Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The xCar Landscape: New Ways of Owning and Using Cars in the 21st Century

This is a collaborative thinking exercise addressing essentially a single question. But one of many parts. What is the "modern motor car" going to look like in the decade immediately ahead?  Will it be  more of the same?  Or will it mutate into a very different form of mobility?  Who is going to own it?  And how is it going to be used? Where will it be driven (and eventually parked)?  Will it be piloted by a warm sapient human being, or will it be driverless? Will it still have wheels, doors and tires? What will be its impact on the environment?  And what will be the impact of the "environment" on it? On public safety? On quality of life for all.  Will it be efficient, economic and equitable? Who will make them and where?  Is it going to create or destroy jobs? And how fast is all of this going to occur?  . . .

The other day s short article appeared here, entitled “CAR21″: A Thinking Exercise (or New Ways of Owning and Using Cars in the 21st Century). It was intended to serve as the first shot in  a new series of brainstorming investigations, dialogues, articles and events, the goal of which is to see if we can together develop a better vision of what is going to be the role of the car in our cities in the coming years.

To do this, we are going to have a good look at what we call the xCar Landscape - the xCar being the cars that will better serve our cities, which , we are guessing, is going to be in large part shaped (again in cities) by new ways of owning and using cars.

We are on the cusp of a major paradigm change, perhaps even a revolution, and since this is the reality, might as well get to it and start to figure out how all these bits and pieces can be fitted into a coherent picture, as the base for better policy decisions at all levels of government and industry.

What is an (x)Car?

To be quite clear on this: An xCar is a motorized vehicle, most often with four wheels, capable of carrying people and goods, and most probably for the decade ahead (the only one we really care about in this exercise) with a human being at some kind of wheel to guide it. Why the admittedly somewhat funky looking"x" - simply because it is at this point a largely unknown quantity. Our job will be to give it dimensions.

Editor's stated position:

Here at the outset, as editor of World Streets I need to make the point that we  are neither pro-car nor anti-car. We don't much appreciate hype, greenwash, semi-undeclared lobbies and various flavors of manipulation, but in fact we do not really care about the ton or more of metals, rubber and composites one way or another.

That said, we are concerned with finding the best ways for people to get around in their day to day lives, mobility and access arrangements that are efficient, economical, clean and equitable. As to the bits of technologies that get those particular jobs done, or even who makes them and where, we are basically indifferent. The bottom line is not the vehicle or the technology but its performance and contribution to well being and society in the broadest sense.

But here as author and editor it is only fair that I sign in with my personal position on cars. I have owned a whole gamut of them over the years, more or less basic and at times more or less extravagant, and I have to tell you that at the time, and even in retrospect, the truth is that I really liked just about all of them, the few clunkers and lemons aside. The point I wish to make here is that I have no a priori negative feelings about cars per se. But I do have strong feelings about what can happen when they are allowed to go out of control in terms of the interests of the community.

I will not elaborate any further on this personal position, because if you click here to our link on the 98 articles which have over the last three years appeared in the pages World Streets and the Journal of World Transport Policy and Practice which relate to what we are calling the xCar Landscape, you will immediately informed of the more critical position this journal takes.

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If I had to come up today with a poster in support of a conference or event intended to explore and possibly elucidate a bit what we mean by the "xCar Landscape "at this early point it might look like this.

As you might expect this is going to evolve in the weeks and months ahead as we move ahead on our brainstorming efforts, but at the very least this marks our point of departure.

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