Greenfields vs. Infill

I recently read two interesting articles about real estate development — one on greenfields and one on urban development.

The first article, by Lyman Stone, hypothesizes that American history is largely the history of greenfields. Over time, people have moved from the populated urban centers of the East Coast, and into undeveloped land in the West.

Stone’s hypothesis is that greenfields are much attractive to people than building more densely-populated urban centers. So much so that Stone advocates encouraging dying urban centers to just die already so that we can later re-develop them as greenfields.

Stone doesn’t tie this hypothesis to self-driving cars, but he does talk a lot about commuting costs and it’s not hard to see how autonomous vehicles will greatly expand the scope of practical greenfield development. This is particularly true in a population-sparse country like the United States.

The second article I read took the opposite tack. A report out of the U.K. estimates that self-driving vehicles will free up road and parking space in cities, opening perhaps 20% of the city for redevelopment.

This infill story is the opposite of the greenfield story, although of course they’re not mutually exclusive.

But I do wonder whether self-driving cars will cause a bigger revolution in urban or rural living.

In the short-term, my money is on urban living, since it will take longer for self-driving cars to work in rural areas.

But in the long-term, my bet is that self-driving cars will change rural-life in ways we can’t even imagine.

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