Smart Cars, Smart Cities, and Smart Sharing: The Changing Nature of Urban Public Spaces

Smart Cars, Smart Cities, and Smart Sharing: The Changing Nature of Urban Public Spaces

Celen Pasalar (North Carolina State University, USA), George D. Hallowell (North Carolina State University, USA) and Yanhua Lu (North Carolina State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3507-3.ch003


Streets, plazas, and parks are important components of a city that play a key role in affording socio-cultural, political, and economic activities for the benefit of society. The physical nature of these urban spaces facilitates sharing of resources, infrastructures, good, services, experiences, and capabilities. Recent socio-economic and technological changes have resulted in a new generation of city design and planning paradigms shifting the way that urban public and semi-public forms and spaces are designed, managed, and used. This chapter addresses the foundational changes brought by smart, or autonomous (AV), vehicles; smart city technologies; and the business models and associated technologies of sharing. The primary goal is to examine how these three socio-economic and technological changes may influence the use of current and future urban public space. It further informs designers on how urban spaces can provide opportunities to create new relationships of use and engaging public experiences through technology.
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Urban public spaces ensure the functional operation and resource sharing of a city. For centuries, streets, plazas, and parks have played a key role in affording cultural, social, political, and economic activities for the benefit of society. However, over the last two decades, several socio-economic and technological changes have resulted in a fundamental shift in the way we design, manage, and use urban public and semi-public forms and spaces. This chapter addresses three foundational changes: the introduction of smart, or autonomous (AV) vehicles; evolving smart city technologies; and the emerging business models and associated technologies of sharing. The authors explore how these three socio-economic and technological changes will affect the design and use of current and future urban public spaces, and offer new approaches for investigating and visualizing how they will alter cities in the future.

Autonomous Vehicles: During much of the 20th century, the expanding reliance on private cars formed and reshaped cities, often resulting in segregated, contained, and enclosed uses for streets and public spaces that provided minimal cohesion among people (Kunstler, 1994; Furman, 2017). However, the last ten years have seen a remarkable change occurring along city streets and public spaces in what is referred to as the public to private transect (Pasalar & Hallowell, 2019). As urban roads and parking areas are upgraded to AV or car-free environmentally, and human-centered designs, such as ‘complete streets’, the very nature of how people inhabit and move from public spaces through semi-public areas and finally into private zones is also being altered. Hence, a new strategy is proposed for exploring the concept of a private to public transect with the ability to examine the layers of transition from the public zone of the street right-of-way to the private interiors of buildings. This approach allows an urban transect to be measured and illustrated, so that as more and more autonomous vehicles, smart technologies, and sharing businesses alter the way streetscapes and other public spaces function, a record can be maintained over time.

Smart Cities: The increasing interest in smart cities, efficiency, safety, new sharing business models, faster services and new leisure activities, have all led to new and evolving devices such as self-driving cars, smartphones, and digital applications, virtual platforms, and so forth. A World Bank report (2012) suggests that ‘smart cities’ are about rethinking urban communities as inclusive, integrated, and livable. As part of ongoing smart city discussions, planners, designers, and economists are looking into these concepts and questioning the socio-cultural and economic effects of technology and sharing economies on the use and experience of public spaces. Urban life is inevitably and continuously undergoing dramatic change, leading to a reconsideration of how urban space is designed, transformed, and used. Hence, designers are considering how urban public areas in smart cities can provide affordances that help to create new relationships of use through technology and provide engaging public experiences within these spaces. Furthermore, designers should continue to address how smart, and shared technologies change the activities and 'formation of space' in city parks, plazas, and streets as places to gather and support communities. Creating human-centered smart cities that are able to bring people together by incorporating shared spaces and technologies that encourage socializing, collaboration, efficient mobility, and a healthy environment is essential. However, smart cities can run the risk of not being people-centered.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Affordances: An object’s properties that show the possible actions users can take with it, thereby suggesting how they may interact with that object. It refers to all action possibilities depending on users’ physical capabilities. A chair not only “affords” being “sat on,” but also “thrown,” “stood on,” etc.

Complete Streets: Streets designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work. They allow buses to run on time and make it safe for people to walk to and from train stations.

Privately-Owned Public Spaces (POPS): It is a term used to describe a type of public space that, although privately owned, is legally required to be open to the public under a city's zoning ordinance or other land-use law.

Sharing Economy: An economic model based on sharing underused assets from spaces to skills to stuff, for either monetary or other types of benefits.

Smart City: A smart city is an urban area that incorporates information and communication technologies to enhance the quality and performance of urban services such as energy, transportation, and utilities in order to reduce resource consumption, wastage, and overall costs. The overarching aim of a smart city is to enhance the quality of living for its citizens through smart technology.

Automated Vehicle: A vehicle capable of sensing its environment and operating without human involvement completing journeys safely and efficiently.

Public-to-Private Transect: A cross-section, extending from the most public urban areas such as a street centerline or plaza centroid out to the private spaces and buildings on both sides of the road or public square. The edges and boundaries of public and private spaces are, therefore, a continuum between the two realms meeting through constantly changing shades of privacy and publicity rather than at any clear boundaries of separation.

Privately-Owned Publicly-Utilized Spaces (POPUS): A potential expansion of how portions of publicly owned and operated urban spaces have been utilized and managed for the profit and use of private individuals or businesses for centuries.

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