Urbanism Next
University of OregonUniversity of Oregon
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Densification

How and where will AVs and new mobility increase or decrease development density?

What is driving change?

Change in Parking Demand

The demand for parking is predicted to drop as much as 90% as transportation network companies (TNCs) and autonomous vehicles (AVs) reduce the need to store cars at destinations. Parking has become a primary determinant of urban development, so a change in parking demand will have dramatic effects on urban design.

Shift in Modes

An increase in on-demand rides coupled with a reduction in transit, walking, and cycling trips could have substantial impacts on urban design as it might increase the demand for additional vehicle travel space. Additionally, a reduction in transit use could reduce the vibrancy and viability of transit-oriented development. Shifting from transit, walking, and biking to autonomous vehicles (AVs)—ostensibly a mobile, enclosed, private space—could also reduce the vitality these more active modes add to street life.

Reduction of Brick-and-Mortar Stores

As a larger share of retail shifts to e-commerce, the number of stores could diminish and locations that are marginal today could no longer be viable. This could impact the vitality of urban areas with less people on the street and less storefronts that help generate street-level activity.

Future Changes

Aerial photo of suburban neighborhood

Photo by Avi Waxman on Unsplash

What Could Happen?

  • Urban and suburban areas could see decreased density overall. Increased ease of travel and shifts toward new, potentially more time-efficient modes of travel could make development farther outside of urban cores feasible. This, in turn, could result in some areas decreasing in overall density as residential, commercial, and industrial development moves further out to take advantage of cheaper land.
  • Specific urban and suburban areas could see increased densification. Areas that are already desirable could see increased density, as land used for cars such as parking, gas stations, automotive shops, and repair centers could be redeveloped. Large commercial centers, multifamily housing, and event venues such as sporting stadiums or concert halls could particularly benefit from this, as they often include significant amounts of space dedicated to parking.
  • Urban decay could set in within less desirable urban and suburban areas. Areas without strong attractions, or with crime or profitability issues could be further marginalized if technologies such as AVs allow people to bypass them entirely. In this scenario, inner belt suburbs would be particularly at risk of declining land values and decreased densification. They would be too far out from the urban core to take advantage of the amenities offered by a high-density urban area, but too close to the urban core to benefit from the cheaper and more plentiful land offered at the periphery of the metropolitan area.
Hong Kong city skyline at night

Photo by Brayden Law on Unsplash

EVIDENCE TO DATE

  • Economic factors are already driving decreased density in some cases. While AVs are not yet common enough to measurably affect the feasibility of developing areas farther out from the urban core, other factors—such as the economy—are. In contrast to prior trends of increased movement to urban cores, data from 2018 showed that urbanites, and in particular Millennial urbanites, were increasingly moving to the suburbs, despite surveys showing an overall preference for many of the amenities of urban living. One of the reasons behind this shift in trends was affordability. Rather than live in a dense urban core, people were instead moving farther and farther out in search of lower rent and living costs. If AVs enable people to move even farther out in search of cheaper land and associated living costs, this trend could compound.
  • Densification of desirable areas is already happening—AVs and reduced parking will only accelerate it. Many cities have seen desirable areas become more dense for decades. This has come about in part due to a reduction or elimination of minimum parking requirements in central cities, making dense development less expensive and more feasible while increasing the amount of land available for residential development instead of parking lots. With new mobility technologies making it easier for other areas to reduce or eliminate parking requirements, this practice could spread to smaller cities as well.

Quick facts

  • Suburban growth is overtaking urban growth in 67% of the 53 largest cities in the United States as of 2018—an inversion of the urban growth trends seen earlier in the decade.
  • Shared autonomous vehicles could increase densification by reducing parking needs by up to 90% for populations that adopt the technology, according to a study conducted by the Georgia Institute of Technology.

What to do

Not sure where to start? Below are four What to Do pages that we think are especially relevant to Densification:

More about what to do »

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