As self-driving cars move from fantasy to reality, what kind of effect will they have on cities? A fantastical research and urban prototyping project called Shuffle City investigates, and in the process, becomes a manifesto for a new kind of modern city—one that depends less on traditional public transportation like buses or light rail and more on creating a fleet of continuously moving automated vehicles to serve urban mobility needs.
Focusing on Houston—the country’s car-oriented fourth largest city—the project "identifies opportunities outside of the ownership model to liberate an otherwise suppressed urban landscape, by programming a dynamic system of flow that is made more immediately possible through a public autonomous (driverless) vehicle fleet," according to its website. The project wonders: "Is there a new model for American cities, in which mobility can reverse the effect of city centers consumed by the private motor car and its needs?"
Shuffle City looks at the new possibilities that could arise from cities transitioning away from cars with drivers to cars without drivers. If cars were put into some constant flow as a public good, and if people didn’t all have their own vehicles, there would be no need for the concrete wastelands and lifeless towers that serve as a parking infrastructure in the urban landscapes of car-centric cities like Phoenix and Los Angeles (Under the current ownership model, the average car spends 21 hours per day parked.) The share of city space ruled by parking lots will shrink, making way for more green space, environmental buffers, workspace, housing, retail, and denser planning for more walkable cities.
Shuffle City includes maps of Houston that re-imagine the city with parking spaces cut out and filled in with new development, parks, and infrastructure. Calling itself "an alternative framework for future growing cities in America," the project is more of a visual exploration than a policy recommendation, and questions about radically altering the ownership model for automobiles in America are left unanswered. But the project’s bold take on unforeseen futures is thought-provoking all the same.