Atlanta 2040: What life will look like in the city’s third century

Suburbs must learn to share

By 2040, driverless cars and buses will likely accelerate three current suburban trends. First, we’ll continue to see many of our suburbs revitalize old Main Streets or retrofit former malls and office parks into the downtowns they never had. They’ll augment much-loved private realms with vibrant public spaces where people enjoy walking, socializing, and building communal trust through experiences they can’t get online. These suburbs will embrace the benefits of a shared economy by carpooling in robotaxi fleets and driverless shuttle buses.

Road Work 2040

Cost of traffic delays (per person)
Today: $1,403
2040: $1,916

1035 miles of additional lanes

100 additional miles of freeway corridors with HOT lanes

93 additional miles of rail or other high-capacity transit

Second, other suburbs will embrace individually owned driverless cars as extensions of their desire for privacy and escape. Driven more by fear than trust, these suburbs will exacerbate sprawl and traffic, doubling the number of car trips. Finally, metro Atlanta has one of the highest rates of increase in suburban poverty. I worry that declining tax bases will leave some suburbs unable to invest in the infrastructure required for driverless vehicles—making them vulnerable to predatory mobility companies or reducing residents’ opportunities.

—Ellen Dunham-Jones, professor of urban design at Georgia Tech’s School of Architecture and co-author, Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs