Last Friday in Bloomington we had a taste of the future: an autonomous, self-driving bus operated along Kirkwood Avenue, carrying hundreds of passengers along a route three blocks long over a seven-hour period.
It was a demonstration—the street was closed to other traffic, the bus route and stops were pre-planned, and an operator sat in should any glitches occur (they didn’t). But it also was dramatic, as we loaded on the little bus, with no steering wheel or driving console, no driver in charge, moving quietly with all-electric battery power, forward and backward, turning in and out of the side street, so smoothly and reliably.
Riders and onlookers generally were excited. Two of the first passengers, in wheelchairs, talked about how mobility like this could change their lives in the coming years. Others imagined a city with more vehicles like this and fewer private cars. Some praised the sustainability of better public transit and shared rides—more people moving more efficiently, changing the look of downtown, the IU campus, and beyond.
It made me think about change. How it’s always challenging. And always coming. How communities MUST evolve, to welcome new residents, to accommodate new businesses, to adjust to new lifestyles, to try new approaches, new technology. How it’s tempting for many of us to hold tight to what we love about our community – which is natural – but sometimes so tight that we don’t make room for innovation, experimentation, evolution.
I’ve enjoyed the reminder that “all music was new music once,” that the classics we cherish often were derided, misunderstood, or lambasted first. (Perhaps it was the hilarious Peter Schickele who said it?)
So too, in our cities, we need the humility to support innovation that is challenging, to welcome new ideas and approaches, to avoid trying to hold still where we are. Bloomington in 50 years will no doubt look very different from how we do today. Who will be living and working here? What choices can we make today to increase the chances of a great future?
We’re offering a few glimpses of potential future change with an initiative we call Fast Forward Bloomington, starting with the “robo-bus” last week, and moving on to other short-term demonstrations of how our community might change in coming years. We need housing to serve the full range of human needs and capacities. We need beautiful public spaces and wild natural places for all to enjoy. We need diversity of thought. We need creativity. We need risk takers and change makers. And we need kindness and compassion toward each other.
ps You can check out a video of the autonomous bus demo here.
pps Mark Thursday evening, November 9th on your calendar for our upcoming county Democratic Party dinner and fundraiser—fun, progressive fellowship for all!