A World Without Driving?


I had dinner a few weeks ago with a friend who was a veteran planner in Broward County.

In retirement, my friend has become involved with the Smart Growth Partnership, a wonderful non-profit that promotes urbanism. They’ve been to Delray and I’ve spoken at a few of their events. I wish we could clone the people involved, because they get it.

As dinner progressed, we talked about traffic, technology and the exponential pace of change.

“We’re trying to get local governments educated about some trends and changes we’re anticipating,” he said. “So they can plan properly.” Planning? What a concept.

Instead of being reactionary, the concept of allows you to shape the future and if you’re lucky proactively position your city to take advantage of change.

Change? What a concept.

It’s inevitable, like death and taxes, but resisted nonetheless. Kind of like death and taxes, come to think of it.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said the only human being who embraces change is a baby in a wet diaper.

There’s truth in that comment, but I’ll point to another Mayor who embraced change—his name is Tom Lynch and he served Delray from 1990-96. He’s now mayor of the Village of Golf.

Tom is a “Darwinist.” He believes that those who embrace change and adapt will survive and thrive.

I agree.

Now back to the dinner conversation. One of the things the Smart Growth Partnership is beginning to consider are profound changes in our car oriented culture.

A few months back, I told you about a conference I attended in Miami in which a futurist from Singularity University predicted with certainty that his young son would never have a driver’s license. He wouldn’t need it, because we were heading toward a society that would embrace driverless cars. Google, Tesla and supposedly Apple are hard at work on perfecting this technology which already exists. Several Israeli start-ups including a really cool company called Mobileye are far down the track designing safe systems.

Mobileye believes regulators will embrace a marketing pitch that emphasizes safety over convenience and productivity.

I think they’re right. Regulators don’t care that you want to text while in a car, but they do care that a self-driving car may be safer.

Self-driving cars?

You must be kidding right?


The Boston Consulting Group said self-driving cars would be a reality in a decade and a common site within two decades. Already, the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration is reviewing safety rules to see if they conflict with autonomous driving technologies.

This is happening folks. Really, it is.

And there are planners and technologists out there who believe we ought to be thinking about what this all means.

Salim Ismail of Singularity U. believes self-driving cars will translate into the biggest real estate opportunity of our lifetime because a lot of the land we devote to car infrastructure can be returned to nature or a more productive use than parking or wide lanes which promote speed.

We won’t need as many lanes if cars self-drive and if we summon a service like Uber to bring us to and fro, we won’t need to devote acres and acres to parking lots either.

The implications are staggering.

Smart cities– and Delray and Boca are smart cities –should at the very least begin to think about what a less car-oriented future might look like.

Millennials, especially urban millennials, really do drive less.

Proof of this trend comes from the Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey on commuting by auto.

The survey shows that millennials, if they live in cities or urbanized suburbs, do indeed drive less. Wary of car payments, insurance and maintenance costs, many use ride sharing services, bike to work, want to live in walkable environments and or car share or ride transit—if it’s available.

The world as we know it is changing. And there are opportunities galore if we plan for the future.



The Future Is Now And It’s Exponential


A few years ago, I had a chance to see Salim Ismail give a rock em sock em talk to Leadership Florida.

Ismail, a co-founder of Singularity University, blew the audience away with a presentation on the future.

It was the first time we saw drones delivering packages and he concluded his talk by printing a belt on a 3-D printer.

It was science fiction come to life. We were in awe. And probably a little skeptical too.

Would we see these things on a mass scale in our lifetimes?

Well, a few years later drones are the talk of the media (and one flew over our table during Savor the Avenue this week), 3-D printing has come down in price to the point where China worries about its role as a manufacturing hub and self-driving cars are being talked about by Google and Tesla as being only a few years away.

I had a chance to see Salim Ismail again a few weeks ago at a workshop at Miami Dade College’s Idea Center. We were at an event sponsored by Rokk3r Labs, a magnificent technology accelerator in Miami and the Knight Foundation which is increasingly doing more and more important work in the areas of community building, the arts and technology in our region.

I first met the Rokk3r team about a year ago through a friend in Delray. They have gone from a handful of employees to over 85 in a short period of time. They are taking a leading role in building Miami’s tech scene, so when they invited me to see Ismail, I jumped at the opportunity.

Ismail is an evangelist for what he calls Exponential Organizations or E0s. The philosophy stems from his work at Singularity University, a unique school in Silicon Valley that taps into the latest thinking on technology from the best minds in the world including Tesla founder Elon Musk and the Google founder Larry Page and futurist/technologist Ray Kurzweil who has been called among the smartest men in the world.

Their basic belief is technological change is so rapid these days that you can’t have a fixed curriculum; it must always be evolving to keep pace with the world.

Ismail sees technology “disrupting” just about every industry you can imagine from health care and education to politics and land use.

For example, he opened his presentation with this showstopper: “ I have a three year old son. He will never have a driver’s license.”
What? Why?
Because Ismail believes that within 10 years and maybe sooner, we won’t be driving. Instead, we will use Uber like services to summon driverless cars. That means an end to accidents (the Google car has driven over 1 million miles without a fender bender), no need for auto insurance and an end to traffic.

That will enable cities to reclaim infrastructure and land now used for exclusively for cars. Ismail says it will provide the biggest real estate opportunity of our lifetimes.

Cars that we actually drive will be like horses; used for primarily for recreational purposes.

Of course, all this change and disruption will mean a loss of traditional jobs and industries, with incumbents who don’t adjust being wiped out, just like Blockbuster Video (by Netflix) and Polaroid (by the rise of digital cameras on smartphones).

The regulatory and political framework does not exist to accommodate this rapid change. Ismail says our politics are “light years” behind our technological prowess. (That’s not a revelation.)

Some in the audience of innovators and entrepreneurs were thrilled and others frightened by his vision. But he says the technology is already here and spreading– you guessed it–exponentially.

Organizations in every walk of life will either become E0s or be disrupted.

There’s no turning back, but there is a way to become an Exponential thinker and to turn your business and organization into an EO.

For a glimpse into the near future read Salim’s new book Exponential Organizations and visit his website: https://www.salimismail.com/