Think Out Loud

5 Ways Cars May Radically Change Cities In The Future

By Allison Frost (OPB)
April 14, 2017 10 p.m.

Cars: They're as American as it gets. Car culture is American culture. Right?

Urbanism Next co-founder and Nico Larco

Urbanism Next co-founder and Nico Larco

Nico Larco says yes — but that is changing. And maybe a whole lot sooner than you think. Larco is an associate professor of architecture at the University of Oregon and co-founder of the Urbanism Next project.

He says futurists and tech companies that predict self-driving cars will redefine the way we live are right. Or, as he put it when we chatted with him recently on "Think Out Loud," the impact of the changes are "difficult to overstate."

Here are five things we learned about our possible future from Larco:

1. With continued rise of ride services like Uber and Lyft and increase in autonomous vehicles, the number of vehicles needed overall will fall. 

Larco says, "People are giving up their cars, giving up their second cars ... that's already happening."


2. Eventually, most people won't own their own vehicles. Instead they'll get rides from ride services in self-driving cars.

Larco acknowledges for some this may seem far fetched: "For us who already own the cars and are kind of enmeshed in this culture, it's difficult to believe. And I'm sure that people when the automobile was first introduced thought we would never get rid of our horses. 'That's crazy! That's the way we live!' And yet, the change happened quickly."

3. The biggest single land-use in the U.S. is parking. But we won't need all that parking in the future. 

"We'll only need 10-15 percent of the parking that we have in cities," he says.

He points out that big venue concert halls and ball parks have been losing money on parking because people are taking ride services instead of driving.

"So already they are seeing these changes. This is not a distant future, this is already happening."

4. Self-driving cars and their relative small need for parking may create more density — something urban planners love — by making room for more housing and other mixed used developments.

In Larco's words: "There are huge opportunities for redevelopment."

5. But self-driving cars could create more sprawl — something urban planners hate — by enabling more comfortable commutes for workers and expanding the urban footprint dramatically.

"Let's assume I live 20 minutes outside the city," Larco says, autonomous vehicles would change the calculus. "Instead of it being 20 minutes of me staring at the road with my hands on the wheel, I could be watching a movie; I could be talking to my kids; I could be sleeping, doing exercise, all these things might be able to happen. Which means that now, maybe I'd be willing to take a 30 minute commute."