Autonomous Vehicles, New Mobility & the Built Environment Smart Cities

The Intersection of Community Building & Future Mobility at the Culdesac

The defining characteristic of Culdesac Tempe is that it is a car-free neighborhood. Instead of housing cars (parking lots), Culdesac Tempe’s focus is on community and mobility for its residents. Mobility starts with the creation of a walkable neighborhood but includes the integration of technologies and services that allow people to live without owning a car.

What this means is that there is no parking for the residences of this 17-acre, 760-unit development. As part of the lease agreement, residents agree not to park a car onsite or in the surrounding neighborhood. There is some limited parking for the 16,000 square feet of mixed-use retail space.

The intent of this retail space – which will include a co-working space, a 5,000-square-foot grocery store, a two-story gym, a coffee shop, and a restaurant – is to provide frequently used amenities within walking distance. There are also stand-alone units that allow residents to extend their space on demand (e.g., guest suites, maker space, podcast studios).

Removing parking frees up space for people. That is, although the density is twice that of the city of San Francisco, it is built around open space. The design takes advantage of the open space by featuring private outdoor entrances for each unit (no hallways that eat up space like a typical apartment building). Additionally, Culdesac CEO/Co-Founder Ryan Johnson indicates that most units will have three sides of natural light.

More than half of Culdesac-Tempe is open space, which is much greater than the approximately 20% for a comparable Tempe apartment development, according to Johnson. A 1/2 acre public park, which includes a pool, anchors the open space. It is the courtyards, with their amenities of BBQ grills, water features, fire pits, and hammocks, that Culdesac hopes become outdoor living rooms and the center of the community.

In the above January 21, 2022, Association for Commuter Transportation webinar, Culdesac Tempe GM, Lava Sunder, reports that 60% of the people on their waitlist reside from outside of Arizona. The majority of the waitlist are young professionals and empty nesters/retirees.

Sunder said one of their founding residents, who is moving from Minnesota, called the move to Culdesac Tempe a “vitality decision.” He stated that moving to Culdesac will help him make healthy decisions, such as walking, biking, and interacting with people.

The Total Cost of Living #

Culdesac aims to reduce the total cost of living for its residents, which means both dwelling and transportation costs.

“By offering the amentities of onsite retail and access to transportation, we are hoping to create a lifestyle that’s affordable,” states Lava Sunder in the above video.

On a direct cost side, research by C.J. Gabbe of Santa Clara University and Greg Pierce of UCLA suggests that parking requirements add about 17% to a unit’s rent, as detailed in this 2017 article, The Hidden Cost of Bundled Parking.

It is apparent that Culdesac is passing the cost savings associated with the elimination of parking to its tenants as the rents compare favorably to Tempe’s average price apartment rental, especially considering that Culdesac is new construction.

Apartment TypeTempe Culdesac
1 Bedroom$1,501$1,400s
2 Bedroom$1,781$2,000s
3 Bedroom$2,410$3,200s
As of August 7th, 2023, Tempe average rents according to

Reducing the total cost of living means reducing the cost of mobility, which accounted for an average of $10,961 per household across the U.S. in 2021. That average figure hides the high cost of mobility for lower-income households. That is, the lowest income quintile spent the least ($4,273), but faced the largest cost burden with 26.9% of after-tax income going towards transportation spending.

On their website and as detailed in this September 2021 blog post, Culdesac states that all units provide “$3,000 in mobility benefits.” These benefits include:

  • 15% off all Lyft rides
  • Free rides on the Valley Metro Rail1
  • On-site carsharing starting at $5/hour with Envoy
  • 100+ Bird scooters on-site
  • 1,000+ bike parking spots
Culdesac aims to reduce the cost of living by integrating lower-cost forms of mobility with the dwellings and the larger community.
An August 6th Screenshot of Culdesac’s Website Touting the Benefits of their Community

An Evolving Community Based on Individual Experience #

The connection with Lyft, referenced above, is a natural one as John Zimmer, Co-Founder & former President of Lyft, serves on the board of Culdesac. Further, Co-Founder & CEO, Ryan Johnson co-founded the digital home buying/selling platform, Opendoor. As such, Johnson and the team bring a tech-company, whole product development approach to Culdesac’s offering.

This means understanding the entire resident lifecycle starting with move-in, to adapting to the changing needs of its residents, to being ready for new technology that can further improve the quality of experience. Since they are both the developer and property manager, they can control and optimize the experience.

For instance, any of the ground units can be converted into accessible units. Another example of meeting the varied needs of its residents is the inclusion of guest units that allow residents to increase their space on an on-demand basis. This allows, for example, the empty nester to right-size their living space as needed, instead of purchasing a house in the suburbs sized for that once-a-year visit from family.

Their current deal on the guest unit points to a future that integrates autonomous rideshare with mobility. That is, the guest unit includes a $5 credit to Waymo (as well as access to two each, ebikes).

“Use unique mobility benefits exclusive to our Culdesac Stay guests of Culdesac to explore Tempe car-free. During your stay, you will have access to 2 Lectric ebikes, free unlimited rides on the Valley Metro light rail, and a $5 credit to Waymo.”

Culdesac Booking Site – Units Available Starting 10/1/23

The idea of bundling autonomous mobility as an amenity is one that Princeton Professor Alain Kornhausr has been advocating for many years.

With its ample rideshare and its inclusion of some wider pick-up/drop spaces, it is well positioned for the transition to autonomous mobility, according to Johnson. He suggests that their design means that “Everyone is no more than one minute away from car-pick-up spot.”

Just the Start of a New Sort of Smart Community #

The first phase promises 130 units with the first 26 units available starting September 15th, 2023. The video below shows their construction progress as well as the artistic features such as murals, tilework, and courtyards that are intended to make it an inviting place for its residents.2

In a sense, Culdesac Tempe is a proof-of-market for something that could be much bigger. In the above ACT webinar, Johnson indicates that their larger vision is to build the first car-free city in the United States. With the advent of autonomous electric aviation, coupled with the aforementioned autonomous and other forms of mobility, it is not difficult to imagine a future greenfield Culdesac city as alluded to in this 2019 Viodi View article.

References #

1 This required legislation to allow developers to provide residents the same sort of all access passes that employers can provide to employees to encourage public transportation.

2 Culdesac has an Artist in Residence program that offers a free six-month program that includes all utilities. The artist becomes part of the community, as described here.

3 This blog post, Women Walking: Designing Safer Pedestrian Routes, is an example of the thoughtfulness of Culdesac’s design approach.

Author Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

By Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

Ken Pyle is Marketing Director for the Broadband Forum. The mission of this 25+-year-old non-profit “is to unlock the potential for new markets and profitable revenue growth by leveraging new technologies and standards in the home, intelligent small business, and multi-user infrastructure of the broadband network.”

He is also co-founder of Viodi, LLC and Managing Editor of the Viodi View, a publication focused on the rural broadband ecosystem, autonomous vehicles, and electric aviation. He has edited and produced numerous multimedia projects for NTCA, US Telecom and Viodi. Pyle is the producer of Viodi’s Local Content Workshop, the Video Production Crash Course at NAB, as well as ViodiTV. He has been intimately involved in Viodi’s consulting projects and has created processes for clients to use for their PPV and VOD operations, as well authored reports on the independent telco market.

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2 replies on “The Intersection of Community Building & Future Mobility at the Culdesac”

What an amazing project. I only wish Silicon Valley could embrace something like this. Now, with land almost gone, I fear it is not possible. That being said, there are plenty of old corporate campuses or malls that could be taken down and turned into something like this. Amazing and thanks for sharing!!!

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