Guest Post By: Christopher Zegras, Associate Professor of Transportation and Urban Planning, MIT

Urban development today is a study in restraint rather than excess, as space increasingly becomes a valuable commodity. And as we focus on saving and optimizing space in urban cities across the globe, there is a need to re-evaluate and reengineer existing infrastructure, or come up with even more effective alternatives. Take for instance parking spaces; with the ever-increasing number of cars plying the streets today, securing a parking space, especially in office buildings, is oftentimes a case of hitting the jackpot. And this is perhaps one reason why autonomous vehicles, or AVs, have become a hot topic in recent years.

Barring the unforeseen, we can expect to see the arrival of AVs operating regularly on our cities’ streets within the next five years. The implications will be widespread, yet still uncertain. For real estate markets, for example, AVs could dramatically reduce demand for parking spaces and significantly reduce space in office parking lots. But while AVs have the potential to alter the mobility and accessibility landscape in rapidly urbanising societies, the ultimate outcome very much hinges upon society’s choices, as Robin Chase, transportation entrepreneur and Zipcar co-founder, vividly paints in her “Heaven” or “Hell” scenarios. On the one hand, AVs may usher in an ideal, highly personalised, shared mobility future where vehicles serve both passenger and freight demand in a highly intelligent and seamless way. On the other hand, however, we might face a future gridlocked with individual private AVs that simply cause even more traffic congestion.

With the dawn of AVs, the corporate real estate sector has an opportunity to shape their role in our cities. At minimum, the sector will have to embrace the uncertainty and incorporate flexibility in its office building designs, especially with respect to parking supply. More ambitiously, the sector can and should help lead towards the shared mobility paradigm underpinning Chase’s AV “Heaven” Scenario, and push its boundaries. After all, AVs’ potential impacts go beyond mere reductions in office parking spaces and city space dedicated to traffic; they may change how public and private spaces actually interface, with electric AVs now potentially entering into buildings and being the norm for inter-office and inter-building transport. More importantly, AVs present a great opportunity for companies located far from train or bus stations to attract and retain talent by making commuting to and from work more convenient.

It is ultimately society’s call if AVs will be a boon or a bane. And corporate real estate has a crucial role to play in the march towards an ideal vision of a truly autonomous future.

Christopher Zegras, Associate Professor of Transportation and Urban Planning, MIT, who discussed AVs during the recently-held APAC CoreNet Global Summit in Singapore.