PROMENADE: Transit deals in an autonomous future
Promenade is a platform designed to leverage changing mobility habits and technologies to help restore healthy, vibrant, and walkable downtown Main Streets across America. It does this by letting local governments, small businesses, and other community stakeholders offer transportation deals to suburban users.
As Networked Mobility Companies like Uber and Lyft, and, eventually autonomous vehicles enter the suburbs, transportation habits will become radically different. How might we direct these changes so that they benefit long neglected civic spaces like historic downtowns?
DRIVEN BY LOCAL PARTNERSHIPS
On the consumer side, Promenade is a transportation deal platform in the mold of Groupon. It helps locals discover nearby businesses and support their communities. The backend is driven partnerships between local businesses and town municipalities. As urban renewal funds are redirected from grants and tax abatements towards direct quality of life improvements (see my interview with Jeff Speck) Promenade is intended to be a tool to help improve vibrant downtowns at the heart of healing communities.
From our pitch deck:
The ultimate goal of modern urban planning (and of Promenade) is to make downtowns so attractive that young people will want to put down roots and live there. Suburban living creates cascading economic, health, and cultural issues that repel youth. In many cases, healthy downtowns have successfully prevented migrations of young people to urban cores and provided subjective well-being for all residents.
Promenade exists at the intersection of changing trends in technology, mobility, urban planning, commerce, and culture. Communicating this compellingly required highly illustrated storytelling and deep research, as well as an assist from Jeff Speck, who I recently interviewed on these topics (see below).
Questions (and Answers) with Jeff Speck:
I recently asked prominent urban planner and walkability expert Jeff Speck to review my design work around autonomous cars as it has veered into his domain. He generously agreed to a written question and answer session. The following texts were excerpted from that exchange.
How widely shared is the desire to see the restoration of downtowns? Some of your critics have said that this vision is at once elitist and at odds with the nature of globalism. How do you prove them wrong?
Global citizens still want and need to visit real places where they can enjoy urbanism. In terms of elitism, it is true that the desire for urban living and walkability trends blue and educated, but there are (at least) two types of non-elite, and only the Trump type seems to be openly anti-city. The biggest issue with downtown restoration is the fear of displacement (confusingly termed gentrification), which is a legitimate concern that needs addressing. Generally speaking, however, improving walkability (which is most possible in urban areas) disproportionately impacts the poor (and positively).
Technology companies and car manufacturers have expressed a desire to become more involved in urban planning. Do you think partnerships of this nature can be productive?
Certainly, if they are in support of AV transit. Single-user AVs, even if they swarm, can only be bad for cities. As I told to the folks at Uber (they asked me to speak there), the car can only be the enemy of the city, because it is a tool of dispersion, and cities are all about concentration.
You’ve said that the conventional wisdom around the redevelopment of downtowns is changing to focus on quality of life improvements that attract jobs and economic activity (rather than attracting corporate patrons through things like grants and tax giveaways in hope of future quality of life improvements). As leadership in small and medium sized towns approach you about autonomous vehicles, is it ever with public service improvements in mind?
Do you think that forms of autonomous vehicles could lend themselves to public transportation in a meaningful or healthy way?
A lot of folks are betting on it and counting on it. Ford is developing AV buses, jitneys, and so on. If AV happens, we are counting on AV transit to solve some of its problems.
the NEw development playbook
Planners influenced by the work of Jeff Speck, and others within the community of urban reformers, are investing in quality of life improvements first (rather than luring employers with incentives in the hopes that lifestyle improvements follow). A wealth of evidence indicates that this is a superior approach.
Promenade is designed as a tool for the growing ranks of enlightened planners; it creates synergies between local businesses, residents, and governments by letting them share the costs of supporting downtown Main Streets.