Real estate reporter- San Francisco Business Times
In real estate these days, everyone wants easy access to the office spaces, restaurants and bars that line city blocks. Developers want to put housing nearby. Public transit is hot, driving is not. Urban is in, sprawl is out.
Some in the industry, though, are starting to think about this potential high-tech reality: Driverless cars like the ones dreamed up by Google could ease traffic congestion, parking headaches, unproductive commutes and drunk driving concerns, making it easier to get from point A to point B. The suburbs, once again, could be cool – and not in an Arcade Fire kind of way.
James Kilpatrick, president of the brokerage NAI Northern California, pitched that vision to an audience at the Northern California Apartment Summit on Tuesday. He said on a panel while the idea might sound crazy now, developers need to keep an eye on how new technology will change how cities and the suburbs play off each other. He pointed out how some scoffed at the idea of micro-apartments last decade — only to see those building them make a killing now.
“What we will all look at five, 10 years from now is the how driverless cars will completely change how we think about parking and traffic,” he said. “This will help Oakland’s prominence and this will help Emeryville, and some other East Bay cities because their traffic is so bad.”
The idea isn’t exactly farfetched, and momentum has been building in the Bay Area. California greenlighted driverless cars for the roads in 2012, and Google expects to get the public behind the wheel, figuratively speaking, of their models by 2017 or 2020. Even Audi and Toyota are planning their own.
Bryant Walker Smith, a fellow at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School and a member of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford, told The New York Times last year that while driverless cars may not make suburban commutes much easier or quicker, it will allow people to spend time more productively in their cars. That could allow them to live farther from their offices.
“I could sleep in my driverless car, or have an exercise bike in the back of the car to work out on the way to work,” he told the Times. “My time spent in my car will essentially be very different.”
So take note, Bay Area real estate titans. This could – just could – be our near future. There are plenty of hurdles in the way and plenty of questions to get answered, of course, including one big one: “(After my talk) people asked me, ‘Okay this is going to happen, how do i make money off of it?’” Kilpatrick said.
Cory Weinberg covers real estate and economic development for the San Francisco Business Times