Building bigger buildings

Say you want to buy two buildings next to each other and replace them with a bigger building. Suddenly you need two people to sell, not just one. And because only a small fraction of buildings are on the market at any given time it's unlikely to find two sellers adjacent to each other. 

Sure, you can ask people to sell. And sometimes offering more money fixes the problem. And sometimes it doesn't. "This is my home" is a hard emotion to overcome. 

For more on this topic, see how this affects Los Angeles.

As always, there is another option, like accepting the constraints of existing lots. See this impressive development in San Francisco for an example.

Trains and Cars

A coastal train has dedicated stops, with settlements gathering around the important station. Travellers wait together at the station, an automatic community. Arrive 5 minutes late and the train is gone, the event over.

A coastal highway is a continuous strip. A few more miles is almost as easy to get to as right here. And so development tends to spread outward from the road, concentrated around a line rather than a point. And it's easy to leave now, or in 10 minutes, or in 10 hours. 

A train arrives on schedule. Cars might arrive early, or late, or perhaps never. 

Choose the primary type of transportation, and the community will follow.

 

Rush Hour

What happens during rush hour?

  • Transit gets better, it has more frequent service
  • Cars get worse, backed up in traffic
  • Crosswalks get less dangerous. It's hard to get hit when there are a dozen other people around you.
  • Buffets taste better, because the food is replaced more often and therefore is fresher

Speed matters. A 15 minute wait might be desirable while eating at the restaurant, but it's a deal breaker when trying get takeout before a train.

Consistency matters. If the coffee unexpectedly takes 3 minutes to brew, a cafe has just failed a regular customer who expected the usual 1 minute.

As a professional (this includes not just the restaurant owner but also the civil engineer) you might feel overwhelmed by serving your customers during rush hours. If this is the case, consider offering a type of service that gets better during rush hour. 

Self driving cars and congestion

Time spent in the car has an opportunity cost. Those 20 minutes spent driving to work could be 20 minutes more sleep, or breakfast, or any number of useful things. The value of commuting might be a cheaper home, or a better workplace, or the ability to live (or work) near your friends and family. 

Self driving cars don't change the opportunity cost, but they do add to the value of commuting. Suddenly, you get your entire commute to do something else in because the car drives itself. To make things even better, it reduces the cost of commuting by removing the need for car ownership (self driving cars will work like uber).

For people who know a little about microeconomics, this has a similar effect to shifting the demand curve up. And as the system equalizes, that 20 minute commute might become 30 or 40 minutes.

I expect this increased congestion to accelerate the transition to self driving cars once we see the first cars on the road. After all, the person in the self driving car is both spending less and getting more done than the driver. 

What happens to cities as technology improves?

What will happen to our cities as technology, especially virtual reality, improves further?

Except for a detour with cars which enabled urban sprawl, new technology tends to help cities become more dense. Skyscrapers let us build up, air conditioning saves us from the heat, electric lights and new materials reduce the chance and impact of fires, pipes bring in water and bring out waste. The list goes on.

Apps and machine learning often work better in cities. More people means more reviews and more data. Games like Pokemon Go work better in cities. The denser the city, the better.

Upcoming technologies like self-driving cars are harder to predict. Will they be more like traditional cars, which enable suburbs, or more like Uber, which further compounds the advantages of living in a city? Hard to tell.