UO's Urbanism Next research is featured in Capitol Hill briefing

This article first appeared in Around the O on June 27.

Few American cities are prepared for the changes already taking place because of rapid shifts in transit and technology, a UO professor said at a recent briefing for lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

Architecture professor Nico Larco, who also directs the UO’s Urbanism Next Center, discussed the potential collateral effects of autonomous vehicles and other transportation changes at the Capitol Hill briefing. The briefing was arranged by U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat and a longtime advocate for livable communities, who kicked it off with introductory remarks.

Larco’s research centers on how changes in technology are reshaping the ways people “live, move and spend our time in cities,” according to the Urbanism Next blog. The research doesn’t address only city infrastructure needs once autonomous vehicles arrive but also secondary effects. Those include changes to retail business, city design and revenues, transit, and current planning and policies.

“Most cities are unprepared for the impacts of new types of mobility,” Larco said.

Even with bus ridership already diminishing due to the increased use of ride-hailing companies like Lyft and Uber, the conversations between the federal government and cities aren’t happening, he added.

“Bus ridership in big cities is dropping, car ownership is dropping. What are governments doing to get ahead of this problem?” Larco asked. “Cities, states and federal governments are mostly focused on how to get autonomous vehicles on the road and are not thinking systemically at all. They are fixated on the technology itself.”

During the briefing he presented new research, focusing on the positive and negative secondary effects of autonomous vehicles and new mobility in addition to proposing approaches to the technology Congress can use to shape cities of the future.

“I talked about Urbanism Next work and focused on federal, state and local regulatory needs,” Larco said. “We had a great list of attendees, including people from a number of congressional offices as well as research entities from around D.C.” 

After the briefing, Larco met with staff members from Blumenauer’s office and the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to discuss federal policy initiatives that could help communities prepare for changes. The staff of U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the top Democrat on the committee, arranged to hold the briefing in the committee’s hearing room.

Larco also discussed his research and possible urban changes with Washington, D.C., city leaders, speaking with 30-40 people about the effects of emerging technology on cities and how Washington should be preparing for the coming shift. The group included the directors of the city’s planning, transportation, and energy and environment departments and several chiefs of staff from the mayor’s office.  

Larco, who was recently featured in Wired magazine in a story about the effects of autonomous vehicles on municipal budgets, also gave a June 21 TEDx Talk in College Park, Maryland, just outside Washington. Entitled “How Will Autonomous Vehicles Transform Our Cities?” the talk was a chance to “pull back the curtain to preview how autonomous vehicles will shape the future planning of our parks, cities and life as we know it.” 

Afterward, Larco said he’s enthusiastic about sharing Urbanism Next’s research and using it to plan for shifting city landscapes.

“There is a growing awareness and interest in the serious impacts emerging technologies are going to be having on cities,” he said. “This series of meetings and presentations in D.C. was a great example of how Urbanism Next and the University of Oregon are shaping the conversation with the federal government, cities and the general public.”

By Laurie Notaro, University Communications