If you are exactly like me, you live in a dense urban environment and assume that dense urban environments are the way of the future, and suburbs are dark hellpits full of enormous PetSmart outlets and molly-soaked teens. But perhaps this is incorrect?
If you are exactly like me, you naturally expect that over time a larger and larger percentage of the population will move to dense urban areas, which are more efficient and more lively and more ecologically sound and which will be, with proper political leadership, more cost-effective, and which are definitely more fly, compared to the suburbs, which have little to offer young people besides a CiCi’s Pizza outlet where the “dessert pizza” never changes. Besides, when you imagine the technological changes that are coming to transportation—driverless cars, which will soon be available to pick up and drop off urban commuters with an ease never seen before, making it more rational than ever not to own a car, thereby making it easier than ever to live in a city with little parking—it is hard to imagine that anything will stop the relentless trend of urbanization.
But what if those driverless cars have the opposite effect? That is the thesis floated by Christopher Mims today, who argues that the coming age of driverless cars will actually fuel the suburbs, not the cities. More people moving to the suburbs? Seems dumb. Yet he points out:
- Population density in global cities has been on a slow but steady decline since 1890, correlating to the introduction of more widespread public transportation;
- Driverless cars will only intensify this dynamic;
- Most people don’t mind living in suburbs;
- Even millennials.
A future of evenly dissipated populations spread thinly out over massive, sprawling suburban webs, a metaphor for the eventual cold death of the universe, enabled by computerized drivers? And you don’t even get the one benefit of living in the suburbs which is being able to trick out your Honda Accord into a lowrider? Okay.
More room for the rest of us here.