All Tesla cars will soon drive themselves, according to Elon Musk, and other companies, including Audi, Google, GM, and Uber are exploring the world of autonomous cars. But how will cars that allow us to just enjoy the ride change the fabric of our cities? Sam Lubell for WIRED presents opinions from eight experts on how self-driving cars will transform the cities of the future.

Carlo Ratti, Director, MIT Senseable City Lab
Ratti, whose lab anticipates how technology will transform the built environment, predicts that vehicle automation will require 80 percent fewer cars on any given highway. “In general, fewer cars could mean shorter travel times, less congestion, and a smaller environmental impact,” Ratti says. “Vast areas of urban land currently occupied by parking lots and roads could be reinvented for a whole new spectrum of social functions” like parks, public spaces, and maker spaces.

Kinder Baumgardner, managing principal, SWA
Baumgardner, who leads landscape and urban design firm SWA’s Houston studio, recently published a paper entitled “Beyond Google’s Cute Car.” He predicts that a reduction in cars will transform urban cores, with entrepreneurs re-imagining parking lots, parking spaces, and garages by converting them into housing, retail outlets, and public spaces. Already, he notes, garage operators are beginning to strategize how they can reuse or sell their properties.

Lisa Futing, Project Manager, Audi Urban Futures Initiative
“The biggest change to the urban fabric will be to parking infrastructure,” says Futing, whose initiative sponsors research collaborations with academic and cultural institutions dedicated to urban mobility. “Parking will be moved indoors and outside of city centers, freeing up outdoor lots and spaces for development and public space. Lots them will be able to accommodate 60 percent more cars thanks to smaller driving lanes, greater maneuverability, and a lack of need for stairs and elevators.”

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