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The eventual city shift

You wake up, go to work, head to lunch, swing out to buy something, back to work, hop in your car, home by 7, dinner and repeat. Throughout the day, if you’re like millions of other Americans, you were engaging in all of this in a city. What constitutes a city? Generally, it’s an area with 300,000 plus residents (although that can be argued). But a city is a place where commerce and living intersect, lives are lived at all angles, with multiple offers all available at your fingertips.

The automobile began to be mass-produced in the early 20th century. But this did not simply result in more people with more cars. Rather, the design of cities changed in unison, as the car was beginning to be the primary mode of transport in cities and cities rightly had to adapt. When cars first appeared, they shared the roads with pedestrians, horses, carriages and bicycles. Currently, roughly half of typical American city is dedicated to parking lots, driveways, service stations, roads, auto-related businesses and car dealerships. The car as an entity occupies more of an American city than any other product or service … hands down.

There were a lot of “turning points” in history when it comes to the car’s rising dominance, but when President Dwight Eisenhower introduced the Interstate Highway system, folks went from simply owning a car, to using it … a lot. The Interstate Highway not only linked states, but afforded people the option of expanding away from where they worked to live. The concept of the suburb has the highway to thank, and frankly if it wasn’t for the combination of the two people still might be living next to the factory where they toil 10 hours a day.

All of this as you can likely imagine led to massive decentralization. By the late 1990s, the midwestern giant, Chi-Town, the Windy City, accounted for a scappy 6% of the land area that encompassed its entire metropolitan area. The car had enabled for additional construction to take place in and around Chicago which expanded the city in a sprawl-like fashion. Yet, as history has taught us, nothing is constant. What we’re currently experiencing with the growth of light electric vehicles and a shared economy is folks opting less and less for their own car, and more and more for interconnectedness and a return to the center.

Mobility-as-a-Service apps are in high-demand, principally because they are demand-responsive. This means that when someone desires a scooter, ride-sharing, bike-sharing or what will soon be coming – autonomous shuttle buses – you can do so on an app and not have to worry about your car. Cities are starting now to consider removing parking lots, gas-stations, and constructing something new to suit this shifting paradigm. While we don’t see why this shift won’t occur, it’s a far cry from the Interstate Highway.  

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