This month, we collaborated with Ford Motor Company to unveil the “Street of Tomorrow” at the CES 2018 convention in Las Vegas. Beginning in 2017, Ford’s CEO announced turning from being a car-only company to a mobility company. The company has found that the advent of ride-share services, autonomous vehicles, and subscription-based automobiles have opened up a new paradigm in how people get around in cities, which has major implications on the future of the built environment.
Our work at Better Block in rapidly retrofitting existing roadways, infilling gaps along the building edge, and creating walkable/bikeable environments was a perfect match for showcasing the future street concept Ford wanted to showcase.
We produced a parklet by rolling out green Astroturf with several rapidly assembled Wikiblock planters, benches, and tables. This showcased how residents could easily take back their streets. The space became the meeting place and gathering point for all who entered. The insertion of a green space for people to linger immediately humanized the area, and became a focal point for the exhibition.
This project got us thinking: what if we created a “mobility parklet” that would account for people wanting to dock their bicycles, charge their phones, wait for ride-share services or mass trasnit, or be dropped off by an autonomous vehicle? This platform could extend into an existing roadway, returning the streets for people, and showcasing how this intervention could be rapidly deployed using our Wikiblock toolset. Also, the preponderance of dockless bike companies has made it apparent that some thought must be given to how these services are arranged, accessed, and parked.
Therefore, we decided to turn the idea into reality. We will officially unveil the parklet on February 20 in Dallas, complete with bicycle docking stations, and ride-share platforms in the historic Bishop Arts District alongside a panel discussion with elected officials and concerned citizens.
The work we began with Ford is also dovetailing with another project we’re working on, which not only focuses on future streets, but also on increasing health outcomes for residents. This work has a similar starting point from the ubiquity of ride-share services that are reshaping how people get in and out of places.
In late 2016, we began putting together lists of development trends and future technologies to account for that could catalyze the work we do in re-taking the built environment for people–and autonomous vehicles rose to the top for their potential in disrupting parking minimums and mitigating the costly growth in large parking structures. At the time, it still seemed far off into the future, but as we sat and ate dinner last week beside the historic Fremont Avenue in Las Vegas, we watched two separate, private autonomous bus purveyors circle the block, loading and unloading passengers into the area. We finished eating and asked an attendant outside the bus stop stand if the vehicles were being showcased for the one week of CES. He shook his head and said, “Oh no, they’ve been running these for the past couple months.” It won’t take long for the profit models of these services with their dramatic reduction of labor costs apparent that this technology is about to completely shake up the way we get around. It’s an exciting opportunity, and I feel like our work is more timely than ever to take back our streets and make them vibrant, humane, and accessible to all. And I wouldn’t hedge my bets on wholesale transformation in 20 years…more like, by 2020.