Parking in flux

“When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck; when you invent the plane you also invent the plane crash; and when you invent electricity, you invent electrocution…Every technology carries its own negativity, which is invented at the same time as technical progress.”

Paul Virilio, cultural theorist / urbanist / philosopher

Maybe it’s something about being newly-arrived in China, but being steeped in technology that America still struggles with adopting (like ubiquitous phone-based payment) has me reflecting back upon the States with a new perspective. These photos come from a late-night, self-administered tour of a parking garage in Austin, Texas. While at the time it was a convenient way to gain a higher vantage point over the neighborhood I was staying in on my visit, looking back, it is also a walk through the analog touchpoints that eventually will either become obsolete or be infused with technology (assuming the entire institution of the parking garage itself doesn’t itself vanish).

Currently, these bollards serve a fairly analogue function – but, implanted with beacons, they become vacancy indicators and guides for the software that tells cars where it is safe to drive when in close quarters with many other vehicles (not all of which may necessarily be “equally autonomous”).

This delightfully simple and eye-pleasing color-based system, a sans-serif number paired with a coat of paint to form a combination wayfinding and memory aid that helps drivers remember where they parked, will become obsolete. The relevant “color” of the floor on which a car is parked no longer matters when a driver is no longer the one who “parks” their own vehicle, but rather, their vehicle becomes a thing that parks itself and un-parks itself when summoned. 

Today, people’s homes are becoming a mishmash of multiple IoT “universal” standards based not so much upon technical merit as upon “people politics”: the social, political, and economic influences pushing on the dark matter within companies that create such standards and the devices they govern:

With a product, service or artefact, the user is rarely aware of the organisational context that produced it, yet the outcome is directly affected by it. Dark matter is the substrate that produces. A particular BMW car is an outcome of the company’s corporate culture, the legislative frameworks it works within, the business models it creates, the wider cultural habits it senses and shapes, the trade relationships, logistics and supply networks that resource it, the particular design philosophies that underpin its performance and possibilities, the path dependencies in the history of northern Europe, and so on.

Dan Hill, designer / urbanist

Imagine a future where your self-driving car may not necessarily be “compatible” with every parking garage, signage system, or even network of city streets. Of course it’s easier not to think about these sorts of complexities, but all design is inherently political, and as I’m fond of saying, every engagement that begins as an effort to design a product or service, if seen through to its furthest point, eventually becomes an organizational design engagement (or, in this case, an urban design and city policy/planning engagement). 

This is also assuming, of course, that in the future people still “own” their own vehicles in the same way they do today, rather than the more practical solution of a vehicle being something that is called at will, serves passengers and their cargo for the duration of a trip, and then after being relieved of one set of riders is immediately dispatched to serve the next (or, better yet, groups of riders, like Bridj used to do in Boston, and continues to do in Sydney today). The average privately-owned car is parked for at least 95% of the time, which seem like an ownership model that is due to expire in this age of business models meant to eliminate all “slack” from privately-owned assets (such as Airbnb for homes, and Miles for commercial retail space).

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