Over the years it seems that there is always something on the horizon that is going to solve all our urban design problems. In the early 1900’s the implementation of zoning ordinances was supposed to be the magic bullet that would solve the difficulties facing cities at the time. Then there were highways, exclusionary zoning, easy to get mortgages, urban renewal, and pedestrian malls among others that were all going to solve our urban problems. Today we know from history that while each of these things had their benefits, they also came with unintended consequences and in the long run did not solve our urban problems. Today we have a new magic bullet on the horizon that many feel is going to revolutionize the world and solve all of our urban problems – the autonomous car.
Autonomous cars could have a major effect on our cities but maybe not in the way many people think they will. My first planning professor had a favorite saying, “What do we know about the future…nothing” and when it comes to autonomous cars there are those that believe that the adoption of autonomous cars will revolutionize our cities for the better. But as with all technological advances there comes a cost and what the final cost will be we will not know for some time. In addition, the changes we see will be different than envisioned and like so many of the magic bullets from the past, the unintended consequences may be more severe than we expect.