How Technology May Enable Suburban Living


During my graduate studies in spatial analysis for urban planning, students and professors engaged in countless discussions on how there is/will be an urban rejuvenation, how the urban centers will grow and it will be at the expense of the suburbs. We got one thing right, there is and will continually be an urban rejuvenation but it will not be at the expense of suburbs. Its not that we were overly biased liberal urban planners. Its that we were academics and most of the books we read, professors we listened to couldn’t foresee the role technology would play. Our understanding was that increased networks of mass transit especially in denser urban cores, walkable neighborhoods and close proximity to amenities will drive people to live in urban areas rather than suburban.

Before I get into how current technology will enable sprawl, I’d like to mention some data that I ran across from a Wall Street Journal article by Christopher Mimnaugh. According to the lead scientist for the Global Cities Program, the faster we are able the travel the more it will lead to sprawl. Also, 66% of millennials want to live in the suburbs, according to a recent poll performed by Jeff Kolko, the former chief economist for Trulia. All this supports a scenario that most people didn't quite imagine, however they are predictions and it is possible that things turn out differently.

In the future the benefits of autonomous vehicles and virtually reality may greatly increase sprawl, specifically; the ability to do work during your commute to the city center in an autonomous vehicle, the reduced congestion because on shared mobility services and less cars on the roads, tele-presense and being able to work from home in a virtual office. However before we see the high adoption of these newer technologies and it’s effects, here are some current technologies that may encourage suburban living.

Uber— They are undoubtedly the largest and most talked about car hailing or on demand transportation company in the US. Travis Kalanick envisions that with more people using Uber the prices will come down and it will be ubiquitous. This is like the prototype version of autonomous cars as a service, you still have a human driver but are able to work while commuting. When prices get lower, it could be the best option for suburban dwellers who work in the city. They no longer have to worry about driving long commutes or road rage and can spend them time dedicated to doing other productive activity while in transit.

Postmates/DoorDash/Instacart — There is no clear winner in the prepared food delivery space, lots of players with unique offerings and for the most part they deliver quickly. One of the benefits of living in dense urban areas is the proximity to many restaurants. Now with on demand food services you don’t have to leave your home to drive a mile or two if you live in the suburbs, one can just place on order on their mobile device and have food delivered within minutes. Coupled with the “Netflix and Chill” trend some millennials would rather order good food from a restaurant, have dinner and a glass of wine over a good movie than dine out. When it comes to groceries, Instacart that covered. They are in several US cities and provide on-demand delivery for groceries. In other words you can order from a local grocery store and they will bring it to you. No need to drive anywhere, regardless of the distance to the closest store, your grocery shopping is just a few clicks away.

Peloton — Do you live in a suburban area that is filled with roads and lots of high speed traffic, is there an absence of bike lanes and parts? That’s where stationary interactive biking comes in, Peloton has already raised $44 million in funding and have sold over 10,000 bikes. Home owners can purchase stationary bikes and ride along side instrctors over video, who give instructions and monitor their progress. Imagine Peloton + VR, now that would be some really cool virtual biking sessions.

Shyp/Doorman/Mailhaven — the average American lives about 6.3 miles from a post office and if you live in a suburban area you are most likely farther and up to 9 miles away. Several startups are coming up with clever ways to solve different postal problems, Shyp makes it easy for you to ship out any item, you can just use their mobile app to take a picture of whatever you would like to ship, a shyp hero will come collect and ship it out for you. The other two are solving the last mile side of shipping so you never miss a delivery; Doorman will receive packages at their locations on your behalf and deliver it to you within a certain window of your convenience while Mailhaven — my startup — is developing a smart IoT mailbox that can receive your packages for you when you are not at home. So with the above mentioned startups, its bye bye having to ever go to a post office.

Skurt- They are currently operating only in the Los Angeles and Orange County area and are part of startups that are bringing amenities closer to you. No more trying to find a ride to get to a rental office or the additional hassles associated with car rentals. Skurt is making it easy to rent cars from comfort of your home via your mobile app and have it delivered to you. When you are done, you can leave the car anywhere and they will pick up, how cool is that?

Fiix — They are a Canadian startup that I discovered through the YCombinator snapchat pitch competition hosted by Justin Kan. The idea is simple but great, have auto mechanics come to you on demand. The are currently only available in the Ontario area, but the idea is something that we can envision working in the U.S. Need car repairs? get it done in by professional at your place, another example how proximity to services may no longer be a factor when deciding where to live.

Fiild / Booster Fuels— I don’t believe anyone thinks “Is this house close to a gas station?” before they choose where to live but it’s one of those convenient services that just makes thing easier. Both startups will bring gas to wherever you are and fill up your tank. Whether you live blocks or a mile from the closest gas station it still is one less thing to worry about or have to drive out for. There are a few startups in this space but these are the two that have been mostly talked about and I will be rounding up my list with.

So many criteria are taken into account when choosing a place to live in, and this list by no means addresses then all. This is just an attempt to show how proximity to amenities might no longer be major criteria. Globalization brought the world to our foot steps, now hyper-local and on demand services are attempting to make everything within our cities at an even closer reach, creating a blossoming village economy.

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