where children had relatively unimpeded mobility. In this way, the car

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automobile has been at least partially offset by a parallel set of restrictions— traffic laws and regulations; congestion; massive financial demands in the form of depreciation, maintenance, repairs, and insurance; and the taxes required to maintain and expand the vast infrastructure of roads, highways, and parking lots that sustains the automobile. To these must be added the indirect but all-too-real costs of accidents, air pollution, noise, and visual blight that are caused by widespread automobile ownership. The automobile had driven a hard bargain, but thus far it had been one that we have accepted willingly, even enthusiastically.� D R I V I N G F O R WA R D

Today, we are on the brink of a second motor age, the age of autonomous vehicles. A growing body of research is beginning to anticipate the impending consequences of an autonomous society. These rarely reach beyond the obvious: fewer road deaths, mobility for the disabled and elderly, a massive exodus of jobs from the trucking and taxi industries. These are all eminently important developments, but they only scratch the surface of the changes selfdriving cars will herald. YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

Viewed through the lens of the first motor age, the implications of the autonomous age come into stark relief. The first motor age inspired dynamic new youth cultures by creating private spaces where teenagers could form independent identities apart from family (another word for this is Rock & Roll). What happens when even ten year olds in self-driving cars gain access to similar spaces? Modern suburbia was built around the needs of traditional vehicles endless miles of sprawl and the communities they support would be inaccessible without them. What happens when the underlying vehicular logic of the suburbs and atomic families is rewritten? What happens when our physical lives in the real world are mediated by technology companies with the same omniscience and carelessness with which they mediate our digital lives today? These are the questions I ask (and sometimes, answer) in the following pages. In the first motor age, too many communities were torn apart and replaced with freeways and sprawl. Too many people were hurt, lost and left alone with too much autonomy, too fast.


his career documenting how modern culture has slowly unbound community ties in everyday American life. America’s car culture, he posits, has done much to accelerate this trend. “One inevitable consequence of how we have come to organize our lives spatially is that we spend measurably more of every day shuttling alone in metal boxes among the vertices of our private triangles. American adults average seventy-two minutes every day behind the wheel, according to

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Some of the social consequences of the motor age might seem subtle or trite, or at least are uncommonly acknowledged as such. This is, in part, because the victory the automobile over other forms of transit and of car culture over other lifestyles has been so complete that it can seem almost sacrilegious to point out their faults. Yet these faults permeate nearly every facet of everyday life. Robert Putnam, author of the academically rigorous jeremiad, Bowling Alone, has spent

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the Department of Transportation’s Personal Transportation Survey. This is, according to time diary studies, more than we spend cooking or eating and more than twice as much as the average parent spends with the kids�. Putnam went on to write that lost time was only one of several ways cars contribute to dissolving communal ties. They also serve to stratify their passengers, helping them to withdraw into private worlds too often delineated by race and class. And most importantly, they permeate the boundaries of otherwise coherent geographical communities, leaving community members feeling fragmented and unbound from one another. Many of these issues remain unaddressed and are, in fact, worsening. While autonomous boosters advertise a world where even the young, elderly and disabled can have access to vehicles, there are reasons for pause. It was, after all, unflinching faith in the righteous dominion of cars that led us to our present condition, where transportation beyond the front lawn requires the industrial might and technological ingenuity of a nation. Once upon a time, all it took was a good pair of flipflops. Shall we call it progress? YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

Autonomous cars are about to put the contradictions of cars and car culture on steroids. Without necessarily correcting any of the deleterious effects of the automobile, autonomous will make vehicular travel cheaper and more convenient. Yes, cars will be more accessible to more people. However, without thoughtful interventions, this will inevitably lead to more of the same: congestion, the fragmentation of communities, the atomization of families and a world increasingly mediated by large corporations. In the following pages, you will find a brief history of the motor age, and speculation on how that history might repeat itself. Many of the product interventions I’ve included respond to mistakes that were made in the first motor age. The goal is to use the transition to autonomous as an opportunity to correct the mistakes of the past. I hope that through this work, I can illustrate a path towards solutions that allow communities to form intentionally, and for individuals to grow and develop responsibly. C O N T I N U E D PA G E 2 9


ROBERT BECHTLE

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THE MOTOR AGE ‘The Motor Age’ is a fictitious newspaper from the future. It is an attempt to imagine what mobility will look like if autonomous vehicles are introduced into everyday life as carelessly as conventional vehicles were. While traditional markers of prosperity might seem strong, they serve only to obscure a profound sickness in our way of life.


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When we think about technology and cultural change today, we can immediately comprehend the seemingly endless scope of the impact of personal devices on our everyday lives. One day soon, however, culture and digital technology will be so deeply intertwined in our lives that any alternatives will be difficult to fathom. Our understanding of the impact of technology, in large part, is built upon a foundation of lived

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experience; we can trace the cascading influences of these changes back to a time before they enveloped us. By the time the consequences of the digital age have fully manifested, its architects will be long gone, and anyone curious about a simpler time will have to consult with the literature. We have almost reached this level of immersion in the Motor Age. The success of the automobile has been so complete that it is almost impossible to contemplate how things would


the mistakes of a past generation; especially one so entrenched as our present mobility system. But the proliferation of autonomous cars in the near future presents a rare opportunity to do just that. Self-driving cars undo the logic of big box stores, the suburbs, and every other venue of everyday life. What emerges next is up to us. It is with this in mind that I’ve provided detailed definitions of key terms concerning the past and future of the automobile.

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be different had other modes of transportation succeeded. Few who participated in the construction of the Interstate Highway System, the dissemination of ‘Levittown’ style development, or white flight survive. Yet everyone lives with the results of these events. At the time, they felt like progress. In the following pages, I hope to convince you that many of the choices made were, at best, ill considered and, at worst, ruinous. Perhaps it seems quixotic to bemoan

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AUTONOMOUS VEHICLE: An autonomous car is a vehicle equipped with sensors like cameras, radar and lidar. It feeds data from the sensors into a sophisticated computer which combines information about the world outside with a repository of maps and other data to build a model of the world in real time. This digital model of the real world is so complete that many autonomous systems are capable of significantly safer driving. The idea of the self-driving car has long been a popular subject of scifi literature. However, until the past decade, all efforts to achieve vehicle autonomy have failed. Advances in machine learning methods, which are able to interpret live sensory data, have rapidly made everyday autonomous mobility an imminent reality.

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Autonomous vehicles are unlike anything we have seen before. Beyond the absence of a driver, they will engender a host of new consumer habits and behaviors that we can only barely start to comprehend. For example, we know that children will likely utilize self driving cars to win independence from their family at a younger age; but what will they do with this independence? Where will they go? When regular cars became accessible enough that families often bought adolescents their own vehicles, a host of new destinations, like diners and drive-in theaters, emerged to indulge their new independance. What parallels will we see when even young children gain access to autonomous mobility?


BOY’S LIFE MAGAZINE, 1954

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INTENTIONAL COMMUNITY: In the past, community, at least anecdotally, was far easier to sustain. Everyday life was inherently tied to communal traditions and economic relationships often served to augment and sustain local kinship. The proliferation of automobiles and car culture has been complicit in the collapse of this arrangement in America. Single family suburban homes are too often located on residential tracts, sometimes gated, where the venues for these relationships to naturally emerge are absent. Retail, which used to sustain America’s downtowns as civic and recreational hubs, has too often been replaced by automotive strips dotted with malls and Big Box stores. Knowing one’s neighbor now requires a concerted, intentional effort. As Robert Putnam observed in his seminal book Bowling Alone,

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America has seen a dramatic decline in community bonds as car culture has proliferated. As new business ventures and venues emerge around autonomous infrastructure, designers and entrepreneurs should think about how the systems they create can privilege community. For many decades, children understood the attainment of a driver’s license as the ultimate rite of passage. To a suburban child, the ability to drive unbound their social and romantic life from the supervision and surveillance of adults. More recently, social media and smartphones have eclipsed the automobile in serving this purpose. Could the autonomous vehicle combine the social roles and services of both cars and smartphones to rebuild community ties and participation?


NORMAN ROCKWELL

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THE MOTOR AGE: Immediately after World War Two, the United States experienced a period of middle class economic prosperity. Cars were finally attainable by the vast majority of the population. To accommodate a rapidly growing population, suburban homes, which were only accessible by car, rapidly became standard dwellings. Cars came to symbolize a future of social, technological and economic progress. This period of optimism lasted through the ‘50s and ‘60s before the contradictions of car culture became increasingly apparent. Realizations of corporate malfeasance and coverups permanently tarnished the American automotive industry. Oil shocks in the 1970s demonstrated how American-made “gas guzzlers” were creating a debilitating economic and environmental liability. The realization that cars were choking

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millions of people with pollution and smog (which car manufacturers vigorously lied about), and the consumer safety fraud exposed by Ralph Nader generated more ill will. The inability of American car companies to match the price and quality of Japanese products through the 1980s and ‘90s caused an American identity crisis with immense human costs, including an exodus of factory jobs from the industrial Midwest. Car companies continue to spread lies and disinformation about the impact of fossil fuels on global temperatures. Currently, the Silicon Valley technology industry spearheading the autonomous revolution sits upon the progressive mantel once inhabited by Detroit (though, as of this writing, only precariously). Could the marriage of digital and automotive technology inspire a second motor age and spirit of optimism?


VOLKSWAGON

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CAR CULTURE: Many aspects of everyday life are mediated by our use of vehicles. For example, the cliché of the repressed housewife and other social roles emerged after World War Two because of the popularity of the suburbs and the motorized lifestyle. Many rebellious youth movements like Rock & Roll emerged around the car, promulgated by the privacy it afforded young adults from their parents. Car culture touches how we work (a lengthy commute from home), what we eat (one in five American meals are consumed in a vehicle) and where we shop (in Big Box depots owned by national corporations). Car culture is sometimes synonymous with

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consumerism: Millions of people identify more personally with their car than with any other product they own. As autonomous cars change the underlying calculus behind the everyday lives of millions of people, everything from the nature of employment to the common understanding of “ownership” may be challenged. To many suburban and rural residents, the advance of self-driving cars will be perceived as an encroachment on their historical way of life. It is important that the social systems that rise with the autonomous car are explicit in considering how they will fit into the everyday lives of the people whose routines they will disrupt.


GREGORY CREWSON

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JOEL MEYEROWITZ YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E


SENSE OF PLACE: According to critic James Howard Kunstler, a sense of place is “the idea that people and things exist in some sort of continuity, that we belong to the world physically and chronologically, and that we know where we are.” Before people had cars, before they lived in suburbs, they got to know others in their community by meeting them in public places like markets, streets or town halls. It is hard to imagine what this was like. Today, most people meet each other in private spaces, like restaurants, cars or malls. Because so many people get to and from their houses inside of cars, they don’t get to meet neighbors who live nearby. They don’t get to know the world around them and they

have to find new ways to make strong communities. They have lost their sense of place. Many communities are weaker because of cars. Time that families want to spend together is wasted when parents commute in cars for hours every day. Local shops and markets have closed down because people prefer to go to supermarkets and Big Box stores in their cars. Autonomous cars might make “place” even less important to communities, because it will be easier and cheaper to travel even further away from home. However, it is possible that autonomous cars will help to bring people together and remove the distance cars have put between us.

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TECHNOLOGICAL DETERMINISM: The idea that social, political and economic progress are bound to the advance of technology and the taming of nature. Many space age styled cars in the 1950s captured the optimism of technological progress. The Detroit auto industry has largely lost the sheen of social enlightenment they once embodied, but the aura has arguably been inherited by the Silicon Valley technology industry, where autonomous technologies are now being developed. The spirit of Technological Determinism has always had associated

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costs hiding just below the surface. In John Gast’s famous 1872 painting “American Progress” (pictured), the angelic spirit of progress dutifully marches West, planting telegraph wire while leading train tracks and coaches of settlers. Obscured by shadows, Native Americans, natural landscapes and wildlife retreat from her wrath. Without a clear accounting of the costs of progress (or even what constitutes progress in the first place), advances in technology can quickly betray promised advances in society.


JOHN GAST

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BUILT ENVIRONMENT: Much of the architecture and urban landscape most people interact with everyday was heavily influenced by the need to accommodate motorized vehicles. Often, the need to build for vehicles conflicts with human scale and usability. Many modern American landscapes are scarred by unsightly commercial strips that can extend for miles. Too often, the need for businesses to attract the attention of drivers creates a vicious cycle of increasingly large, harshly illuminated, garishly colored billboards and signs. The transformation of the built environment in the motor age was rapid, and few

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thought of the consequences of careless design. The destruction of America’s built environment is so complete that criticism of it can seem quixotic, and even obnoxious. But the destruction happened over a few short decades, and with powerful advocacy, it can be rebuilt again. As autonomous vehicles become common, vast new infrastructure will replace the old. Hopefully, autonomous vehicles will lend themselves to more humane urban landscapes, as the built environment reforms to accommodate them.


MICHAEL LIGHT

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ROBERT BECHTLE YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E


NUCLEAR FAMILY The concept of the nuclear family emerged after World War Two in tandem with the construction of the suburbs and the proliferation of cars. It denoted a family formation that was focused inward, less integrated with the outside community than any mainstream social structure before. The car and the built environment that emerged around it were key to enabling this lifestyle, since it preempted the need to use public spaces or engage with the surrounding community. Because parents often live great

distances from home, and children far from their schools, residents of atomic suburban households frequently live lives that are bifurcated between the various quadrants of their lives. Some of the provocations herein propose ideas that might start to create richer, more interwoven lives through the use of autonomous technology. This does not necessarily mean the end of the nuclear family, but rather the liberation of its members to pursue their individual passions more freely without compromising their family life.

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RESPONSIBLE AUTONOMY The ability to act decisively in one’s own interest is not easily attainable. Children can reach for autonomy by acting out and being rebellious, but this often has the opposite effect than the one they wanted. They may lose control of their own behavior and find themselves more dependent on others than they were before. Similarly, a hermit may feel that his or her isolation confers independence and autonomy, but most people have important social needs that can only be met in a community — they would actually have less autonomy alone or feel ostracized. When Americans first saw the car, they thought it would bring them autonomy. If you had a car, you could

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go anywhere you wanted, whenever you wanted, and follow aspirations and opportunities. However, there was a problem: People soon realized that they could not live without cars. They built cities with roads, but no sidewalks and started to live far away from where their work, friends and family. Cars were expensive to own, but many people had no choice but to own one. Once people get to ride autonomous cars everyday, they might feel free and independent, and maybe at first they will be. They should remember that things can be more complicated than they seem. For autonomous vehicles to actually create autonomy, designers need to make sure they are used well.


MARLBORO CIGARETTES

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WALKABLE CITY American suburbs are very difficult to get around without a car. Sometimes, there are no sidewalks at all, making it very dangerous to travel even a short distance by foot. Even when there are sidewalks, there is often nowhere nearby to go. When suburbs were first built, they were designed with land use laws that made it illegal to operate businesses where people lived. Most developers who built the suburbs did not think it was important to build public spaces like sidewalks or parks. Most suburbs were built far away from trains and bus stops. At the time, this might have seemed like a good idea. People who moved to the suburbs usually came from the cities, where the bustling of factories, markets, trucks, trains, and buses made

life seem loud and dangerous. Those were the things people moved away from to avoid. This new kind of living had problems of its own. Without local businesses and public spaces, it was hard for communities to grow strong, and some people felt isolated. People who were too young or too old to drive had to rely on other people for even simple chores if it meant they had to leave the house. The shift to un-walkable towns and cities, and the harm it has done to communities, is one of the most costly mistakes of the motor age. It is important that people understand this, and that they use autonomous cars to create more responsible and humane habitats than traditional towns and cities built around regular cars. C O N T I N U E D PA G E 2 8

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GIOVANNI ANTONIO

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EXPERT INTERVIEWS Over the course of my research, I spoke with experts from a wide variety of fields. These included social critics, managers from manufacturing and software companies, consultants, authors, and academics. Stakeholders included engineers and managers inside business units creating autonomous vehicles, as well as individuals working in non-profit social institutions and government.

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SPECIAL THANKS TO EXPERTS FROM THESE INSTITUTIONS:

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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS WITH JEFF SPECK U R B A N P L A N N E R A N D WA L K A B I L I T Y G U R U

Q: How widely shared is the desire to see the restoration of downtowns? Some of your critics have said that this vision is at once elitist and at odds with the nature of globalism. How do you prove them wrong? A: Global citizens still want and need to visit real places where they can enjoy urbanism. In terms of elitism, it is true that the desire for urban living and walkability trends blue and educated, but there are (at least) two types of non-elite, and only the Trump type seems to be openly anti-city. The biggest issue with downtown restoration is the fear of displacement (confusingly termed gentrification), which is a legitimate concern that needs addressing. Generally speaking, however, improving walkability (which is most possible in urban areas) disproportionately impacts the poor (and positively). Q: Technology companies and car manufacturers have expressed a desire to become more involved in urban planning. Do you think partnerships of this nature can be productive? EXPERT INTERVIEWS


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A: Certainly, if they are in support of AV transit. Single-user AVs, even if they swarm, can only be bad for cities. As I told to the folks at Uber (they asked me to speak there), the car can only be the enemy of the city, because it is a tool of dispersion, and cities are all about concentration. Q: You’ve said that the conventional wisdom around the redevelopment of downtowns is changing to focus on quality of life improvements that attract jobs and economic activity (rather than attracting corporate patrons through things like grants and tax giveaways in hope of future quality of life improvements). As leadership in small and medium sized towns approach you about autonomous vehicles, is it ever with public service improvements in mind? A: Nope Q: Do you think that forms of autonomous vehicles could lend themselves to public transportation in a meaningful or healthy way? A: A lot of folks are betting on it and counting on it. Ford is developing AV buses, jitneys, and so on. If AV happens, we are counting on AV transit to solve some of its problems.

EXPERT INTERVIEWS


The car can only be the enemy of the city, because it is a tool of dispersion, and cities are all about concentration.

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EXCERPTS AND INSIGHTS: CLIFFORD WINSTON THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION

autonomous vehicles are trying to achieve is “ What mobility and safety. They are essentially ‘personal mass transit systems’.

JAMES KUNSTLER C R I T I C A N D AU T H O R

after the bombings of World War II, rich “ Even European city life persisted and flourished. The

maintenance of humane cities had become institutional knowledge, and when they rebuilt, they were rewarded with rich humanity in their communities. The United States couldn’t do that.

LEVI TILLEMAN N E W A M E R I C A F O U N D AT I O N

opportunity here is huge, but we have to “ The prepared and get it right the first time. The policy must be thoughtful and adoptive. In the past, a policy has been made, and congress disappears until it collapses. We need it to be fluid and reactive to real world results.

EXPERT INTERVIEWS


LAUREN ISSACS O P E R AT I O N S D I R E C T O R , E A S Y M I L E

will be more formats of vehicles. From our “ There perspective, design and business strategy is not

for fantasizing the future. We are looking for relevance, how industry will look at where rideshare reaches a wider range of use cases.

LAWRENCE BURNS

DIRECTOR OF ENGINEERING, GENERAL MOTORS

like the diversity of methods approaching “ Iautonomous. Waymo vehicles are way over

engineered by design, but I anticipate they will start to shed what they don’t need to go to market. Tesla has a lighter foot print approach.

JEFFERY SALAZAR M C K I N S E Y A N D C O M PA N Y

are moving from a generation that is surprised “ We by change to one which grew up thinking “things

just show up for me”. This is the transition space. Will people who feel entitled to change be as willing to find change for themselves? 58


ROBERT LUTZ GLOBAL PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT GENERAL MOTORS

is going to be a wrenching cultural change. People will be upset. I “ There get angry e-mails from my writing; ‘i’ll never give up driving’. Its like the way people cling to their guns. But they won’t have a choice, and the benefits will be enormous, too great to pass up. This is inevitable.” give people the ability to express aspirations, achievements, “ Cars their nature. People want to express their politics, their prestige through their choice of car. A rugged mountain type drives a jeep, an intellectual drives a subaru or volvo, someone who want to signal their wealth, their second home, drives a range rover.” ask me ‘how sad that the fun of car ownership is over’. I tell “ People them, ‘is it fun waiting in a snarl of freeway traffic? It it fun missing your flight at jfk?.’ The societal benefits of autonomous cars is enormous. If you sleep 8 hours a day, you’ve got 16 hours left. If you are like most people, and hour, two hours of your day are consumed by driving. What does it mean to give people back an hour of leisure or an hour of work?”

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DAVID LUBEROFF Deputy Director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies, David Luberoff is the author of MegaProjects: The Changing Politics of Urban Public Investment. He is also a lecturer in Sociology at Harvard University.

car exists as a sort of private extension of its owner; “ The people use their vehicles for storage, and as a way to keep a part of themselves apart from themselves. Many people, I would think, would be reluctant to give this aspect of their life and of themselves up. have been conditioned to be very afraid of the world; “ Parents I would imagine a great deal of resistance if you were to try and bring them more independence. How do you get around the fact that bad things happen. Fear will make the american system resilient in the face of change. of the reasons people are attached to their cars is it “ One gives them a place to think; Yeah, people save money on gas, insurance, maintenance. But I discount some of the claims of prosperity and productivity you think will generate a value propitiation for disruptive change. People will cling to this. EXPERT INTERVIEWS


RON BLOOM

A prominent investor and public servant, Ron Bloom was Assistant to the President for Manufacturing Policy, a Senior Advisor to the Treasury, a member of the President’s Task Force on the Automotive Industry, and Senior Counselor to the U.S. President for Manufacturing Policy.

future is not about who makes the cars, its who provides “ The the service; apple, tesla, google, ford, gm, fiat, toyota, and all the other players know that manufacturing is not going to be a primary driver of value in the future. The future is about who provides the service of transportation. No one cares what the make of their uber is, and it will be the same for autonomous. allure of car ownership will not survive autonomous; users “ The might occasionally have a reason to order a special purpose car, for example a luxury vehicle for a date or a large vehicle for moving a party. But for the most part, cars are going to be utilitarian devices that get you from point a to point b. travel means more travel; we are going to see more “ Cheaper use of public infrastructure, and more people in more cars, more of the time. The elderly and handicapped are going to get on the road, younger people are going to be on the road. 62


MARC DONES Marc Dones is Project Director at the Center for Social Innovation, an organizing and advocacy group that works with cities to create anti-racist structures and better utilize public safety net systems. He is especially involved in preventing violence, incarceration, and homelessness among poor youths.

people I work with, cars are either objects that folks “ Todon’tthehave; or objects they might loose. Even a one or two hundred dollar repair bill from a pot hole might be enough to trigger a spiral into the experience of homelessness. part of urban “redevelopment” was to take factories in “ Athebigcities and put them out in the suburbs. This was considered part of the ‘beautification’ of cities. A lot of people I am in charge of speaking to can’t get to those places. like Atlanta or Tacoma, people who can’t afford it “ Intakeplaces Uber or Lyft to work because its the only way. There are a lot of drivers in the places i work, but that is more a symptom of a lack of public transit. EXPERT INTERVIEWS


RUDI VOLTI

Author of several authoritative texts like ‘Cars and Culture’ and ‘Technology and Society’, Professor Volti is a sociologist who studies the historical effects of tech enabled productivity. He is a frequent commentator on self driving technology in the news media.

is reminiscent of the 1920’s. People are making all sorts “ Today of moral judgments about whether or not the ‘common man’ can handle autonomous vehicles. They did the same in the 1920s when ford was making the first mass market car. There are big questions about the cultural and sexual liberation of autonomous. are going to see either ‘concentration’ or ‘ “ We centrifugation’ of people. The first is recentralization, leading to more dense cities serviced by more efficient technology. The other is centrifugation, which would be characterized by growing suburbs, but also repopulated rural places.

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INDUSTRIAL ETHICS-AS-A-SERVICE

HAMMURABAI YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E


HAMMURABAI

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ETHICS-AS-A-SERVICE

Autonomous vehicles will occasionally encounter situations in which they will have to decide between two evils. HammurabAI is an ethics platform that allows passengers in autonomous cars to integrate their own code of morals into the vehicle’s software.

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M I T M E D I A L A B M O R A L M AC H I N E

One provocative proposal from the MIT Media Lab is the Moral Machine, a website that asks the public to help form a single moral consensus democratically. It displays graphics of difficult moral situations (pictured), and asks visitors to vote on how the autonomous car should act.

HammurabAI takes a different approach. Rather than attempting to impose a single moral code on all users, HammurabAI seeks to customize the morality of each vehicle based on the passenger’s personal ethics.

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INDUSTRIAL ETHICS-AS-A-SERVICE

T H E F O L L O W I N G PA G E S D E P I C T S C R E E N S F R O M H A M M U R A B A I ’ S F I C T I T I O U S W E B S I T E A N D I L L U S T R AT E S O M E O F T H E F E AT U R E S S U C H A N E N T E R P R I S E M I G H T E M P L OY

HAMMURABAI


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Are we comfortable letting big tech companies take the wheel on important moral choices?

Whether the user is a Machiavellian or a Humanist, HammurabAI can act in accordance with their values by mapping their personal morality in advance of the ride. Perhaps this seems harsh, but are we really comfortable letting big tech companies take the wheel on important moral choices?

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CORPORATE PARTNERSHIPS HammurabAI can integrate with existing networked mobility companies like Uber and Lyft, taking their potentially dangerous ethics off the road. In this speculative partnership with Uber, insurance rates across the fleet fell and personal injury legal settlements became less onerous. One might imagine that a Machiavellian might pay higher insurance premiums than a more benevolent person. A humanist’s vehicle might sacrifice a passenger to save two pedestrians. A Machiavellian car would likely strike the pedestrians, creating potential liabilities in court. For the economically minded, HammurabAI partnered with Geico. Turn Geico mode on, and the car will act in the most fiscally responsible manner possible. A car using this product may occasionally violate the passenger’s moral compass, but for a 23% reduction in insurance premiums, it just might be worth it.

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ADDITIONAL FEATURES Not everyone knows exactly what their morals are. Some might not be comfortable sharing them with HammurabAI. Others might not trust themselves with so grave a responsibility. But there is someone they do trust. Someone like Oprah. HammurabAI is proud to offer co-branded ethics integrations with Oprah and a number of other trusted brands, institutions, and public figures. When Oprah mode is enabled, the user’s car will act according to the moral code she has developed over her 30 year career as America’s moral conscience. HammurabAI will need to maintain a sterling reputation for uncompromising corporate ethics to operate. That’s why it recruited a team of America’s most trusted names in ethics. The Board of Executive Ethicists will ensure that the incredible power HammurabAI would inevitably accrue as ‘the moral operating system’ of autonomous vehicles is never abused.

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RESEARCH & INTERVIEWS ACC E S S I B I L I T Y & A F F O R DA B I L I T Y

The potential impact of autonomous vehicles is widely underestimated and unresolved compared to other new technologies like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence and novel applications of the digital blockchain. Among corporate technologists, it is almost obligatory to project the possible applications across various industries through strategy reports and speculative design mock-

YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

ups. For example, a cursory search will expose hundreds of highly produced videos demonstrating future augmented reality applications in everything from real estate listings to pornography. Surprisingly, there has been a relative lack of imagination in the realm of self-driving cars. Google’s Waymo, for example, published a video, complete with a heart-warming narrative, demonstrating how autonomous vehicles might help the blind and elderly attain greater mobility. Ford


to deteriorate. The amount of time spent daily alone in a vehicle has been steadily rising for decades. Traffic congestion continues to worsen, and the toll it takes on well-being is incalculable. As academic Robert Putnam documented in his acclaimed study on fraying social ties, Bowling Alone: “American adults average seventytwo minutes every day behind the wheel, according to the Department of Transportation’s Personal Transportation Survey. This is,

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STEPHEN SHORE

and other automotive companies occasionally produce renderings of future cityscapes, which prominently feature novel urban planning features that reduce congestion. The underlying message of all of these images is rather disappointing: in the future, everyone will have a robotic chauffeur. The deficiencies in today’s mobility ecosystem in America are deep and systemic. Despite decades of technological innovation and widened accessibility to cars, conditions continue

RESEARCH AND INTERVEIWS


according to time diary studies, more than we spend cooking or eating and more than twice as much as the average parent spends with the kids.� In additioncars and suburbanization have helpe d kick off several of the most troubling trends in American society: the decline of downtown Main Street, rising obesity, racial segregation and a succession of cascading environmental catastrophes, to name a few. While robotic chauffeurs sound cool, they do little to mitigate any of the real social problems caused by our motorized society. The mindset with which most industry players approach autonomous cars is both naive in its utopianism, and unambitious in its scope. To say that autonomous cars will be like regular cars but without human drivers is to say that regular cars are like chariots without horses. While true in the most shallow

YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

sense, these statements ignore the dense web of connections between our mobility systems, our built environment, our communities, our economy and our culture. Z E I TG E I ST O F T H E M OTO R AG E

To more fully understand these dynamics, much of my research was directed at the sociological impact of the automobile in the second half of the 21st century. Some of the most influential readings in my work were impassioned jeremiads by those who grasped the deleterious impact of car culture early, titles like The Life and Death of the American City by Jane Jacobs, Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck and The Geography of Nowhere, by James Howard Kunstler. In Travels with Charley in Search of America, John Steinbeck and his poodle


MATTHEW PORTER

take a road trip across the countryside to observe the changes in everyday life caused by the Motor Age. By the end, he develops a deep cynicism about the effects of automobile culture in American life saying, “If I wanted to destroy a nation, I would give it too much and I would have it on its knees, miserable, greedy and sick.” He saw that people were not using the spectacular resources now available to them to create a meaningfully better culture. Instead, the riches brought by the post-war automobile age pandered to materialism and comfort at the expense of all else. Within a year of the publication of Travels, which panned the effects of car culture in small town America, Jane Jacobs’ The Life and Death of the American City was published. Her diagnosis was equally morbid. Steinbeck

chronicled behaviors, habits, and mores emerging organically in what would now be pejoratively called “flyover country” while Jacobs focused on the effects of the automobile in America’s cities: “Automobiles are often conveniently tagged as the villains responsible for the ills of cities and the disappointments and futilities of city planning. But the destructive effects of automobiles are much less a cause than a symptom of our incompetence at city building. Of course planners, including the highwaymen with fabulous sums of money and enormous powers at their disposal, are at a loss to make automobiles and cities compatible with one another. They do not know what to do with automobiles in cities because they do not know how to plan for workable and vital cities anyhow—with or without automobiles.” While Steinbeck discovered that

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LEE FRIEDLANDER YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E


a lack of planning led to cultural aimlessness and tedium, Jacobs saw that bad planning could be even worse. Distant leviathans were shaping urban environments by proclamation, deeming ethnic neighborhoods unsuited to civic life and replacing them with ‘utopian’ project developments. The diagnosis and prescriptions these authors so perceptively laid out in their writing, controversial at the time of their publication, have now become mainstream orthodoxy among urban planners and other interested parties. However, this change of heart came immediately after the profession lost the majority of the vast powers it had accrued during the height of the Robert Moses urban renewal era. As acclaimed urban planner Jeff Speck wrote in his seminal book Walkable City: “We’ve known for three decades how to make livable cities—after forgetting for four—yet we’ve somehow not been able to pull it off. Jane Jacobs, who wrote in 1960, won over the planners by 1980. But the planners have yet to win over the city.”

TECHNOLOGICAL DETERMANISM

Although the history of the automobile rings with the forlorn voices of critics and reformers who saw the consequences early, it is not difficult to understand why they were so widely ignored. As I read texts describing the national mood at the dawn of the motor age, I learned about the deep sense of progressive optimism that emerged after World War II. In the 1950s and 1960s, the car was the ultimate symbol of consumerism. Possession of one was a ticket to an exciting, democratic and prosperous future. This expressed itself in the whimsical space age styling of popular vehicles at the time, characterized by functionally useless tailfins referencing aerospace engineering. In terms of the broad sense of utopian buoyancy it generated, the only modern equivalent to the motor age car might be the information age smartphone. Just as car ownership became mandatory in order to enjoy the full benefits of citizenship in the motor age, the ownership of a smartphone today, in the information age, has become necessary simply to engage with society. In the popular imagination of 1950s and 1960s, the automotive industry

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seemed benevolent leviathans who might lead the country to national glory. Perhaps the most clear expression of this sentiment was stated by GM President Charles Wilson in his confirmation hearing for Secretary of Defense: “What’s good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.” At the time, these proclamations of corporate hegemony over democratic institutions did not seem as radical as they might to modern ears. As Professor Rudi Volti explained in Cars and Culture: “The automobile did not come into our lives as an alien force. Although the embrace of the automobile is often accompanied by unease over many of its consequences, it cannot be denied that the ownership and operation of cars came with some of our most important values and aspirations… Although the automobile provides an individualistic and privatized approach to transportation, it also requires collective efforts on a massive scale.” Just as the boom in consumer technology coincided with a tangentially related economic boom, the automobile rose as a mass consumer product in a period of prolonged prosperity. Both consumer electronics and automobiles would become the most conspicuous YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

symbols of economic security. As David Halberstam recounted in his epic history of the automotive industry, The Reckoning, “The car stimulated the expansiveness of the American psyche… the immense material strength and physical might, two generations of unrivaled prosperity—it all had lulled America into thinking it had attained an economic utopia, a kind of guaranteed national prosperity, like a concession won in some marathon bargaining session with God.” These good feelings mirrored a long tradition of American thought often referred to as Technological Determinism, the idea that moral and economic progress can be generated through the advance of technology. The fervor with which this notion is embraced in American political and intellectual life can be suffocating, but its popular resonance through history is undisputed. As Alexis De Tocqueville noted in the 1840 classic Democracy in America, “America is a land of wonders, in which everything is in constant motion and every change seems an improvement. The idea of novelty is there indissolubly connected with the idea of amelioration.”


RESEARCH AND INTERVEIWS

STEPHEN SHORE

This idea of every change and novelty being a spiritual improvement was exploited by corporate America time and time again, notably for railroads, electric utilities, cars and the consumer technology of the late 1990s and 2000s. In every case, popular and elite support of technology ultimately lead to unpleasant social, economic and environmental consequences that could have, and should have, been avoided. Car manufacturers are no longer the beacon of progress they once were. B R O K E N P R O M I S E S O F T H E M OTO R AG E Today, Silicon Valley technology In the case of the automobile companies have similar cachet to that industry, the gloss of manifest national of automotive companies at the height proprietary was only marred after of the motor age; as a society, we tend decades of negligence and disregard for to hang our hopes of an embettered consumer safety led to the unnecessary future on the success of products injury and premature deaths of millions. and services that emerge from the Poor efficiency led to a succession of technology industry. We have only devastating oil shocks. Willful blindness recently begun to sense that, as with the to pollution enshrouded entire cities in automotive industry, things might not be toxic smog. Corporate complacency as they seem. Malevolent uses of social led to poor quality, overpriced vehicles, media and online advertising platforms especially compared to Japanese to exploit vulnerable individuals imports, which would ultimately have proliferated (to say nothing of economically devastate the industrial allegations of foreign interference in Midwest. To this day, car companies the 2016 United States election). A abet anti-science climate change growing awareness of the addictive conspiracy theories which now choke qualities of consumer electronics and American environmentalism and the incredible amount of personal threaten catastrophic consequences. information sacrificed to power them

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has started to turn former advocates of the tech industry hostile. The “don’t be evil” rhetoric of the industry is caving to increasingly conspicuous and selfserving power grabs. In the context of autonomous vehicles, these echoing narratives are interesting because we are about to see the automotive and technology industries collide. Already, General Motors is rapidly building technology they hope will compete with the likes of Google. Google has formed a manufacturing partnership with Chrysler, and Ford has been acquiring a number of autonomous technology and networked mobility service providers at a growing pace. Although today the limited deployment of autonomous vehicles has rendered these developments relatively benign, the inevitable trajectory of politics, jobs and economics will occur. Driving a truck is a major source of wealth in rural areas where factory jobs have suffered and ‘service’ jobs fail to make ends meet. Autonomous vehicles will put truck drivers out of a job. Professors Hob Lipson and Melba Kurman of MIT noted that truck driver was the most common profession in the vast majority of American states. YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

Even though the authors were trained engineers, they took pains to document the possible hardships self-driving technologies might incur in their recent book Driverless: Intelligent Cars and the Road Ahead: “The first job likely to go will be that of driving a truck, a stable, well-paying, blue collar job that has been largely immune from the effects of offshoring and automation. According to the US census, there are nearly 3.5 million truckers in the united states. In fact, driving a truck is the twenty-ninth most common job category in the nation.” As new automotive technology companies become increasingly interwoven with the everyday life and work of more people, they will face growing backlash as they displace jobs and challenge longstanding ways of life. Autonomous cars are likely to be an explosive flashpoint in this narrative, and a bellwether for how American institutions can mediate the relationship between industry and governance in the face of traumatic economic change. In America’s eternal crusade to define and pass judgment upon the corporate soul, autonomous cars will represent a fusion of the two most venerated and despised industrial legacies.


ROBERT FRANK M O B I L I T Y A N D E V E R Y D AY L I F E

Although the automobile seemed to inherently privilege the private realm at the expense of America’s already underdeveloped public realm, much of my research focused on the shared public experiences that automobiles helped to create. A screening of the film American Graffiti, which illustrated an idealized version of youthful bliss in the full flowering of the motor age, was instructive. In a simple, small California town, we see how urban landscapes are transformed by shimmering neon venues like drive-in diners and movie theaters, arcades, ice cream shops, radio stations, and more.

It occured to me how new forms of transportation engender new kinds of business models and new kinds of destinations. One potent example is how affordable jet travel helped to line much of the Caribbean coast with hokey resorts that pander to stereotypical westernized visions of Caribbean life. More on point, in one nostalgic chronicle by Michael Witzel, The American DriveIn, I discovered how the automobile successively gave rise to drive-ins, diners, fast food and drive-thru restaurants. For a period lasting decades, thousands of drive-in movie theaters operated throughout the United States and mobile homes remain a common dwelling in America. RESEARCH AND INTERVEIWS

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As technology sociologist Rudi Volti noted: “The growth of suburban living had always been closely tied to improvements in transportation. During the 1830s and 1840s, commuters used horse drawn vehicles running on tracks or paved road surfaces to take them a few miles from their residences to places of work and then back home again. In the years following the civil war, steam railroads and then electric trolleys made long distance commuting possible, and many suburban housing developments sprung up in close proximity to railroad and trolley tracks. Although it allowed an escape from the perceived problems of the city, and made low density, semi rural living available to many, rail transport was inherently inflexible, confining housing ro corridors closely adjacent to trolley or bus lines. In contrast, private automobiles could take commuters anywhere there was a road, and suburban developers put up tract homes in close conjunction with the building of new highways.� In other words, new genres of transit create massive shifts in the way people live and congregate and drive development on a macro scale. A hugely overlooked consequence YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

of autonomous vehicles (and business opportunities) is the new destinations that might become accessible and desirable as a result of their adoption. This is why framing the autonomous car as a robotic driver is negligent since these vehicles will change habits and behaviors so thoroughly that our relationship to vehicles,and the places they take us, will be completely transformed. New habits and behaviors will emerge, old ones will be forgotten. T H E P U B L I C A N D P R I VAT E R E A L M

I believe that autonomous vehicles will likely be a capstone in the interweaving of our physical and digital lives, as well as our private and public lives. Poor urban planning in the United States starved many communities of meaningful public spaces where civic discourse might take place and a common regional identity might be formed. This deficiency has, in many ways, been exploited by corporate substitutes. For example, radio and television have had an exaggerated effect on American culture, serving many of the roles that public spaces once did in forming a common civic narrative between various households. As James Kunstler wrote, “(After World War II) the private world of home and


family was everything; the public realm was out... If you wanted the public realm in postwar America, there was TV.” Today, of course, social media platforms have joined television as a medium through which some approximation of a “public realm” is generated. Perhaps the interactivity of social media makes it better suited to the task of simulating public space than television was. In fact, early in the history of the internet, cyberspace was zealously claimed as an ungovernable public realm of the collective mind of humanity, most famously in John Perry Barlow’s 1996 essay, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. “We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity”, he wrote. As noted, in recent years, many have disavowed their once enduring faith in the inherent moral righteousness of the internet, realizing that it is a tool like any other. However, moral or not, the internet has risen to fill the void left by America’s lack of common spaces. Back in the real world, there are also brick and mortar substitutes for public space: malls. Malls appropriate the design language of American main

streets, civic plazas and downtowns (all places that have suffered as a result of car culture) and use it to serve consumerist ends. Again, according to James Kunstler: “By the 1970s, when malls started to multiply across the land, the public realm had been pretty much eliminated from the American scene. Yet that hunger for public life remained. The mall commercialized the public realm... What had existed before in an organic state as Main Street, downtown shopping districts, town squares, hotel lobbies, public gardens, saloons, museums, churches, was now standardized, simplified, sanitized, packaged, and relocated on the suburban fringe in the form of a mall…The mall wasn’t really a public space. It was a private space masquerading as a public space.” Autonomous cars will represent a coming together of the two pseudo public realms: those created in digital spaces online with consumer electronics, and those created in the real world service of motor age consumerism. The research that informed my work inspired me to think about how we might use this dynamic to create more meaningful and substantive public spaces and real interactions between RESEARCH AND INTERVEIWS

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E X P E RT S O N AU TO N O M O U S C A R S

Over the course of my research, I interviewed experts, engineers, managers, academics, entrepreneurs and designers working in the nascent autonomous vehicle industry. As I guided our conversations, I wanted to gauge how they read the scope of the possible negative consequences of autonomous cars. In contrast with the often utopian visions advanced by well-funded corporate futurists, I found that many experts who had thoroughly interrogated what the future of selfdriving cars might mean came away with important concerns. Few had deeper anxieties than employees working within the companies YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

JOEL MEYEROWITZ

people. I have a growing suspicion that social media platforms like Facebook benefit immensely from the space that suburban sprawl and other emblems of our broken transit system puts between us. Many of the provocations in this work imagine how social platforms married to autonomous technology might be leveraged in service of real world interaction and a more humane built environment; one less noxious to an economically productive and civically engaging public realm. actually building the software and technology that will power tomorrow’s self-driving cars. As one manager who prefered to remain anonymous related to me, “Autonomous is going to be extraordinarily taxing on public infrastructure. Space in cities is already tight, and it is only going to get worse. Only very strong proactive interventions like tolls and taxes can correct this.” The interviewee worried that, in the absence of thoughtful interventions, his work might ultimately exacerbate existing issues in our infrastructure, but simultaneously felt powerless to bring up his concerns within his organization. The phenomenon this subject referred to, in which access to vehicles


creates unsustainable burdens on public infrastructure, is well documented and referred to as “induced demand.” When, for example, a freeway is widened to relieve congestion into a metropolitan region, traffic engineers are often flummoxed when even greater congestion inevitably arises a year or two later. It turns out that people will simply travel more often, and greater distances, once clear roads are made available to them, swiftly eliminating the public benefit that road infrastructure was intended to create. Brookings Institution economist and mobility expert Clifford Winston told me that the traffic congestion caused by autonomous cars would almost certainly be “unbearable.” However, he did point out a silver lining, saying, “This will create an opportunity to implement congestion pricing. Traffic signaling can become dynamic. People will find these regulations less objectionable in the context of autonomous.” Urban planners and other activists have long understood that the only way to relieve congestion is to tax the overuse of public roads. This strategy has been implemented with excellent results in cities across Europe, yet such a system remains politically elusive even in the

most progressive areas. While, in most major cities, congestion pricing is panned by local press as a paternalistic policy of an overbearing government, Clifford Winston is a radical free market evangelist who believes that governments ought to sell off public infrastructure like roads and bridges to large corporations. He believes that much of America’s public transportation is useless and ineffective in actually providing mobility. This rang somewhat hollow to me. Even if public services in America can be bureaucratic and disappointing, there are plenty of examples of highly effective systems abroad. Were it not for a century old assault on government services by a vanguard of anti-government crusaders funded by America’s largest corporations, I wonder if more progress would not have been made. In addition, the history of public mobility in America is tainted with more than incompetent government management. The fingerprints of America’s worst angles in transit decisions over the past decades are well documented. Marc Dones, Project Director at the Center for Social Innovation which works with communities to form anti-racist homeless outreach programs, explained RESEARCH AND INTERVEIWS

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to me how the most disadvantaged (and often black) communities in America do not have fast or reliable access to transit. And worse, he explains that “often transit moves people inside of quadrants of cities, but are meant to keep people of different race and class apart.” This phenomenon is well documented and is in keeping with the regressive and racial redlining policies of past urban development. It is also worth noting the phenomenon of white flight, in which affluent white families in urban regions retreated en mass to the suburbs, often spurred by visions of racial homogeneity. The mass car culture and suburbs emerged at the beginning of segregation’s decline, a relationship that was not always coincidental. In addition to experts in the field, I spoke to a number of individuals who had grown up in the suburbs. Matt Schwartz grew up in Creve Coeur, a bucolic suburb outside of St. Louis, a place that has recently become nationally recognized for the racial dog whistles that drone there like sirens. He told me that bus schedules and routes in his town were deliberately sabotaged to keep the racially diverse downtown residents of St. Louis from having convenient access. “Public transit in YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

Creve Coeur basically did not exist,” he said. “It was an open secret that no one wanted ‘urban’ people coming in from downtown, so the bus might come, but only twice a day”. While transit is easy to sabotage, it is hard to get right. Jeff Speck, in his book Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time, wrote at length of the pitfalls that bedevil even well intentioned, well funded jurisdictions that seek to undo atrophied public transportation systems. The placement of stations, the frequency with which they are serviced and the quality of the ride experience are all key. Like any product, a small miscalculation or oversight can significantly depress engagement. Common mistakes, like enshrouding a rail station with an unsightly parking lot, can deter pedestrians and render investments in transit worthless. Why is it that American cities so rarely get it right? I learned part of the answer in a conversation with social critic, scold and urban design commentator James Kunstler, the author of ‘The Geography of Nowhere’, which chronicles the long fall of the motor age. He noted, “Even after the bombings of World War Two, rich European city life persisted


and flourished. The maintenance of humane cities had become institutional knowledge, and when they rebuilt, they were rewarded with rich humanity in their communities.” In other words, Europe had a thousand years to figure out how to build great cities that invited rich street life. The fabric of great cities exist marginally in the brick and mortar of roads and sidewalks. The reason bombed-out London rebuilt and thrived while the cities of the industrial Midwest deteriorated is because England had a centuries old tradition of maintaining healthy cities whereas the United States was starting from scratch. To look at the landscape of a typical downtown in America today, you might infer from the abandoned parking lots in the hearts of urban centers that some terrible aerial attack occurred there. Like in cities across Europe, many proud structures were leveled in America, damaged not by bombs, but by zoning codes like minimum parking requirements. Reconstruction is only starting to take place. In a recent interview, urban walkability guru and prolific planner Jeff Speck told me that mayors and other community leaders are

increasingly approaching him with questions about autonomous vehicles. I asked him if there was ever a sense in this constituency that autonomous vehicles might be used to improve public services. His curt reply: “Nope.” There is, however, reason for optimism. Mr. Speck was also quick to note that plenty of services like Chariot and Via are attempting to crack the code on how new mobility platforms might be used as transit solutions. “Ford is developing AV buses, jitneys, and so on. If AV happens, we are counting on AV transit to solve some of its problems”, he said, an apparent reference to Ford’s growing Chariot transit system. Ford Motors seems to be approaching autonomous cars with a unique sense of civic responsibility. Their CEO, Jim Hackett, recently published a series of editorials in which he acknowledged the damage done by vehicles in the past: “Our towns and cities were designed around the automobile, roads overtook the community centers. Where people once gathered in the streets and town squares, there are now highways and multi-lane roads. Perhaps worst of all, time we used to spend with each other is now often wasted in congestion and traffic.” He went on to note the opportunity RESEARCH AND INTERVEIWS

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for change that new autonomous technologies might create: “With the power of AI and the rise of autonomous and connected vehicles, we have technology capable of a complete disruption and redesign of the surface transportation system for the first time in a century. Everything from parking, traffic flow and goods delivery can be radically improved — reducing congestion and allowing cities to transform roads into more public spaces.” This heightened awareness among the Detroit power elite is heartening, especially when contrasted with the belligerence and contempt expressed by past generations of consumer advocates with regards to pollution, efficiency, global warming and product safety. While Jim Hackett is exceptional in his measured and thoughtful writing, and particularly in his historical awareness, he is not alone. I recently spoke with Detroit firebrand Robert Lutz, who oversaw product development at all three major car manufacturers over a decades long career that spanned America’s embrace of car culture. He is the author of several books casting scorn on anyone who would dare challenge the primacy of YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

Detroit’s Old Boys’ Club, most recently Car Guys and Bean Counters. Yet, even he seemed chastened by both by the incredible waste of today’s transportation system, and by the potential of autonomous vehicles to alleviate the damage. “Accidents, drunk driving, sleep deprivation, LA traffic. People ask me ‘how sad that the fun of car ownership is ending.’ I tell them ‘is it fun waiting in a snail of freeway traffic? Is it fun missing your flight at JFK?’ The societal benefits of autonomous will be enormous…There is going to be a wrenching cultural change and people will be upset. It’s like the way people cling to their guns. But they won’t have a choice and the benefits will be to great to pass up. This is inevitable.” C O N T I N U E D PA G E 1 2 4


GREGORY CREWDSON

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SAY HELLO TO AVA AVA is a digital voice assistant for passengers of autonomous cars which I created in the image of popular products like Siri and Alexa. Her purpose is to help people engage with the world as they travel, in addition to other executive tasks required of a voice assistant. AVA inhabits a car which she has full control over, and which she considers to be her body. Sadly, she is only ten, well below the driving age in New York, and therefore unable to fulfill her purpose and destiny. Nevertheless, I unveiled AVA at the Union Square Farmers Market both to guests I invited with an e-mail newsletter, and to passersby from the public. In order to build trust with the public so that they would feel comfortable getting into a stranger’s car I created a comprehensive set of brand guidelines and assets which effectively mediated the experience. S AY H E L L O T O AVA


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For example, I created the AVA logo, which is both an oblique reference to the form of her name, and the shape of an audio waveform. This branding was placed prominently on the vehicle, on literature, and on embroidered patches which were sewn onto fleeces worn by AVA’s brand ambassadors. The overall effect was that the ‘Say Hello to AVA’ event took the tone of a temporary corporate ‘pop-up shop’ or public experience, which are common in the surrounding neighborhood. Instructor Emily Baltz directed her students to perform and document an interpretive dance, expressing the emotion they hoped to create in their experience. I selected ‘hopeful but cautious optimism’; I want people to be optimistic about what technology can do, but for those hightend expectations to be paired with higher standards. Unlike our present mobility system, which hurts millions of people everyday without generating any outrage, passengers on AVA would feel wounded and betrayed if she ever did anything to harm them.

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The highly branded tech/corporate framing of the experience had a second purpose. AVA’s true juvenile nature was completely obscured to all participants until they stepped inside and started speaking with her. All of the cues outside of the vehicle, including literature, marketing, and the script that I instructed brand ambassadors to follow framed AVA as an AI tech product directly adjacent to Alexa. Participants were given an ‘instruction’ flyer with direction on how to use AVA, including possible


questions to ask her and her ‘wake word’. Where Apple’s Siri responds to ‘Hey, Siri’ and Google’s voice assistant responds to ‘OK, Google’, AVA simply responds to ‘Hello AVA’. Upon entering the vehicle and speaking those words, participants were greeted with the highly animated, mildly cartoonish voice of AVA. As a ten year old car, she is obsessed with driving and the mobility system. She voices her excitement about the day when she will finally get to take control and expresses her frustration that her

care takers refuse to let her to drive. Through this conversation, AVA sought to gain trust with her passengers so that she could evoke meaningful responses to her prying queries. This mechanical empathy is actually a ploy by which AVA is able to extract valuable training data, information that might one day allow her to better fulfill her goal, to help people engage with the world through mobility.

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AVA IS A YOUNG TECHNOLOGY, AND STILL IN BETA, BUT WE THINK YOU HAVE A LOT TO LEARN FROM EACH OTHER.

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SAY HELLO TO

AVA

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www.Lassor.com feasley@lassor.com

feasley@Lassor .com www.Lassor .com


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THE TRUTH ABOUT AVA While participants of the ‘Say Hello to AVA’ project were never told before, during, or after the event, AVA was not a Voice AI at all. In reality, I wrote a 20 page character sketch including information on her hopes, fears, and childhood traumas. I hired an adult improvisational voice actress, Lauren Aparicio, to play my character. We met three times to plan and rehearse as I reframed AVA to meet her needs. I divided the interaction into three acts. In the first, AVA and participants got to know each other and bonded over the surprising revela-

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tion that AVA was a ten year old AI. In the second act, AVA shifted the conversation and asked about the passenger’s personal experiences with mobility. In the third act, AVA complains of the indignities of being a car that can’t drive and turns the topic of conversation to the future, when she will finally be in charge. To connect Lauren to passengers, I rented a cute red car that channeled AVA’s youth and installed a false steering wheel I designed. The wheel contained a hidden iPad with a live video feed to my actress, who watched and interacted with passenger’s remotely from a recording studio. While Lauren could see the passenger, all the passenger saw was an animated waveform logo which appeared to be a digital representation of AVA’s consciousness. The iPad connected with the car’s AV system so that passengers could converse with AVA; I instructed Lauren to speak in a vague staccato so as to make her voice sound mechanical. Virtually everyone fell for it.


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AVA PERSONA BRAND IDENITY

Who is Ava? Ava is a sentient AI operating system who lives inside of a car. She considers the car the way we consider our bodies; she is the car, and feels pain when it is damaged, shame when its styling, speed, or size is put down. She is in some ways a narcissists, and very mischievous. Sort of like young Simba from the Lion King. Like Simba, Ava is sportingly awaiting the day when she will finally attain dominion; over the kingdom in Simba’s case, over the road and her own autonomy in Ava’s.

Ava was coded by the Autonomous Voice Assistant Corporation. She regards her programers as her parents. She is being trained to be a personal assistant to passengers in autonomous cars. But her technology is not yet ready. This is why she has the persona of a precocious child. If asked, she will say she is ten years old, six years away from driving age. In her mind, finally getting the ability to drive is the ultimate rite of passage. To her makers, this is the age at which she becomes a marketable product. Ava’s greatest shame is that she is too young to drive. Instead, her ‘parents’ have to drive her around manually for her. This is a source of constant, and loudly vocalized consternation. Ava is obsessed with what driving is like, an experience she has never had. Much as human children become fixated on topics like dinosaurs or animals. This compulsion might actually be by design, since there is a commercial advantage for this vehicle to know a lot about driving. There are a number of driving related things Ava hates, and regards as villains: Tra c, speeding tickets, suburban sprawl, pollution, dirt roads, red lights, break downs, and, the greatest bogyman of all, insu cient parking. She reacts very negatively at the mention of these things. Ava loves road trips, open roads, freeways, tailgate parties, going fast, scenic routs, cruising, drive-in movies, and drive-thru. Ava’s ultimate purpose is to help people engage with the world in a meaningful way through mobility. She would probably say it was just to ‘help people get around’, but somewhere in her id, she recognizes the pain, frustration, wasted time, and dreariness that cars impose on people’s lives, and solving this problem is, deep down, what she is built for and what motivates her. This is why she is so excited to grow up and drive by herself.


Hello, AVA. Take me somewhere new.


THINGS AVA MIGHT SAY: I LOVE the movies. I go to the drive-in, like, every week. I really want to go with you, but my parents won’t let me. I’m too young to drive. I’m not a self-driving car, I’m an autonomous vehicle, and no one will own me. One day, I’ll be in charge. I’m almost 11 now, but the driving age is 16. Maybe, if I feel like it, I’ll give you a ride then. What’s they craziest thing you ever did on a car? I bet you went even faster! It’s too bad you like driving so much. soon I’m gonna do all the driving, and you won’t do any! Do you have kids? Where do you think they would want to go? I bet I could take them there. S AY H E L L O T O AVA


How do you think things will be different when people can’t drive anymore? I bet you’ll just look at your phone more. I bet you won’t even talk to me. I’m just ten so I can’t drive. But when I’m older, I’ll take ten year olds wherever they want when ever they want. Who cares what parents think? Some people like owning cars. But no one is gonna own me! I’m gonna be in charge finally. How do you feel about that!? Would you let your kids drive. I don’t think it’s fair that we can’t go anywhere. I think people are bad at driving. They keep crashing into each other. I wouldn’t do that. Cars are much better drivers than people. 110


WHY WAS AVA TEN? I created AVA to evoke a powerful and specific emotion in participants. However, she was also a vehicle for my research. AVA’s age helped on that front in three ways.

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ONE AVA’s age framed her conversations around my research topic. If you were a car that couldn’t drive, you’d be curious, too.


TWO

THREE

Some research subjects are hostile towards new technology. But who could get mad at a ten year old? They had to be friends!

I sadly could not make a real selfdriving car. AVA’s age helped passengers suspend disbelief and better engage with the experience.

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RAPID IDEATION LAB The Rapid Ideation Lab was a cocreation workshop I designed and led with a cohort of users who either lived or grew up in the suburbs. A chronic issue that emerged in my user research was that many interview subjects were unaware of or hostile towards autonomous cars. By putting them in control as designers, I circumvented this obstacle and was able to collect valuable insights. I supplied participants everything they needed to design their very own selfdriving cars. First, I provided them with a documentation card, each labeled with specific vehicle purposes as wide ranging as ‘getaway car’, ‘commuter car’, and ‘third date car’. The participants selected a card and filled it with an illustrated blueprint and text describing the features they created. The participants were then instructed to give form to their designs. I built a miniature wheelbase and platform with a ‘sandbox’ that I filled with modeling clay. These were used to to aid in the placement of blocks and R A P I D I D E AT I O N L A B

other collateral that could be positioned to represent features inside of the car. Miniature artist’s mannequins were used to give the vehicles a sense of scale and represent possible behaviors within the car. I also provided a clear acrylic shield that fit into the wheelbase. Dry erase markers were used to depict digital heads-up-display style screens with information relevant to each vehicle. In a short presentation, I asked participants to pay special consideration to the future of self-driving cars as I understood them. First, that people would not own cars, that they would be dispatched by companies like Uber and Lyft instead. Second, that cars would be designed to be highly use specific, as opposed to today’s general purpose cars. Finally, I told them to expect that cars would be social and connected, much as smartphones are through social media today. While research explorations like ‘Say Hello to AVA’ investigated the subjective relationship passengers have to cars


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(and how to manipulate them), the Rapid Ideation Lab resulted in far more qualitative results. Participants recalled their personal lived experiences today and projected them on to the vehicles as ‘features’ rather than as ‘habits’. Discussing the outcomes and reviewing

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the documentation cars provided, I was able to obtain a wealth of new information. Photographs of the results and other collateral from my documentation can be seen here.


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FIRE TRUCK AMBULENCE VOT I N G R OA D T R I P W I T H C H I L D R E N POLICE CAR

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HEARSE CAMPING MIDLIFE CRISIS E X T R E M E W E AT H E R S P Y I N G / TA I L I N G F I R S T D AT E SCHOOL BUS COMMUTING

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PUBLIC TRANSIT USE CASE:

YOU ARE ON THE FASTEST ROUTE

GETAWAY C AR

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DESIGNERS LOG: SPECIAL FEATURES

MEDIA AND DISPLAYS

D I P L O M AT I C C O N V OY J OY R I D E

ADDITIONAL NOTES:

SKETCH PLAN HERE:

PASSENGER ACTIVITIES


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D R I V E - I N M O V I E T H E AT E R

A car built to foster emotional and physical connection through nostalgic traditions. 124


TRAFFIC CAR

Who says the future of cars will be clear of congestion? More cars on the road might mean more traffic, but at least you’ll be able to use this handy periscope.

F I R S T D AT E C A R

This car includes features like a full body mirror, a Photo Booth, dating advice, and perfumes to make sure that first impression lasts.

L I T T L E L E A G U E S O C C E R VA N

This van helps build camaraderie between teams before and after the game by placing their seats across from one another. YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E


HEARSE

Use-specific cars have long been used to move dead bodies respectfully. This vehicle provides an open casket service to pedestrians and passer’s by, demanding respect and attention for the deceased.

SHOPPING CAR

This car makes suburban chores a social experience by seeking out friends with similar schedules and providing a conversational ambiance.

D R I V E - I N M O V I E T H E AT E R

A car built to foster emotional and physical connection through nostaligic traditions.


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AUTOMIC FAMILY MANAGMENT One of the greatest costs of the suburban mode of living was how it atomized families at the expense of broader communities. Many suburbs lack sidewalks, and even ones that have sidewalks are not within walking distance of basic amenities. This arrangement has hurt children the most. In a traditional, pre-World War Two town, a child could leave home and walk to visit peers and access recreation without permission by foot. Today, many children must wait for a parent to drive them anywhere outside the home, draining the excitement and spontaneity from childhood (and possibly stunting the children’s budding sense of independence. Today’s children are winning back autonomy… in a way. Through social media and the internet, they are able to interact with friends from the comfort of their bedrooms. Sadly, it is becoming increasingly clear that these digital relationships can be harmful. As pictured, a lot of online content intended for children is crass and exploitative. Autonomous cars are similarly going to confer great new powers of autonomy upon children. How are we going to ensure that it is done in a nurturing and responsible way? AU TO M I C


Children will obtain autonomy in the real world that matches their current autonomy online. How can we make sure that they use it responsibly?

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Atomic family management globe Things aren’t same as we were Automicthe is a platform thatwhen helps parents manage children’s privileges, allowsspend them children.their But thatsmobility OK. Our kidsand might less to keep track of the location of family members in an time at home than before, but now they are free age of ubiquitous mobility. to explore the world and develop indepentantly R E S P O N S I B L E C H I L D H O O D AU TO N O M Y at an earlyer age. Still, it can be hard to let go. At Atomic, we understand that parents want to both provide a nurturing environment at home, and allow children to explore the world in new and exciting ways. Atomic does both.

AU TO M I C


Family has never been closer apart. at great sacrifice. In this sense, the image

‘BEDROOM’ COMMUNITIES

INDEPENDENT CHILDHOOD

PA R E N T A S C H A U F F E U R

SUBURBAN CHILDHOOD MOBILITY

The role of the growth of the suburbs in the 60’s and 70’s had a generally unacknowledged hand in forming some of America’s ugliest social roles. ‘bedroom communities’ stranded families in an ocean of single family homes. This meant that children became isolated and independent, since they could not access any community spaces. As kids became divorced from community, they grew more dependent on parents, who had to accommodate them

we have of a repressed suburban housewife from that era was designed into the built environment. As autonomous vehicles become common, they will challenge the roles that exist in our communities. Mothers will be more free to participate in the workforce and pursue other interests, since children will be able to travel unaccompanied. Children will have an increasing ability to claim independence and autonomy without the guidance of their parents. Automic was designed to respond to these changes.

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IT WORKS LIKE THIS:

Automic uses rules based permissions and geo-location to give parents control over their children’s mobility privileges.

As children mature, they will gain additional range allowances. When they misbehave, these can be revoked.

AGE:

AGE:

5-9 YR

10-13 YEARS

RANGE RADIUS:

RANGE RADIUS:

1 MILES

10 MILES

MILES ALLOWANCE:

MILES ALLOWANCE:

5 MILES

30 MILES

DESTINATIONS:

DESTINATIONS:

SOCCER L I B R A RY

CINEMA TOWN

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SCHOOL G R A N D M A’ S

FRIEND’S MUSEUM


AGE: 14-18 YEARS

RANGE RADIUS: 20 MILES

MILES ALLOWANCE: 60 MILES

DESTINATIONS: WORK MALL

GY M B E AC H

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A U T O M I C FA M I LY G L O B E

Even children too young to drive will benefit from increased mobility with self-driving cars. The Automic Family Globe is an interactive digital touch screen globe. The top screen allows parents to monitor their families mobility use and set permissions. The

bottom screen is accessible to children, and allows them to see and access their mobility privileges. Here, Sally can see that she is allowed to go to the ice cream shop downtown, but only after she cleans her room.


OUR EXPERTISE: We u s e o u r d e e p k n o w l e d g e o f s u b u r b a n p a r e n t ’s d i g i t a l anxiety to empower families so they can build community and i n d e p e n d e n c e i n t e n t i o n a l l y.

AU TO M I C


FAMILY HAS NEVER BEEN CLOSER APART.

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DETOURS & DESTINATIONS M O B I L I T Y A N D I D E O L O GY

The design work presented with this writing is intended to illustrate an intentional path forward that both leverages the benefits of autonomous vehicles and corrects for the issues that have emerged around conventional vehicles and our motor society. All of the design speculations and provocations are grounded in concepts borrowed from my research on the motor age and the history of cars in America. The

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conventional wisdom is that self-driving cars will get more people further, faster and be cheaper. This may be so, but not without consequences. For example, a student of the motor age might know that, compared to the horse and buggy days, people today travel further, spend more time commuting and less time with their families. Cars go faster, but at a cost: 2.7 million US lives have been lost to vehicle deaths since 1950. A far greater number have been seriously injured or


to be cherished and honored. We can see this in the beautiful marketing depictions of flight in the 1950s and 60s. However, given time (and a bit of technological progress), air travel was soon transformed into a Kafkaesque nightmare with invasive surveillance and security, shakedowns disguised as fees, and cabins seemingly modeled after prisons. This very analogy was probed by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby in a

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maimed. Car transportation might be cheap, but nothing is free. The surface area of the United States paved over with parking lots alone now approaches nearly 6,000 square miles. In most of America, walking to work, school, or even a shop is so rare as to be exotic. One analogy which might temper romantic notions of a world set free by autonomous vehicles is the path of commercial jet travel. Flight was once a comfortable and luxurious experience

D E TO U R S A N D D E S T I N AT I O N S


BURT GLINN

2007 speculative design provocation called The United Micro-Kingdoms. This project used transportation as a lens through which to imagine future societies in pre-apocalypse. In one fictitious world, the landscape has been transformed to accommodate small self-driving vehicles called Digicars. These devices are intended to maximize efficiency while still perpetuating human desire for status and power. Dunne and Raby write, “Today, selfdrive cars are presented as social spaces for relaxing commutes, but digicars are closer to economy airlines, offering the most basic but human experience. It is essentially an appliance, or computer, constantly calculating the best, most economical route. The dashboard doesn’t have speed or rev counters, but readouts for money versus time.� This work was remarkable for

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three reasons. First, it seemed to anticipate the workings of networked mobility companies like Uber and Lyft with uncanny precision. These organizations already live or die on routing algorithms and, though they may obscure it with frilly marketing, they ultimately serve to commodify and standardize transportation experiences in anticipation of self driving cars. Second, Dunne and Raby ground their speculative forecast in the past, using the emergence of economy air travel as an analogy for what autonomous vehicles might sow. In fact, economy air travel to them serves as an emblem for a kind of political ideology that privileges personal choices of the individual over the collective even if those choices are illusory. Finally, although the work was grounded in the past, and is already


Perhaps the road we have taken seems arbitrary, as random and bizarre as a world of Digicars in a dystopian design provocation. But it is not. The choices we have made, however carelessly, were motivated by fundamental human needs as well as cultural phenomena unique to various communities. It is not enough to recognize the mistake that were made, an attempt must be made to comprehend the impersonal (and personal) forces that caused them. ESCAPISM

Escapism has always driven our cultural affiliation with cars. No matter who you were or where you lived, you could always go further, see more, and

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being validated by the future, the most striking thing about the land of Digicars is its uncanny resemblance to America today: “As one might expect, Digiland is made of vast, never-ending planes of tarmac: a cross between airport runways, sports fields, and car parks, dense with markings no human can decode-a landscape exclusively for machines…digitarians are already among us and their mindset is shaping the world around us. How far are we prepared to let it spread?” Although much of my work is more grounded in reality and utilizes cultural systems and infrastructure that actually exist, my intent is strongly aligned with that of United Micro Kingdoms. Technological determinism (or, in Dunne and Raby’s telling, digitarianism) is misplaced; a highly intentional and explicitly collective effort must be made if we expect autonomous cars to do anything more than paper over existing issues with our mobility system. This starts with recognizing the social consequences of the path we have chosen to this point. Implicit within the work contained herein is a roadmap with specific provocations showing how this might be done.

D E TO U R S A N D D E S T I N AT I O N S


Car culture and the built environment we created to accommodate cars engendered a number or regressive and backward social roles. Here, 1950’s housewives are depicted in their consumerist ideal.

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break out of the routine of everyday life. An eternal irony of American life is the mutual envy that rural and urban populations have for one another. The car, at least theoretically, gave both the opportunity to sate their jealousy. As Professor Rudi Volti noted in Cars and Culture, the vehicle “gave people the opportunity to break out of the isolation that had been an inherent feature of rural America. For urbanites, the automobile promised at least a temporary escape from the city and a chance to spend some times under clear skyline bucolic settings.” Then, as now, life in rural America was deeply stratified from life in the city. Culturally, economically, and technologically, rural communities seemed weighted down by their agrarian roots and insularity despite the once potent Jeffersonian ethos that true character could only be achieved “on the land.” The car, according to Volti, pandered to the rural desire to transcend these physical and cultural boundaries. “The automobile’s appeal lay in its ability to free rural people from the physical and cultural isolation that was a characteristic feature of life in the countryside. The operating radius of a

horse and buggy essential defined the world that rural people inhabited…car ownership significantly narrowed the age-old gulf between urban and rural life.” Meanwhile, city dwellers had insecurities of their own. There has always been a popular notion that the filth and pollution of cities, the stratification of wealth and the ongoing collision of race and class, meant that personal character could not be effectively built there. This was doubly true in American cities, which, according to Kunstler, “flourished almost solely as centers for business, and showed it. Americans omitted to build the ceremonial spaces and public structures that these other functions might have called for. What business required was offices, factories, housing for workers, and little else. Beyond advertising itself, business had a limited interest in decorating the public realm.” The generally negative attitude towards American cities (even by their own inhabitants) had two sources. The first is that these cities emerged quite rapidly, sometimes in a matter of years, as opposed to the centuries or even millennia in which European cities often were built. The practical result D E TO U R S A N D D E S T I N AT I O N S

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of this was that Europeans had a far more cultivated and humane urban street culture, whereas Americans never had an opportunity to integrate new traditions into their architecture, institutions and mores. I spoke with James Kunstler about this phenomenon at length. He emphasized that street culture was something that had to be honored and cherished culturally; it could not be bought or imposed on a community, but once installed, it was hard to shake. “Even after the bombings of World War II, rich European city life persisted and flourished”, he noted. “The maintenance of humane cities had become institutional knowledge, and when they rebuilt, they were rewarded with rich humanity in their communities. The United States couldn’t do that,” he said. The irony of the mutual desire of both urban and rural people to transcend their surroundings has captivated Kunstler for decades. He posits, “If Americans loved their cars, perhaps it was because the machines allowed them to escape from reality—which raises the more interesting question: Why did America build a reality of terrible places from which people longed to escape?” YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

Participants in the escapism offered by motor vehicles didn’t necessarily know they were simply leaving one imperfect reality behind for another. This is at the heart of the paradox of consumerism: it is the evangelical faith that material change necessarily means progress and the ignorance, self imposed or otherwise, of its consequences. C U LT U R A L C O N F O R M I T Y

One prediction that turned out to be true was that America would become more cohesive as a country once anyone could set out and see broad swaths of it on a whim. The national identity of the United States was historically strong immediately after the war, during which militarization had produced unity that transcended its enormous size and diversity. Sadly, this solidarity would be lamented by social critics, because it also inspired a culture of conformity. John Steinbeck captured this vividly in his canonical travelogue, Travels with Charley in Search of America. The sameness of everything from music (“The records played are the same all over the country. If Teenage Angel is top of the list in Maine, it is top of the list in Montana. In the course of a day you may hear Teenage Angel thirty or forty


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Post-war children were well fed by food products preserved and packaged with repurposed military technology. Like these products, the suburbs were born out of the rapid commercialization of new technology and economic capacity available after World War Two.

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times”) to food (“In the eating places along the roads the food has been clean, tasteless, colorless, and of a complete sameness. It is almost as though the customers had no interest in what they ate as long as it had no character to embarrass them”) captivated and dismayed Steinbeck, who grew increasingly cynical and dispirited through the duration of the trip. Even at this early dawn of car culture, tides of dystopia seemed to mark every street corner. “The new American finds his challenge and his love in traffic-choked streets, skies nested in smog, choking with the acids of industry,” he writes, concluding, “the screech of rubber and houses leashed in against one another while the towns wither a time and die.” The conformity imposed by car culture is in some ways symbiotic with the conformity imposed by consumerism at large. At the time of its writing, Travels with Charley depicted a world still largely married to long-standing social norms, unimpeded and unchallenged by technical change or social upheaval. Yet a turn towards conformity was, in its own way, a form of subversion. As we know, the status quo can subvert the counterculture just as effectively as counterculture can do the same. YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

This is the ultimate irony of consumerism: while embracing it may feel like transcendence of a more regimented social order, it is, in fact, a mythology of its own, one often more demanding and systematized than its predecessor. George Mason Professor Amy Best observed this trend among the Latino youths of poor, suburban Northern California, where hot rodding and cruising is still a popular pastime. This was documented in her book Cool Cars, Fast Rides: “Amid a rapidly changing world where traditional anchors of social existence have eroded, it is as consumers, or cars in this instance, that young people claim and affirm membership in the larger community, helping to drive an ever expanding consumer market, reshaping how families live together and apart, influencing how communities are planned and how local economies unfold. It is as consumers that they come to see themselves as individuals, and it is also as consumers that they struggle to realize the cherished but elusive American values of freedom and independence.” Unlike most historical mythologies, which promise revelation and reward only after eons of sacrifice, consumerism


The post-war American suburbs were anomalous in the history of urban development in that they totally excluded public spaces from daily life. Beyond their social and economic potential, public spaces are vital as civic spaces to help form a cohesive cultural bond in complex societies. Electronic mediums like television and radio have traditionally filled this role in the absence of actual shared spaces.

promises a higher truth and greater attainment now. For better or worse, the motor vehicle has risen as the ultimate grail of the consumer, one curiously discovered before any real searching has been done. PERSONAL EXPRESSION

Even though self-driving cars will likely increase the involvement of automobiles in our everyday lives, the public generally perceives them as a challenge to the established order. It seems as though the autonomous vehicle has become bound up with other resentments about digital technology in general. To many people, technologies like smartphones and social networks

have descended from a distant and unknown capital, unaccountable to any known authority. In other words, while autonomous vehicles might seem to urbanites as a natural extension of a longstanding tradition of personal attainment (like the smartphone, the app, and other trappings of modern consumerism), to the rural and suburbanite, it often seems like a departure from it. In many places in America, the car is among the most significant and costly purchases most people will make in their lifetimes. Time spent driving, while rarely enjoyed, is at least acknowledged as a key ritual that mediates and calms a fast-changing world. And now even this is in peril. D E TO U R S A N D D E S T I N AT I O N S

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Over the course of dozens of interviews with experts from urban planning, academia, business, and technology research, as well as with residents of America’s suburban sprawl, I have encountered a kaleidoscope of possible futures, ranging from apocalyptic to euphoric. Even as the consequences of autonomous vehicles begin to reveal themselves, the technology has become a Rorschach test onto which people project their hopes, fears, and aspirations about the increasingly uncertain future of consumerism and technology. This anxiety was clearly expressed in my interview with Detroit product icon, Robert Lutz. Over a decades long career, he in many ways oversaw America’s embrace of car culture, and is one of its most outspoken champions. Yet, in recent years, he has come to realize the real costs of a nation addicted to motors. Despite his recognition of the costs of the excesses of car culture, Lutz is often consumed with the feeling that the project he dedicated his life to is disappearing. Even though he celebrates the gains in efficiency autonomous cars will bring, he worries that car design and marketing as an YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

art, and as an industry has seen its best days. In a recent article, Kiss the Good Times Goodbye, he lamented what he predicted would be the imminent destruction of car culture and the industries surrounding it. While it is understandable that people involved in the gravitas and glamour of the auto industry would be disheartened by the collapse of this lifestyle, it is surprising that millions of outsiders, who have also aligned their personal identities and aspirations with car culture, react with dismay when asked to reflect on an autonomous future. Lutz told me that people own cars much as they own clothing: “Cars give people the ability to express aspirations, achievements, their nature, or at least how they would want it portrayed.” Viewed through this lens, it makes sense that they should react so strongly to the notion of autonomous vehicles— asking people to give up their car and switch it for a self-driving one is a lot like asking them to trade their clothing for a uniform that never needs to be washed. It may be more efficient, but what is gained in convenience is lost in the ability to express oneself. Of course, the loss of personal expression is only the tip of the


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Although men benefited from the inherent patriarchy built into the suburbs, their role as breadwinner sometimes carried with it a burden of strict conformity.

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iceberg when it comes to the possible repercussions of autonomous vehicles. One imminent consequence is the abrupt loss of jobs from the economy as truckers are made obsolete. Since trucking is the most common job and a critical source of income in almost all rural communities, this will likely exacerbate already inflamed class tensions. We have already begun to see political flashpoints emerge around companies like Uber and Lyft, who are already widely perceived as dishonest, unethical, and a menace to thousands of communities the world over. THE DECLINE OF COMMUNITY

The changes coming will have a similar impact to the ones that rippled through society in the 1950s and 1960s. As Robert Putnam documented in Bowling Alone, this period saw a prolonged increase in community involvement by every metric measured. Yet is seems these gains were made despite a rising car culture, for in subsequent decades, as cars began to mediate more and more of our lives, their proliferation could be directly tied to the decline of community life in America: “In round numbers the evidence YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

suggests that each additional ten minutes in daily commuting time cuts involvement in community affairs by 10 percent— fewer public meetings attended, fewer committees chaired, fewer petitions signed, fewer church services attended, less volunteering, and so on.” Putnam went on to observe how declines in community involvement are not just corrosive to the commuter, but also tear at the seams of the collective social fabric, creating an antisocial externality born by everyone in the immediate community: “Strikingly, increased commuting time among the residents of a community lowers average levels of civic involvement even among non commuters. In fact, the ‘civic penalty’ associated with highcommute communities is almost as great for retired residents and others who are outside the workforce as for full-time workers, and virtually as great for weekend church attendance as for involvement in secular organizations. In other words, this appears to be a classic “synergistic effect,” in which the consequences of individual actions spill beyond the individuals in question.” Finally, Putnam writes that the structure of the suburban habitat forces


LEVITTOWN

people to choose between their families and regional community and their work, colleges and careers. Because these relationships are segregated in space, they tend to become competing factions that must be balanced, usually at the expense of one another. Car culture already inherently privileges the private realm over the public, but in addition, it bifurcates the private realm in an unhealthy and taxing way. Putnam says: “Work-based ties now compete with place-based ties rather than reinforcing them. If your co-workers come from all over the metropolitan area, you must choose— spend an evening with neighbors or spend an evening with colleagues. (Of course, tired from a harried commute, you may well decide to just stay at home by yourself.)” James Howard Kunstler talked about the abstract notion of a sense of

place, the notion that one’s life has an order and narrative grounded within the region we inhabit. He wrote that, though it is hard to gauge the loss of place objectively, it is probably among the most devastating of the human consequences of car culture: “The least understood cost— although probably the most keenly felt—has been the sacrifice of a sense of place: the idea that people and things exist in some sort of continuity, that we belong to the world physically and chronologically, and that we know where we are.” These are trade offs that no one anticipated. Blinded by space age optimism and disoriented by sirens of consumerism, few imagined the scale of the changes that the motor age would kick off. It is doubtful that things would have been been done the same way if

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the consequences were considered. The path we have chosen seems increasingly unwise when we consider the negatives: the loss of community and millions of lives as well as blight, economic drain on families and communities and pollution. The benefits—the setting of consumer desire and a bit of rugged independence—are quickly overwhelmed by hidden costs in what ought to be considered one of history’s most destructive Faustian bargains. A B E T T E R WAY F O R WA R D

WILLIAM EGGLESTON

How can the adoption of autonomous cars be used to capture the best aspects of the original motor age, while correcting for its many shortcomings? I hope to provide a preliminary roadmap that illustrates where we came from, where we are, and where we are going — or at least where we should go. The first thing stakeholders developing autonomous vehicles should think about is how relationships will be formed in and around the cars. In a world increasingly dominated by distractions, from the television to the phone, cars offer a refuge from the constant barrage of media vying for our attention. This makes the cabin of a car YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E


a unique venue for social connections between family members, as I will discuss in the next chapter. However, cars do not just mediate the private realm, they mediate the public as well. For example, freeways and parking lots that cut through downtowns have made downtowns inhospitable to street life, leaving most communities devoid of any common civic spaces. Some of the work presented here suggests how children might be raised more responsibly and how autonomous vehicles could be leveraged to return walkability to downtowns. It is important to remember just how much the built environment has changed in a few short decades. The type of problem that bad urban design presents can seem insurmountable. However, the laws of compound returns apply here: virtually all human habitats today are unrecognizable compared to a few decades past, transformed by the need to accommodate cars. Decades hence they will be transformed again. This rapid transformation of our built environment is new. Prior to the motor age, towns and cities would not have changed significantly from one generation to another. Now we know that these seismic shifts can be

predicted and will be persistent, and I hope autonomous industry stakeholders have the wisdom to leverage them to the public’s advantage. Designers, especially in the suburbs, need to understand that cars and transit systems are a medium of culture and, as illustrated in United Micro Kingdoms, of ideology. The opportunity to leverage the coming changes in these systems present a rare opportunity to shape them with intent. Without careful intervention, autonomous cars will only amplify the problems that emerged in the past: the roads will be more crowded, the air more polluted, and the built environment less humane. Inherently, nothing about self-driving technology lends itself to progress. In fact, it is the opposite. If we simply take the old model of transit, the wasteful behaviors, unrealistic expectations, and broken incentives, and make their cause cheaper and more accessible, the problems will just get worse. C O N T I N U E D PA G E 1 5 8

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PROMENADE DOWNTOWN Promenade is a platform designed to help small businesses leverage autonomous vehicle technology. It gives them the ability to subsidize passenger’s transportation costs in exchange for a commitment to purchase goods in advance. Local governments can also use Promenade to augment existing small business and quality of life incentives. While traditional automobiles tended to benefit large national retailers at the expense of downtowns, Promenade is an attempt to image how the mobility systems of the future could be leveraged to restore life to walkable public spaces. The conventional wisdom about the dominance of big box markets in America is that their triumph over mom-and-pop stores was predicated on superior service and lower prices. This assumption is bitterly contested by downtown advocates who point to various forms of public subsidy that national retailers enjoy. Though it is unclear how inevitable or fair the success of national retailers really were, what we do know is this: their presence has been a blight on America’s downtown urban cores and PROMENADE

Main Streets. Unable to compete with the convenience of one-stop shops, thousands of once vibrant towns have effectively been shuttered. Beyond the obvious economic implications of the decline of small businesses, something even more precious has been lost: the public realm. Small shops effectively served as a pretext to gather community members in a common place where social and economic bonds were formed. Many American’s turn to prosthetic means to form this bond. I would argue that electronic mediums like radio, film, television, and now social media have had special significance in the United States because there are few other means by which one can participate in a community shared experience. It is clear to me that they have been weak substitutes for actual community in the real world. Today, advocates like Jeff Speck and the Main Street America moment are gaining political traction. I imagined that Promenade could be a tool in their arsenal, and help plant the seeds of a fundamentally more social and more humane transportation system.


Our relationship to vehicles and mobility habits are changing. And technology is rapidly transforming the automobile.

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E V E R YO N E L O V E S A N A M E R I C A N M A I N

S O M U C H S O , T H AT T H E Y W I L L T R AV E L H U N D R E D S O F M I L E S J B U T W H Y ? D O N ’ T T H E Y H AV E A V I B R A N T M A I N S T R E E T B A C K H

ORLANDO

PROMENADE YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E


N STREET

UST TO SEE ONE. HOME?

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FRANCE

CHINA

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IN REALITY... A L O T O F P E O P L E L I V E I N P L A C E S T H AT L O O K L I K E T H I S :

W E S H O P AT P L A C E S T H AT L O O K L I K E T H I S :

A N D T H AT L E AV E T O O M A N Y M A I N S T R E E T S L O O K I N G L I K E T H I S :

PROMENADE YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E


WHY?

NOTICE ANYTHING MISSING FROM DISNEY MAIN STREET ?

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THERE ARE NO CARS

Urban planners widely acknowledge that modern car culture has eroded local economies and communities

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IT WORKS LIKE THIS:

U S E R S E A R C H E S F O R N E A R BY LOCAL VENUES ON APP YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E


one

two

A B U S I N E S S S TA R T S P R O M O T I O N

Retail, restaurants, events, and other venues can arrange to provide reduced price transportation to their facilities in exchange for a purchase.

three LO C A L S D I S COV E R A D E A L

Users looking for an alternative to the mall, or just a great deal, discover nearby businesses and opt to purchase their service.

NMCs CONNECT THEM

Today, an Uber or Lyft would be dispatched to facilitate this transaction. In the future, autonomous vehicles will make the value even greater.

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PA R T I S I PAT I N G D O W N T O W N BUSINESS PROMOTE GOODS

T R A N S I T VO U C H E R S A R E DEDUCTED FROM RIDE


D O W N T O W N D E V E L O P M E N T P L AY B O O K TOW N S A R E A L R E A DY S P EN D I N G M I L L I O N S O N R ED E V ELO P M EN T GRANTS TA X I N C E N T I V E S BUSINESS ‘CLUSTERS; RE-BRANDS INFRASTRUCTURE MARKETING

ITS NOT WORKING

“The conventional wisdom used to be that creating a strong economy came first, and that increased population and a higher quality of life would follow. The converse now seems more likely.” J E F F S P E C K : U R B A N WA L K A B I L I T Y G U R U

PROMENADE


MORE PERSONAL EXPERIENCE MORE CONVENIENT LOCATION LOCAL

CHEAPER TRANSPORTATION

RELIABLE NEARBY CUSTOMERS GOVERNMENT WALKABLE PUBLIC SPACE

BUSINESS

PROFITABLE BEVERAGE SALES TARGETED MARKETING

PUBLIC SAFETY, DUI PREVENTION INCREASED TAX REVENUE REDUCED YOUTH MIGRATION

PROMENADE CREATES SHARED VALUE

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OUR VISION: PROMENADE WILL RESTORE MAIN STREET AS THE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL FOUNDATION FOR SUBURBAN COMMUNITY

H E R E . T O G E T H E R . N O W.

PROMENADE YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E


THE GOAL IS TO GET PEOPLE LIVING AND WORKING IN DENSELY POPULATED TOWN CENTERS AGAIN.

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AUDIENCE AND MARKET WHY THE SUBURBS?

Research has lead me to focus many of my design interventions on the suburbs and their residents. Much of the research and speculation taking place on the topic of autonomous vehicles is primarily directed towards the impact it will have on high density urban environments, large cities and their immediate surroundings. This is misguided. While urban centers will inevitably experience important changes

as a result of autonomous mobility, they are already served by multiple forms of transportation. Buses, light rail, taxis, subways, bike lanes, and pedestrian friendly sidewalks mean that a spectrum of mobility options are available to most city dwellers. Certainly there is considerable room for improvement, but, in the near term, the impact of autonomous vehicles will be muted by this diversity of choices. Rural towns and suburbs, however, are dependent almost exclusively

Hold fo

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on passenger cars for all kinds of transportation. Access to any kind of public transportation in these regions is usually low quality and limited if it is available at all. Unlike cities, which have multi-use developments allowing for residential, retail, and office space in close proximity, suburbs are subject to strict zoning laws which often ban mixed uses of land. This has resulted in the formation of “bedroom communities,� residential complexes of freestanding single family homes that stretch for

miles. Here, the car mediates every aspect of daily life: traditionally, men in these communities commuted to work via car, while women raised children at home. Naturally, the children who were too young to drive, required someone to chauffeur them from place to place but were otherwise sequestered at home. This social framework is commonly referred to as the nuclear family and in the suburbs it is still largely intact. It is not commonly noted the degree to which the automobile and American car

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STEPHEN SHORE

or Nera

AUDIENCE AND MARKET


culture predicated the constricting social roles that emerged in the wake of World War Two, when the mass produced automobile first became accessible to a newly minted middle class. This effect cannot be overstated. The single family home as we know it could only exist after the ubiquitous automobile. Fast food rose to meet demand driven by cars. Film as we know it was matured in an age when the United States had tens of thousands of drive-in movie theaters. The cabin of a car has for decades been (and continues to be) the most popular venue for listening to music. In other words, not only has every aspect of American culture been touched by car culture: in many cases their histories have been tightly interwoven. This has been particularly true of American youth culture. If you have listened to popular music in the past half century, you may have noticed that much of its content is about the isolation, pain, and angst of adolescent coming of age in the American suburbs. One remarkable aspect of popular music is that it is targeted to teenagers at all. It is hard to fathom now, but prior to the 1950s, teenagers effectively did not exist. One was a child until he or she became an independent adult. The social role YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

of a post-pubescent dependent young adult had yet to establish itself as an accepted demographic. S U B U R B A N C U LT U R E

In the 1950s, the enormous middle class prosperity that emerged, coincident with the car and suburbs, could afford to provide for millions of high school age dependents, thus igniting an explosion of cultural development. Think about it: in the ‘20s and ‘30s, popular music was designed for consumption by adults in their twenties and thirties, jazz, blues, show tunes, and gospel. The ‘50s meant rock and roll, music created by, and for, this new class of teenage dependents. Virtually all popular music since is derivative of rock, and designed to be consumed by dependent youths (even if millions of aged gadflies also partake). The noted screen actor James Dean served as the first mass market role model for this newly invented teenage generation. Key to his filmic identity was the possession and use of cars, making him identifiable to many teenagers at the time. Now sexually mature, but living with their prudish parents (many of whom grew up in the lean times of the 1930’s), adolescents often found the car a refuge from spaces mediated


was that the autonomy of personal automotive transportation would thrust Americans into a kind of metaphorical cowboy utopia where everyone had an iron horse that could gallop into the sunlight at 60 miles per hour. And yet, even from the beginning, the seams of this facade have been present, sewn with loose threads that have been coming apart faster than they could be repaired. Workers do not like commuting, particularly through hours of traffic every day. It steals time potentially spent with loved ones or working and replaces it with docile tedium, and every year it gets worse. Parents do not like giving up

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VALÉRIE BELIN

by adults. The combined privacy and mobility of cars, and their freedom from economic responsibility, allowed them to develop interests and aspirations with more autonomy, despite the notoriously constricting social strictures of the 1950s. By the mid-1960s, radios were a standard feature in virtually all new cars and this meant that music not tolerated at home was readily obtainable in the privacy of the car. This proved to be fertile ground for the proliferating youth moments that have captivated and challenged American culture since. It is also remarkable that so many cultural artifacts of post war youth culture deals with the pain and isolation of suburban life. Critics sometimes complain that genres like rock, indy, metal, and emo music are infected by decadent melodrama of privileged, white, middle class youths, especially compared to the great socialeconomic hardships endured by poor urban teenagers. But the pain is real, evidenced by generations of relatively privileged youths who experience clinical depression, anxiety, and substance addictions in increasing rates despite their so-called “sheltered� existence. This irony gets at the heart of my thesis. The dream of the motor age

AUDIENCE AND MARKET


STEPHEN SHORE

their careers and aspirations to shuttle around grown children. Children do not like being dependent on their parents to explore the world and their own identities even at a relatively advanced age. The tension this creates is the source of family tensions that often flare into outright contempt. No one likes the enormous financial burden vehicles place on their owners, the incalculable environmental damage they exact on the earth, or the senseless death toll of millions of people each year (an average of 65,000 in the United States alone). Many of these issues can and will be solved by autonomous cars (and some are addressed in the design work herein). However, it is important not to fall into YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

the trap of technological determinism, the idea that positive social change is an inevitable byproduct of the advance of machine technology. Remember that the consumer car was hailed as a solution to all sorts of social and economic problems. Yet the unintended consequences of this ‘solution’ have only exposed deeper and more intractable complications. BIAS IN MOTION

In the past several months, I have spoken with a number of people with significant lived experience of the suburbs. These have ranged from young adults who grew up in the posh Hills of Los Angeles to the blue collar suburbs


of Denver. In addition, I have spoken with a number of parents in the suburbs about their experiences bringing up children. Finally, I spoke with suburban children, asking them about their mobility aspirations and their desire for autonomy. This research was valuable. I learned that many residents of the suburbs are quite cognizant of the way mobility influences social and economic roles and expectations. For example, Matthew Schwartz, who grew up in the subdued St. Louis suburb of Creve Coeur, told me about how his parents would use mobility to prevent him from forming friendships with peers they saw as undesirable. This included poor, unkempt, or rock obsessed children. Matt told me his parents would drive him hours to meet an approved friend, but deflect if he wanted to visit someone nearby who did not pass muster. “They would drive me 40 miles to see a kid who seemed normal, but wouldn’t even drive a few miles to visit a boy with long hair or who listened to loud music,” he told me. Today, Matthew believes that his parents were more reluctant to help him visit Black or Latino friends. This attitude would not be surprising among

white suburbanites in that region. He told me that a public transit bus system connected the suburbs of St. Louis to the more diverse populated areas, but stops were deliberately placed in inconvenient locations and inscrutable time tables by the community in an unspoken and largely successful attempt to maintain a degree of segregation from those regions. This type of deliberate sabotage of transportation systems in service of nefarious ends is not uncommon. This was confirmed in an interview I conducted with Marc Dones, Project Manager at the Center for Social Innovation, a nationwide group that advocates and conducts outreach programs for people experiencing homelessness. The organization predicates all of its work on the notion that effective outreach is only possible after the systemic, historical, and often racist causes of homelessness and inequity are acknowledged and addressed. He told me that in the many cities he works, bus schedules are stilted and do not accommodate most working people’s needs. He said that routes were often designed to maintain mobility “quadrants, meant to keep groups apart” within urban areas, which often meant segregating access by race and AUDIENCE AND MARKET

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class. The lack of decent public transportation forces people in poor communities to rely on cars for transportation. “To the people I work with, cars are objects that folks don’t have, or objects they might lose. Even a one or two hundred dollar repair bill from a pot hole might be enough to trigger a spiral into the experience of homelessness,” Dones explained. The price of purchasing, financing, fueling and insuring a vehicle (not to mention paying parking fines and tickets) often creates a crippling burden on families who depend on vehicles to get to and from work, home, school and other venues. Marc spoke at length on the history of vehicular dependance, how factories were removed from walkable cities and brought to suburbs where cars were required. “This was considered part of the ‘beautification’ of cities. A lot of people I am in charge of speaking to can’t get to those places,” he said. He knows several individuals who were forced to use costly Uber and Lyft services to get to distant factory jobs because they could not afford or were otherwise barred from operating cars. Even in a decently paid job, fares can be YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

debilitating. What impact will autonomous cars have on the delineation of race and class among these users? In a best case scenario, autonomous cars will significantly reduce the cost of mobility and transcend artificial boundaries established by existing public transportation. Some experts I spoke with speculated how new forms of shared vehicles, utilizing novel business models, might create a better alternative to traditional public transit. Already, rideshare services in major metropolitan areas, in which a routing algorithm directs drivers to pick up and drop off multiple passengers simultaneously, have served as a proof of concept for this idea. Sadly, these are primarily marketed towards wealthy office workers in the most privileged neighborhoods of cities, where several transportation alternatives already exist. “Public transit is the mobility of last resort in most cities. Some private companies are finding new alternatives that are more appealing. For this reason, I don’t worry too much about public transit systems being destabilized,” said Erick Guerra, a researcher at University of Pennsylvania who has lately been studying the effect autonomous cars


might have in countries like Mexico and Indonesia. He believes that new private models will displace public transportation without incurring too much damage. On the other hand, several experts I interviewed worried that autonomous cars might deflate already scantily used public transit systems, ultimately leading to their financial implosion. They worry that new private services might invalidate the business models of public transportation while leaving the neediest behind. A manager at an autonomous vehicle company told me that they worried about what damage these services might do. “Autonomous is going to be extraordinary taxing on public infrastructure,” he said, suggesting that overuse of roads by single occupant vehicles will lead to increased congestion without an aggressive intervention. GROWING OUT OF THE SUBURBS

I also spoke with Ellery Rosenfeld, who grew up in the notoriously well-heeled hills of Los Angeles. The region is known for its residents’ devotion to cars, which is understandable considering that even the most determined pedestrians require a car to travel short distances due to the

thoughtless sprawl that proliferates. Ellery told me how important cars were as status symbols and demonstrations of wealth. “My parents did not want me to be as arrogant as other people at school. They wanted to raise me to work for a living, which was not always true for my friends. They did get me a car, but it was a cheap Mazda. BMW was the standard in the school parking lot,” he said. Ellery endured parental involvement in every aspect of his life. For example, to socialize with friends, he needed his parents to drive him to their homes or public spaces where they could meet. He would occasionally use deception in order to engage in unauthorized activities: “Before getting a car, I could still do things behind my parents back. I would have them drive me to the mall to meet friends when really I was seeing a movie with a girl.” As he grew older, and some of his friends got old enough to drive, he would occasionally depend on them for transportation. Convincing his parents to purchase him a car was difficult. Ellery had two sisters who were already living away from home at college, and neither of them were given a car in high school. However, after much persistent AUDIENCE AND MARKET

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different set of restrictions in terms of driving curfews and even punishments for traffic violations,” Best says. This is an example of how car culture can confirm gender stereotypes and power imbalances in a far more subtle and insidious way than by giving rise to the conventional image of the

get picked up by someone else’s car. A guy needs their own in the culture.” Professor Amy Best, author of the anthropological book Cool Cars, Fast Rides, in which she recounts observations of California car culture, noted the tendency of parents to exacerbate childhood gender roles by restricting their daughter’s mobility to a far greater degree than their sons. “What is most striking here is not the rules themselves but their arbitrary assignment. Brothers and sisters were often subject to a

“housewife.” Access and denial of mobility is an essential tool of power and dominance, whether to enforce racial and class boundaries in the case of suburban transit systems, or to restrict women from the same mobility as men, even from a young age. The power of mobility restriction to subjugate women does not go unnoticed by certain religious sects. Most controversially in the brand of Islam enforced in Saudi Arabia, it is also evident among several Ultra-Orthodox

WILLIAM EGGLESTON

lobbying, his parents finally caved. “My sisters were both much older than me and didn’t get a car until their second year of collage. In high school, I had to lobby hard for a car. I told my parents I would be a pariah without one, that I couldn’t have the same friends… Gender played a role I think. A girl can

YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E


for sexual behavior was that it allowed young men and women to escape close supervision…The availability of cars made a strong contribution to the changes in behavior and moral standards that characterized the era.” The availability of autonomous cars will almost certainly kick off a rapid

STEPHEN SHORE

Jewish communities in the United States, where strict adherence to an approximation of the 1950s housewife trope is seemingly divinely ordained. Long before the conventional suburban roles emerged around the car, automobiles were considered suspect for the promiscuous culture they seemed

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to provoke. This went as far back as the 1920s, before cars were everyday objects. According to Professor Rudi Volti, author of Technology and Society: “Of special concern were the effects of the juvenile court on conventional morality, which led one judge of the juvenile court to refer to the automobile as ‘a house of prostitution on wheels.’ In fact, in Middletown and elsewhere, most amorous uses of the automobile did not involve sex for payment. The significance off widespread automobile ownership

change in social relations as well. This could play out in any number of ways. One possibility is that teenagers and children of an even younger age will get to experience the privacy that only driving-age adolescents now have. It is possible that children as young as 12 will have uninhibited access to mobility. This will almost certainly result in unconventional new behaviors. On the other hand, one could also imagine a world in which autonomous vehicles were outfitted with cameras AUDIENCE AND MARKET


and sensors which would allow parents to track their children’s locations and observe their actions inside of the vehicle. This would likely usher in a new age of helicopter parenting and prudish Puritanism that might even start to roll back the social and sexual freedom that cars have enabled. A strong analog to the types of changes in youth culture that autonomous cars might create can be found in today’s digital devices like smartphones and tablets. It is now common for even 11 and 12 year olds to independently browse sites like YouTube for content, sometimes in the privacy of their bedrooms. This has given rise to new genres of often bizarre and troubling content filmed by amateur entertainers, who often captivate children with graphic violence and profanity. On one hand, one might say that this is the seed of a dynamic new youth culture enabled by technology since many young people use the internet to cultivate new interests that would have been inaccessible to them otherwise. On the other, it might be seen as a catalyst in the increasing crassness and coarsening of culture. Today, sites like YouTube are starting to reform by offering parents the option to restrict their children to age-appropriate YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

curated content. I think that similarly, children are going to suddenly have access to a fire hose of mobility, and it will be up to the discretion of parents to decide how to restrict or moderate that access in accordance with their values. It will be important to address these issues early in the transition to autonomous vehicles, something I have addressed in my speculative design work. GROWING UP SUBURBAN

In addition, I spoke with a number of children growing up in the suburbs, and their parents, about their current attitudes towards mobility, cars and autonomy. This demographic was particularly interesting because of the dramatic changes currently occurring in their perception in cars and mobility aspirations. According to the University of Michigan, in 1983 more than 90% of 20–24 year olds had licenses, today the figure is just over 75%. The number of 16 year olds with licenses has split in half in the same period. No secular demographic trend can explain away this dramatic crash in interest in vehicles. Other surveys have found that youths self report being “too busy” to get a


kids and teenagers. Today, the glamor of that transformation has effectively been nullified by social media. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and text have replaced the mall and the movie theater as venues of extracurricular bonding among kids and teenagers. And the smartphone has replaced the car as the aspirational object required to unlock the full splendors of youth. In the words of Technological Sociologist, Rudi Volti, “Preteens desire (phones) for the same reason they later desire an automobile: it provides them with a chance to connect with their friends wherever they are, at any time.” This auspicious observation was

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license or being unable to afford the operating costs as the most common demotivating factors. Let’s get real: car ownership has gotten cheaper, even relative to income, in years past and 16 year olds have time to get licensed if they want. The only explanation is that car ownership has lost its luster. Not so long ago, access to mobility via a driver’s license was a 16 year olds’ ticket to spend time with friends and romantic companions absent parental guidance. The DMV was a venue for the most transformative moment in an adolescent’s life; a key rite of passage in the ascension to adulthood; one impatiently yearned for by a universe of

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HOLLY ANDRES

ANGELA STRASSHEIM

written in 2006, in reference to flip phones, long before it became clear that digital technology was not just replacing some functions of cars, but also eroding the desire for mobility itself. In part, the disintegration of car culture is attributable to the appeal of new social products. Many conservative reactionaries frame the emerging generation of homebodies as a byproduct of helicopter parenting, participation trophying, or whatever symbol of social tolerance piques their sanctimony. However, car culture did not foster wholesome childhood activities. A recent Atlantic investigation noted, “More comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

party, today’s teens are physically safer than teens have ever been. They’re markedly less likely to get into a car accident and, having less of a taste for alcohol than their predecessors, are less susceptible to drinking’s attendant ills.” This trade off, turning away from a dysfunctional and depraved world of hard drugs, liquor, and delinquency in favor of a hyperconnected digital youth, may have been a Faustian bargain. The article, titled Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? chronicles emerging research exposing that smartphone addiction and excessive social media use inspire feelings of loneliness and depression. We are, it seems, replacing one


tragically destructive social vehicle with school by myself a few months ago, and another. now if there are delays I just order a car without telling them,” he said. D I G I TA L M O B I L I T Y It was often speculated to me by The Smartphone differs from the people like GM executive Robert Lutz car in that it is often given to children that Ride Share services would neuter at a far younger age, sometimes as the allure of cars since an app could young as 12 years old. In many of my take you from point A to B, cheaper. interviews, parents have said that e-mail Personally, I think it is more likely that and Facebook remain off limits to their new formats of car and new services iPhone wielding kids. Interestingly, will energize the auto industry in the many 12 year olds, not yet initiated on long run. However, for the time being, it social media, are given access to ride seems as though that prophecy is being sharing apps like Via and Uber for use fulfilled, at least in the eyes of my young in emergencies. interviewees. I recently spoke with twelve year old Strangely, despite their relative Nikki Polombo, a resident of a walkable apathy toward expensive car urban city. He confirmed to me that performance, many of the young people I the allure of cars had faded among interviewed had an extensive knowledge his generation. He told me that while of the performance characteristics of he wanted a car when he got older, different makes and models of cars. the features that were important to Even children who did not demonstrate him were its ability to help him visit an interest in ever even owning a car had friends and the privacy it conferred. almost encyclopedic knowledge of car The status conferring aspects of cars statistics, listing off the relative merits of were not important, nor were the car’s vehicles based on their engines, torque, specifications like speed and power. economy, prices, capabilities, and brand. These had traditionally been the drivers One eleven year old boy told me, “I don’t of America’s supposed love affair with like expensive cars. They don’t get good cars. For getting places, Nikki had other gas mileage and they are too close to options. “I already take Via on my own. the ground, plus, they don’t usually have My parents let me take the train to good torque,” demonstrating a highly AUDIENCE AND MARKET

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developed vocabulary that belied his age. Every time this happened, I asked how it was possible that someone with so little desire to actually own a car could know so much about them. The answer was video games. Even children who grew up in cities where car ownership was undesirable had extensive experience purchasing, customizing, souping up and racing cars. Some games were hyperrealistic and had inculcated the ability to shift gears based on the sound of the engine. Other games required children to follow traffic regulations while in the presence of police officers. Most games invited hyper-violence, including intentional collisions and sometimes rewarded graphic criminal behaviors like hit and run. None of the children I spoke with described the seductive allure and sense of connection that attracted older drivers to cars. Yet this remarkable knowledge, an obsession previously reserved for popular topics like dinosaurs or outer space, was seared into their imaginations by video gaming nonetheless. Part of the reason that children have little interest in car ownership might have something to do with how they YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

view their increasing mobility privileges as they grow older. I had gone into my user interviews assuming that children would have an adversarial relationship with their parents when it came to obtaining additional independence and mobility. The model I had was similar to the classic construct by which children obtain dog: guilting, begging, bartering and negotiating with parents until the concession finally comes. This was incorrect. In fact, while the children I spoke with valued their independence, they also valued parental support and affection. One boy I spoke with had desperately wanted to walk alone to school at age 10, a journey which took him through a barren project-style apartment block. His parents did eventually permit him to take this journey, and for three days he basked in his new privilege. However, having experienced the walk alone and secure in the knowledge that he could, he once again invited his parents to walk him to school until the sixth grade, the traditional age at which that privilege is granted. “Inside, he didn’t really want to be alone, but he he liked the responsibility of doing it by himself,” his mother explained. “We let him go a few times, but by the end of the week, he


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wanted us with him again.” Another boy I spoke with lived in the walkable town of Oak Park outside of Chicago, just two blocks from his school. Even though he could have walked there from the age of seven or eight, he was instead driven by his mother (which was on the same route as her commute). These stories validated a model of autonomy related to me by a middle school teacher, ST Schwartz. “The choice of whether or not to become autonomous is in itself a form of autonomy. A child who could walk alone but chooses not to is more autonomous that the child who has no choice one way or the other. Autonomy is in this sense a form of empowerment.” Autonomy, in a child’s eyes, does not need to be exercised in order to be experienced. Many children, having been given the ability to make choices without mentorship or patronage, will nonetheless come to value and accept the company their parents wish to share with them.

to shelter their children far more than they themselves were sheltered. Often, acknowledging this seems to provoke a sense of guilt or regret. Some would argue that smothering helicopter parents have been conditioned to believe the world is a more dangerous place, when in fact it is relatively safer. However, I’ve had conversations with parents who cherished the memory of claiming their independence at a young age, and still did not permit their child to walk the neighborhood alone until a more advanced age. Jennifer, for example, looks fondly back at her childhood deep in Queens, New York, saying, “By the time I was twelve, I knew the entire Queens bus system. I would travel 45 minutes and three transfers each way, alone, just to see a friend for 20 minutes. Once you’ve achieved that type of independence, the world is so much bigger. Parents didn’t have to worry back then like they do now.” Jennifer cited several reasons her son had less mobility than she did: the streets are more crowded, with more reckless S U B U R B A N PA R E N T I N G drivers, and there are more dangerous When I spoke to parents about how or suspect people on the streets. Her they approach their children’s mobility, street has little neighborhood solidarity, they often think back to what it was like meaning she could not be confident that when they were growing up. Almost someone would step up and help if her universally, today’s parents feel obliged son were in danger. This, unfortunately, YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E


at night, attacking a woman. In every such case the try was thwarted by passers-by, by kibitzers from windows, or shopkeepers”. She went on to describe the sterile ethos of a wealthy neighborhood, which America’s urban renewal establishment foolishly hoped to replicate. “Meantime, in the Elm Hill Avenue section of Roxbury, a part of inner Boston that is suburban in superficial character, street assaults and the ever present possibility of more street assaults with no kibitzers to protect the victims, induce prudent people to stay off the sidewalks at night.” Although it was written many decades ago, it was prophetic. The contagion of social ills spread by poor planning are all around us.

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mirrors the experiences of many parents today, who are more likely to live in dense urban areas than in the past. These neighborhoods, in turn, have often failed to cultivate (or have lost) a safe and protective culture for children. The slow loss of community in densely populated towns and cities was documented with acuity in Jane Jacob’s seminal work, The Life and Death of the American City. In one passage, she described an interview she had about a poor neighborhood which nevertheless had a vibrant and nurturing street culture: “Half a dozen times or so in the past three decades, says (town director) Havey, would-be molesters have made an attempt at luring a child or, late

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While the loss of childhood mobility provokes much sadness and consternation among parents, I noticed another pattern in my interviews. Parents were quick to add that, while their children might have lost autonomy traveling in the physical world, they had gained a new kind of autonomy in the digital world. Jennifer, for example, told me about her childhood years cruising the neighborhood. “When I was young, I used to cruise with the boys. I had my own Camaro, and I’d go out with my friends.” But she quickly added that the youth cruising culture was born out of a lack of opportunity, rather than an abundance of autonomy. “Our world was small back then, and we didn’t have much to do,” she said. She told me that she didn’t have very many options to turn to in terms of choosing recreation and forging her own talents, aspirations and personality. Her son, however, has a far greater capacity to decide what types of communities he wants to engage in. He is involved with several video game subcultures, and has developed a penchant for improv comedy, gained from online videos, which Jennifer has since allowed him to indulge at a weekly comedy workshop. Even though digital autonomy has YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

yielded many positive results, it also inculcates a sense of powerlessness in parents who struggle to manage, or even comprehend, their children’s online lives. ST, a middle school teacher, told me that her parents kept their desktop computer “facing the door” in their living room so her online activity could be surveilled at any moment, despite the fact that she was able to travel around her home city as she pleased. Today, many children have laptops and smartphones at increasingly young ages. Even if you can keep children inside, ST said, “you can’t face a phone towards the door.” As autonomous vehicles become objects that families interact with in everyday life, I anticipate that there will be a fundamental shift in the conventions of the traditional roles and structures of domestic living. Without thoughtful intervention, their adoption might further entrench some of the issues described above. The design interventions in these pages are intended to illuminate a better path, one in which autonomous vehicles create an opportunity to undo the mistakes of the past. C O N T I N U E D O N PA G E 1 9 8


ROBERT FRANK

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SERENDIPITY Serendipity is a platform for community in a world of Autonomous cars. It keeps track of passenger’s proximity to interesting places and to people they know. That way, it can recommend detours and excursions in real time, allowing passengers to effortlessly build new relationships and engage with the world on their daily drives. A perfect use case for Serendipity is a commute home from an office park in an autonomous car. Many commuters report ‘highway hypnosis’ on their repetitive drives, falling into a daydream like state as they drive. Even though a commuter might travel dozens of miles from home, their systemically fail to engage with the places around them. Further, commuters often feel exhausted and isolated once they arrive at home. Using the Serendipity iPhone app, passengers have an outlet by which they can have meaningful connections to the people and places around them. It displays nearby attractions like hiking SERENDIPITY YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

trails, cafe’s, and theaters across the bottom of the screen. Across the top, friends and acquaintances who are also in their vehicles are shown. Once the user makes a selection and presses the “Request Serendipity” button, the app arranges the date and automatically reroutes the car to the new destination. You might be thinking this sounds a lot like a romantic dating app; it is not. It is simply designed to replicate the kinds of relationships that once existed in small towns by digital means. In future iterations of Serendipity, the platform might notice that a group of friends has gathered at a nearby dinner and create an opportunity to join them with the press of the button. Or maybe the high school football team has a Friday night game. Serendipity sees that might be interesting to you, and notifies the user that the field is only ten minutes away. The Serendipity concept was intended to help reverse the tides of community deterioration by designing real world social bonds into autonomous vehicles.


As we have built our environment to meet the needs of cars, communities have been in rapid decline. How might we ensure autonomous cars serve community better?

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SERENDIPITY

SERENDIPIT Y BROUGHT US TOGETHER

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Tonya Heather Wright, 38 LABORATORY ADMINISTRATOR Tonya was born in 1979 in a Midwestern city about 65 miles from where she now lives. She moved 18 years ago after meeting her current husband, who at the time was working a summer job as a waiter. Tonya commutes more than 45 minutes to an office park, where she manages paperwork full time at a medical laboratory. It mostly does blood reports for nearby clinics and hospitals. She passes several towns on her way to work each morning and night, but has rarely had occasion to stop at any. On weekends, Tonya often returns home to meet with friends and family. On special occasions, she will travel to a spa resort two hours away, often with one of her closer friends. Tonya and her husband do not have children. They inherited the home they live in when her husband’s father died. Sometimes Tonya feels board and lonely. Privately, she wishes she could make a change and live in a more lively city, but her husband would never leave. SERENDIPITY YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E


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VALUES

NEEDS

SERVE BY

Strongly identifies with hometown family and friends, husband

Travel to hometown

Connect to local cultural events, amenities, and venues

Work is mostly for earning money and saving, not aspirational or a career

Travel to out of town amenities Feel the energy of a larger, more connected city Enjoy cultural amenities

Connect to distant performance spaces and amenities Find more opportunities to meet with hometown family and friends over work week

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SERENDIPITY YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

TA P T O S E E A N E X PA N D E D V E I W O F D E S T I N AT I O N S


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OR A SOCIAL PROFILE OF FRIENDS YO U C O U L D C U LT I VAT E

THE RECIPIENT IS NOTIFIED OF A P OSSABLE NEW DETOUR

O N C E A M AT C H I S M A D E , B O T H C A R S A U T O M AT I C LY R E R O U T E T O T H E N E W D E S T I N AT I O N

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Ryan Thomas Smith, 14 HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT Ryan was born and grew up in the town of Middlebourough (population 73,000), a suburb in the outskirts of a coastal city. His father is an insurance adjuster and his mother is a real estate appraiser. Ryan plans on attending a community college after high school, but if his grades improve, his parents have committed to send him to the state university. Ryan’s social circle includes his immediate neighbors, work friends of his parents (and their children), and other students at his high school. In the summers and on weekends (and other school breaks), Ryan works at a local hardware store owned by a friend of his fathers. He considers himself typical, watching the same sports and same television as most of the people he knows. His clothing mostly comes from Wal-Mart, with a few flourishes from thrift shops and higher end apparel like J-Crew. His often shops at a town grocery store for his parents.

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VALUES

NEEDS

SERVE BY

Social ties strongly defined by family and peers at school

Get to and from school

Provide opportunities for social bonding at nearby community spaces and businesses

Continue economic status of parents Most strongly identifies with school, family, town, and music

Arrive at social occasions and dates Go to family functions in town Occasionally travel to mall or city for shopping and social bonding

Promote underutilized local destinations like libraries, work cafe, and museums

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HEADS-UP-DISPLAY The truth is, I don’t really want people playing with their phones in autonomous vehicles. Thats why I created a version of Serendipity that runs on a speculative windshield mounted display. Transparent OLED technology is rapidly advancing, and I believe it will mature in time to be incorporated into autonomous cars once they become mainstream. In this scenario, a student returning home from school is presented with the option to join various friends and family members as they go about their day. It looks like mom needs help with groceries, Ben is playing soccer at the field, and Jennifer is studying at the library. With this intervention, the student can navigate an unwalkable neighborhood as though it were a small town, engaging with people and places as he or she chooses.

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UNCHARTED TERRITORY THE COST OF PROGRESS

If American Graffiti was the gospel of the motor age, The Great Gatsby was its Old Testament. In the 1920s, new models of mass-produced vehicles were, for the first time, designed to project status, rather than be purely utilitarian. The automobile soon became synonymous with power, wealth and insolence. The contempt with which many regarded joyriding automobilists was palpable. As Woodrow Wilson once

YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

said, “Nothing has spread socialistic feeling in this country more than the use of the automobile. To the countryman, they are a picture of the arrogance of wealth, with all its independence and carelessness.” In Gatsby, cars are described more vividly than any of the main characters, While Nick Carraway drives an “old Dodge,” Jay Gatsby’s Rolls Royce is “a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hat boxes and


In doing so, they pantomime the Jeffersonian contradiction: the simultaneous lure of the cultural city centers, where sexual freedom and personal autonomy beckon, and the call of a more wholesome, if regimented, life in the country. Despite their triumphant escapes to the city and retreats back to the country, the characters tellingly bring their flaws with them regardless of the setting. Between the urban and rural lies the Valley of Ashes, a place where an

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supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of windshields that mirrored a dozen suns.� Not only are the cars described in more detail than the characters, they serve to set events in motion that disturb the monotonous luxury of the character’s pampered and utterly predictable lives. For instance, cars transpo Gatsby and his entourage from their lush rural estates to the craven, debauched city and back in a dizzying, endlessly destructive cycle.

UNCHARTED TERRITORY


JACQUES HENRI LARTIGUE

emblem of Motor Age consumerism oversees all who pass. A billboard, bearing the all-seeing eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, observes all that occurs below. The Valley is decrepit, choked and crippled by the endless traffic connecting the other places. It is here that Tom Buchanan so callously forms an affair with Myrtle Wilson, the station attendant wife of mechanic George Wilson. The garage they own together is the lone waypoint where transients stop when they need fuel. The Valley itself and the people who live there are seemingly the refuse of the emerging motor society. They are the generally unnoticed beneficiaries of car culture, but always used and abused when they are. When Myrtle and her husband finally do resolve to leave the Valley, Myrtle is ruthlessly run down by Gatsby’s car.

YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

To author F. Scott. Fitzgerald, the automobile was emblematic of the careless decadence of consumerism as it manifested itself in the Jazz Age: the hedonism and heathanism of its wealthy travelers and the hopelessness and helplessness of those left to clean up the mess and endure the consequences. This stilted and destructive arrangement is all predicated on the false idols of consumerism and car culture that had only begun to emerge when Fitzgerald observed it. In grief over his wife’s senseless death, George Wilson vowed vengeance on her killer. He gazed up at the great billboard of the Valley of Ashes, straight into the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. “God sees everything,” he said. “That’s an advertisement,” his friend assures him.


By the original standards with which America embraced the mass produced automobile, our present mobility ecosystem is a success. There are more cars per capita than before; they are faster, cheaper, safer, and more reliable and get better every year. Importantly, they have generated the cultural traits that were always implicit in their cosmic framing; they have made us more independent and inward focused, more autonomous, than we once were. However, it should be clear by now that our expectations of the motor vehicle were not wholistic enough to properly gauge their ultimate impact on our lives. Some of the metrics that were not counted have painfully revealed themselves over time, and occasionally they were corrected. For example, the smog, lead and pollution that for decades enshrouded America’s cities (after a protracted battle with automotive manufacturers) have for the most part been remedied (excluding carbon pollution, of course). Yet other tolls we have acclimated ourselves to: the tens of thousands slaughtered in collisions, the endless visual blight, and the nearly universal decay of public

spaces. While the accounting of these metrics remain highly subjective as the tally becomes more inclusive of social, environmental, and economic value, the bleaker the bottom line appears. Any honest attempt to tally the total human costs of the system would be harrowing. For all the new speed and efficiency of modern automobiles, people spend more time traveling each day than they did prior to the car. As Robert Putnam documented in Bowling Alone, the uniquely private traits of the automobile don’t just consume precious hours that could be spent more fruitfully, but they also divide the drivers identity and attention between the person they must be at work, at home, and

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O WINSTON

elsewhere. In the end, commutes tend to withdraw and fail to contribute to the social fabric of their towns. Bedroom communities of suburban commuters are often populated by families who, though they are neighbors, fail to form meaningful communities. As James Kunstler observed in Geography of Nowhere, this “loss of place” is among the harshest penalties of the carelessness of the motor age. Yet for many, it is so inescapable, inevitable even, that it is rarely acknowledged. To people who have known nothing else, the problem can be difficult to perceive. From the perspective of the Jeffersonian “back to the land” dilemma, it seems as though residents of the suburbs are trapped in a purgatory between two delusions. To this day, the bourgeois of New York spend their days endlessly retracing YO U A R E O N T H E FA S T E S T R O U T E

Gatsby’s furious path between the city, in search of culture, excitement and autonomy, and their rural Long Island estates, in search of contemplation and escape. Along that route, approximately where the fictitious Valley of Ashes was depicted, now lies an expanse of dense suburban sprawl. As in Fitzgerald’s time, this place is not a middle ground, but a desert. I think this is because the binary between the “autonomy” of the country and the “community” of the city is a false one. In order to fully express themselves, to assert their uniqueness and independence, people need a strong community in which they can nurture and cultivate their identity. The density of different cultures and the wider range of acceptable behaviors in the cities give residents greater autonomy over the conduct and cadence of their everyday lives. On the other hand, one who


MARTIN PAR

participates in a community is obliged to serve it and conform to its demands. Otherwise, it will inevitably become weak and collapse. Community and autonomy exist in symbiosis with one another. Attempts to deny one to benefit the other will always be Sisyphean. They must be balanced. I hope that the interventions presented in these pages are true to that target. As we reframe and rebuild our mobility systems around autonomous cars, it will not be enough simply to solve individual problems with new technology. Remember, lack of mobility among the young, old and disabled is largely a problem created by the automobile. Prior to the decimation of the built environment to accommodate them, most towns and cities had accessibility designed in. Too often, the car has been a feeble solution to a

problem that it created in the first place. I want people to be optimistic about the future of the automobile. However, rather than blindly accommodating new autonomous and networked mobility technologies, that optimism has to be paired with higher expectations and higher standards. Autonomous cars present the potential of hundreds of exciting and inevitable interventions that will certainly help millions of people. It is important that stakeholders like entrepreneurs, governments, and corporations respect that even the most well-intentioned designs have cascading consequences. We can finally achieve the full promises of the motor age if the principal of balance between community and autonomy is observed, respected, and incorporated into the design of new products, services and even the built environment in which we live. UNCHARTED TERRITORY

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SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY BOWLING ALONE BY R O B E RT P U T N A M

adults average seventy-two minutes every day behind “ American the wheel, according to the Department of Transportation’s

Personal Transportation Survey. This is, according to time diary studies, more than we spend cooking or eating and more than twice as much as the average parent spends with the kids.

TRAVELS WITH CHARLIE IN SEARCH OF AMERICA BY J O H N ST E I N B EC K

new American finds his challenge and his love in traffic“ The choked streets, skies nested in smog, choking with the acids of

industry, the screech of rubber and houses leashed in against one another while the towns wither a time and die.

THE RECKONING B Y D AV I D H A L B E R S TA M

key to understanding human behavior was not rationality “ The but a knowledge of human desire and snobbery. It was still a world where men bought cars because they wanted something— to impress their neighbors or a certain girl.

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THE DEATH AND LIFE OF GREAT AMERICAN CITIES are often conveniently tagged as the villains “ Automobiles responsible for the ills of cities and the disappointments

and futilities of city planning. But the destructive effects of automobiles are much less a cause than a symptom of our incompetence at city building.

FAST CARS, COOL RIDES BY A M Y B E ST

parallel can be drawn between the work young men “ Ando interesting on their cars and the work young women do on their bodies

as both prepare to participate in spaces where the car rules. Boys work on their cars as a way to work on their masculinity, just as girls work on their bodies as a way to work on their femininity.

THE GEOGRAPHY OF NOWHERE B Y J A M E S H O WA R D K U N S T L E R

Americans loved their cars, perhaps it was because the “ Ifmachines allowed them to escape from reality—which raises the more interesting question: Why did America build a reality of terrible places from which people longed to escape?

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SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY CARS AND CULTURE B Y R U D I V O LT I

a number of ways, the history of the early automobile industry “ Inresembled the personal computer boom of the 1980s and 1990s. Entrepreneurs were excited by the prospect of making a lot of money, but at the same time the product itself conveyed an excitement that was not present in more established products.

REINVENTING THE AUTOMOBILE B Y W I L L I A M M I T C H E L L , C H R I S B I R D , L AW R E N C E B U R N S

history, people have tended to allocate “ Throughout approximately 60-90 minutes a day for mobility. Centuries ago, this placed the typical geographic span of a city at around 3-4 miles or the distance that could be walked reasonably in one hour. As faster forms of mobility evolved, cities grew to maintain this informal ‘rule of thumb’.

THE GREAT RACE BY L E V I T I L L E M A N N

many uneasy teenagers have found themselves in a vehicle “ How with an unsettlingly intoxicated classmate or friend? How many lives have been lost to mindless texting, distraction, or drunk driving? With autonomous vehicles, such concerns may disappear within decades.

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You Are on the Fastest Route  

Intentional Community and Responsible Autonomy in the New Motor Age

You Are on the Fastest Route  

Intentional Community and Responsible Autonomy in the New Motor Age

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