Garage image

Now "walkability"is all the rage, and the "sharing economy" is where it's at, but Americans drive to work, alone, a lot. Selfishly, though, what does this all say about the future of that iconic symbol of Americans who "make it," and reach their dream: the two car garage?

This may be counter-intuitive, but new Census Bureau American Community Survey data reveals that three out of four of us still commutes to work, solo. Sharing schmaring. Look in the following graphic at where car pooling is in the grand scheme of things.

Car commutes by the numbers, per the Census' American Community Survey

All of this wouldn't seem to suggest the end of the garage as we know it. Still, while the absolute numbers might make one think that Americans' love affair with their "rides" continues undiminished, there's a discernible "tipping point," in the data. It's flattened, and beginning to ebb, and could very well fall off the table, not this year, and not likely in the next few years. But, in 2020, who knows? The Washington Post's Emily Badger writes:

According to a report on car commuting from the Census Bureau's Brian McKenzie that accompanies the new data release, driving to work is down about four percentage points from 2006 to 2013 among urban 25-to-29-year-olds. This stat specifically captures those millennials who live in the principle city of each metropolitan area — so, not the suburbs.

A four-point decline may not sound like much (it means about 76.7 percent of these young urban workers still commute by car). But since 2006, the rate of their decline in driving is about four times greater than the national average. And, as the above chart shows, changes in commuting patterns happen gradually over many years.

Google's self-driving car

By the same token, we have an awful lot of attention these days to the amazing work going on at Google, Tesla, Apple, and a number of the car companies on driver-less cars. Here's a startling quotation from McKinsey, citing Massachusetts Institute of Technology data, on a scenario for "self-driving" cars.

“Your” car could give you a lift to work in the morning and then give a lift to someone else in your family—or, for that matter, to anyone else: after delivering you to your destination, it doesn’t sit idle in a parking lot for 20-plus hours every day. By combining ride sharing with car sharing—particularly in a city such as New York—MIT research has shown that it would be possible to take every passenger to his or her destination at the time they need to be there, with 80 percent fewer cars.

Traffic patterns, fuel savings, noise and air pollution reduction, road maintenance implications, accidents--all these important considerations aside, what does the potential elimination of four out of five cars on the road suggest to you?

To me, on some level, it's that we need to start imagining what's possible and what may be necessary to do with that physical-world proxy for the American Dream, the two-bay garage. Evolving function may come first to mind:

  • Storage 
  • Recreation 
  • An Indoor-Outdoor "space between" 
  • A new living or social zone
  • Tech center
  • Home office space

How will such evolving functions, an increased emphasis on community "walkability," and neighborhood "programming" around trails, proximity to grocery, schools, health, etc., and social connections, etc. create an impetus for new designs, materials, and features in what has been a fairly standard structure to shelter human-driven vehicles.

Already, affinities between smart cars and smart homes are the subject of more and more research, as we see here from Parks Associates, which plots early adopters and traction for smart tech in both spheres.

In 2015, these ecosystems are beginning to converge, with particular use cases, such as remote home controls, entertainment on-the-go, and home energy management emerging at the intersection. However, significant obstacles and issues must be addressed before players can begin to take advantage of crossover opportunities.

Connected Car concerns from Parks Associates

In a finite stretch that has become noteworthy for extraordinarily cheap energy and fuel costs, it may be a fleeting extravagance to imagine "driving-'til-you-qualify" as a sustainably viable homeownership tactic.

What's going on structurally that is changing people's attachment and reliance on owning and operating cars is worth giving some thought to now. A garage is a garage is a garage, but that may not be the case for much longer.

Big changes are not that far off.