Autonomous Urbanism: Towards a New Transitopia!

by Evan Shieh (MAUD '19) — Recipient of the Urban Planning and Design Thesis Prize in Urban Design

This manifesto envisions a near future (year 2047) in which the Autonomous Vehicle (AV) catalyzes a mobility paradigm shift towards autonomous public transit as a model of regional urban growth in the city of Los Angeles, in order to combat many of the major negative externalities that the private automobile has imparted onto its urban realm: urban sprawl, traffic congestion, environmental unsustainability, and mobility inequality. The manifesto instrumentalizes automation as a revolutionizing force in the NextGen bus transit network of LA, introducing a new range of automated vehicle sizes that plug mobility gaps while simultaneously critiquing current LA transit agencies’ obsession with the expansion of its light rail network. Methodologically, it proposes an alternative top-down AV-incorporated transit planning model that is populated by a bottom-up narrative framework, a graphic novel that envisions this future world through the eyes of 4 distinct Angeleno archetypes as they experience this mobility paradigm shift first-hand. The manifesto offers a radical story that might convince the everyday Angeleno that alternatives to car culture can exist, a set of concrete policies that would enable this potential LA of 2047 to emerge, and finally a set of urban implications and lessons-learned for the design and planning of the city of the future.
While the private car caused public transit to historically decline in the United States, we must now use the automated car to return us back to public transit as a model of urban growth. In envisioning this potential urban future and delineating the design, planning, & policy paths that one might take towards achieving it, this manifesto contends that there is hope in transitioning from the Autopia of today, to a Transitopia of tomorrow.