Imagine a world without gas stations, parking ramps or parking meters. It may sound crazy, but many people in real estate development and design are doing just that.

In my last post, I introduced the discussion taking place around autonomous vehicles, or “AV” for short. Momentum for AV is building as car companies and technology companies join forces to advance legislation and design for a world where vehicles driven by people are no longer the norm. In this post, I take a look at local efforts to prepare for this future.

Bloomington is a good example of a traditional suburb with some forward looking development districts. Neighborhoods like South Loop and Penn American are designed for a shift to a more sustainable future where people again live and work in close proximity, walk to dinner or shopping and travel by transit or ride share.

Bloomington Central Station is located in the city’s South Loop, a district served by light rail and anchored by the Health Partners campus. In recent years, the urban redevelopment project has added condos, apartments, hotels, restaurants and structured parking all wrapped around a central park. Urban design elements include easy pedestrian access to amenities, public parking and public art.

Convertible Design

Funding provided by the Bloomington Port Authority has leveraged the value of this key location near Mall of America and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. According to Port Authority Administrator, Schane Rudlang, the next phase of the project will include parking that is designed from the start to convert to residential units if parking ratios drop significantly as a result of ride sharing and AV.

“If the public is putting money into parking, looking at the opportunity to convert parking in the future is the responsible thing to do,” according to Rudlang. Parking levels are flat, not ramped, and the upper levels of parking are designed to be removed to make way for construction of housing units. “Convertible designs don’t have to cost more to build, but they do take some planning ahead of time,” said Rudlang.

Mall of America, the largest retail and entertainment complex in the country, is still growing and designs for expansion of the mall will look closely at conversion of parking and other uses. “When you design a project to attract visitors for the next 50 or 100 years, you have to spend some time anticipating the future,” said Kurt Hagen, Senior Vice President of Development for Triple Five Worldwide.

Future Focus

Whether it’s parking, rides, attractions, or dining, owners and developers are now considering how they convert space and uses when the next big thing comes along, like virtual reality. For instance, Mall of America has far more dining and entertainment options than when it first opened in 1992. Its transit station is expanding and electrical vehicle stations provide charging for Teslas that can be rented onsite by the hour or the day.

Many still scoff at the idea that the majority of us will ride in shared or driverless cars, but consider construction of the interstate freeway system. When it was unveiled in the 1950s, most families had one car and still took trains to visit family out of town. Today, we can’t imagine a world without the convenience of the interstate and our single-occupancy, gas-powered vehicles. The future is right around the corner and some predict that more of us will be riding in AV than traditional driver-driven vehicles by 2030.