Where Will The Cities Be?

The flooding of Hurricane Harvey continues to afflict the Houston area badly. The new monster Hurricane Irma has already heavily damaged Barbuda and is moving through the Caribbean threatening everything in its path. One thing in its path: Florida.

Last week I read an article that struck me because of it’s optimistic tone, which didn’t seem to fit the circumstances. It was headlined “Harvey Won’t Hold Back Houston.” One paragraph:

So Houston’s favorable population trends, key location and concentration of smart workers and knowledge-based industries indicate that it won’t suffer New Orleans’ fate. The city will emerge from Harvey’s devastation stronger than before.

The author bases this on an idea from Paul Krugman, about how geography dictates the location of cities. Full disclosure: I tried to read the Krugman presentation, and I didn’t grasp it enough to give an opinion. (It’s here–PDF)

But these hurricanes make me think about the future. If these become more regular, and if the sea level changes, that would be a change to the underlying geography. And so that would change the locations where cities would be expected to be.

In that situation, I suspect some cities would have the clout to resist geography’s dictates (e.g., NYC). But where will the rest of them be?

More Driverless Car Thoughts

Even thought I am a driverless car skeptic, for various reasons*, I do really like thinking through potential implications. So, here are some unorganized thoughts.

With good autopilot/driverless technology, paired with remote-work technology and expanding cellular coverage, I could imagine a lifestyle of continuous transport working for some people. The infrastructure of service stations already exists. People could select destinations and then allow their vehicles to take them around the country while they worked, or reclined and watched TV, and they could be routed to points of interest for forays throughout the day.

So, what is the official residence of someone who lives like this for tax purposes? They would have no physical address, and the car could keep flawless track of where they were in case the IRS wanted the receipts. How would one tax these people?

What if a company could be headquartered in a persistently mobile vehicle?

I know current laws rely on physical addresses in key ways, like for opening bank accounts, receiving and sending physical mail, and so on. But it seems like those things are changing from requirements of reality to legal/bureaucratic requirements, which makes me think someone might just try to see where the boundaries were.

And there are businesses that exist right now to receive mail and then scan and electronically forward it.

Automated trucks toting server farms around. Who would have legal jurisdiction? How would they even find the mobile servers?

*Mainly, reliability and the last mile problem, particularly in cities.

To have the transformative impact people are looking for, driverless technology would need to be so good people could completely ignore the operations of the car and sleep, work, watch TV. Autopilot/driver assist doesn’t cut it.

And I am skeptical that a self-driving car will be able to successfully navigate a crowded, busy situation in which many (if not most) people (pedestrians, cyclists, other drivers, dogs, etc.) are not following the law regarding how they should cross streets and change lanes and so on.