Presently based in Orlando, Florida, Walt Disney Imagineering design manager James Hanis has decades of experience overseeing diverse projects ranging from municipal infrastructure to single-family homes. Among other areas, James Hanis maintains a strong interest in urban design and planning, as well as landmark preservation projects.
A recent Economist special report, “The New Autopia: A Chance to Transform Urban Planning,” examined the potential for autonomous vehicles to transform cities that until now have been planned around the inflexible requirements of freeways and parking. With the expectation that people should have the ability to drive anywhere firmly part of the contemporary planning mindset, cities have been built to accommodate suburban sprawl that takes up large amounts of land and discourages public transportation use.
One possible avenue for solving this design problem is through autonomous vehicles, which offer the possibility of increased occupancy rates in low-cost robotaxis that can map out passenger supply and demand in real time. With commutes increasingly requiring travel from suburb to suburb, the use of these vehicles, which would be constantly in transit or stored in centralized hubs, would significantly cut down on the parking space needs that take up excessive land and real estate.
Some urban planners suggest that an efficient system of autonomous vehicles would allow for garages and parking lots to be repurposed for green and sustainable uses or pedestrian-friendly retail and cultural hubs. As the Economist describes it, urban streets could become spaces in which people and vehicles are once again equals.