Earlier this year, Island Press hosted a series of webinars featuring the authors of Suburban Remix, David Dixon and Jason Beske. The Saving Our Suburbs series explored how suburbs can adapt to increasing social, economic, fiscal, environmental, and technological demands.

The series finale on Smart Suburbs included Lisa Nisenson, Vice President of New Mobility and Connected Communities for the Wantman Group. Lisa spoke about retrofitting suburbia with smart city and mobility technology. Following the webinar, many audience members had questions for her, which we have aggregated below.

The webinar and the panelists’ presentations are available here.

Are you familiar with any funding sources or resources for poorer suburbs and communities that are trying to update or repurpose their spaces? The changes presented here are very exciting for wealthier places, but daunting for declining communities.

For Opportunity Zones, we are looking at incentives and a marketing around "Mobility as an Amenity."  This would be an aggregation of multiple modes, a designated low speed electric network (for e-bikes and golf carts - then shuttles). It also appears that funders (e.g., AARP) are interested in helping communities with shared-used and autonomous options. You are correct - we will need to see funding pools to help with pilots and eventual service integration.

For us old-style people who prefer driving our cars, do you predict that there will still be room in this automated car world for us?

Of course. At WGI we are paying close attention to how autonomous car, shuttle and bus trials are evolving.  Just last week, the American Automobile Association (AAA) produced a report on automated braking and pedestrian detection.  The results were alarming: test vehicles struck the robotic dummy pedestrians that were crossing the road 60 percent of the time.  For smaller dummies representing children the results were worse. A collision occurred almost 90% of the time.  We have a long way to go, suggesting that transit models with on-board operators will still be needed.

Can you tell me more about how the needs of disabled citizens and those who are wheelchair bound are being accommodated?

In the low-speed electric, autonomous vehicle world, wheelchair accessibility is a prominent goal for all vehicles. Likewise, any mobility hub would need to be designed for travelers of all ages and abilities. The National Federation for the Blind is working closely with autonomous vehicle manufacturers and ride-hail companies to ensure services and vehicles extend mobility as promised.

Where will low income people end up livening if suburbs and urban cores are becoming more popular? Will there be successful city/suburban metro areas vs. undesirable metro areas? How will that play out across America, e.g. East Coast, West Coast, Midwest?

This is a legitimate concern given the wealth gap between cities and suburbs (which interestingly was flipped not that long ago). Mobility options seem to be one of the reasons, so I think this is why there is so much attention on these new modes.  Likewise, if smaller, shared-use vehicles can mimic transit, then can we also begin to create more transit-oriented development and the potential lower costs of housing and transportation? There is so much unproductive land in the suburbs along corridors where people are craving neighborhood centers. The real question is how to make it possible.