Greg Lindsay's Blog

January 24, 2018  |  permalink

Autonomous Everything Livestream & Recap


What happens when you convene 25 architects, designers, public policy experts, aides to both the Mayor of New York and the Governor of New York, and futurists with the brief to imagine a world of autonomous stuff and not just cars? You get five strange and exhilarating scenarios ranging from autonomous libraries to an anonymous ride-hailing service for undocumented migrants living and working in the suburbs to the winning entry (as judged by an audience of more than 100+ attendees): “Liquid Transit,” a wholly dynamic bus network first deployed in the wake of a Hurricane Sandy-style disaster.

The workshop was organized by Dash Marshall’s Brian Boyer, who invited me to a similar workshop last year run on behalf of Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Aspen Institute. (That installment was co-organized by Bits and Atoms’ Anthony Townsend, who wasn’t present this time around.) A partial roster of all-star attendees included Women-Led Cities’ Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman, Gensler’s Richard Tyson, Intersection’s Jeff Maki, Project for Public Spaces’ Ethan Kent, Arup’s Francesca Birks, the Regional Plan Association’s Manu Sen, and many more.

The day was capped by a public presentation moderated by Citylab’s Laura Bliss (pictured above), which included by pitches from members of each team drafting their scenarios. You can watch the archived Facebook Live stream here. (Unfortunately, I can’t embed it.)

If there’s one lesson to draw from the exercise, it’s that the central premise of autonomy — that it will be used to move people from point A to point B, usually in cars — is fundamentally wrong. Throughout multiple rounds of brainstorming and discussion, participants kept coming back to the idea of autonomy being applied to resources and institutions as a stopgap to help deal with failing pubic services. Instead of autonomous cars, we talked about autonomous hospitals or medical clinics deployed to communities whose residents used it to treat themselves. We discussed how shadow transportation networks might arise in response to pervasive surveillance and persecution, and how those networks might steer people toward communities and resources. And we talked about everything except the technology.

I’d like to thank Bryan Boyer, Anthony Townsend, Micah Kotch, Miriam Roure, Laura Bliss, and URBAN-X and Citylab for an amazing day. Let’s do this again some time. (Pictured below: Savinien Caracostea’s rendering of the winning scenario, “Liquid Transit.”)


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Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is a senior fellow at NewCities and the director of strategy of its offshoot LA CoMotion — an annual urban mobility festival in the Arts District of Los Angeles. He is also a non-resident senior fellow of The Atlantic Council’s Foresight, Strategy, and Risks Initiative, a visiting scholar at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, and co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next.

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