Suburbs of the future will feature ample places to walk and cycle — and it won’t be because someone in government imposed their political will on developers.
Instead, it will be what the residents want.
That was among the messages Friday during the eighth annual Northeast Tarrant Transportation Summit in Hurst — an event that in the past focused on road-building in Dallas-Fort Worth but this year highlighted the impact of technology on future commuting.
Suburban dwellers will be immersed in mobile communications to a degree that can hardly be imagined today, freeing them from the need to climb into a single-occupant car and drive to work for a traditional, eight-hour shift, speakers said. Instead, these residents of the not-too-distant future — while they will still value good schools for their children and other suburban benefits — will place a premium on being able to shop, dine and perform other activities without driving.
“Millennials are most likely to carpool, to cycle, to take a bus,” said Jeff Gunning, a senior vice president at the design and architectural firm CallisonRTKL in Dallas. “It’s already affecting the way we master-plan our developments. Parking is going to be cut in half over the next 30 years.”
About 90 percent of future growth will take place within existing cities, and for transportation the emphasis will be on vehicle sharing rather than ownership, said Kent Larson of the Massachutsetts Institute of Technology.
Another speaker, Ed McMahon of the Washington-based Urban Land Institute, added that walk-ability is driving retail developments nationwide.
“Walkable, mixed-use development is outperforming drivable neighborhoods,” McMahon said. “Development is almost everywhere in the United States. It’s fostering premiums in retail development. The successful suburbs of the future are going to have walkable places. Not every place. But they will have a town center.”
Departure from the past
The summit was a bit of a departure for Tarrant County Commissioner Gary Fickes, who first organized the event in 2010 mostly as a way for area residents to make sense of the large highway construction projects around them. Fickes, who in the past has spoken skeptically about commuter rail, high-speed rail and other public transportation projects, gave a proverbial tip of the hat to the impact of technology on the changing outlook in the transportation industry.
On several occasions Friday morning, Fickes playfully directed a hobby drone to fly over the tables occupied by about 700 attendees in the Hurst Conference Center.
The year’s theme was “Creating the Transportation Tomorrowland, Today.”
Fickes noted that North Texas has been at the forefront of the effort to find alternative funding methods, including the use of private financing and tolls.
“As a community, we have been incredibly successful in our efforts to highlight mobility issues and support transportation funding,” Fickes said. “Today, however, we’re beginning to see a seismic shift in the industry, as traditional modes of transportation are giving way to innovative mobility solutions. From drones to autonomous vehicles, we wanted this year’s summit to point to the future mobility landscape.”
‘A.I. changing everything’
The event also featured a keynote presentation by Kent Larson, director of the Changing Places Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Larson said his research forecasts that about 90 percent of future growth will take place within existing cities, and for transportation the emphasis will be on vehicle-sharing rather than ownership.
“Artificial intelligence is changing everything,” Larson said. He said high-tech improvements will lead to cleaner, more efficient lifestyles in cities.
But, he added, because fewer parking lots and mega-structures will be needed, “It threatens to take away a lot of the work of professionals, like architects, like me.”