The robocar might create something akin to a “neighbourhood elevator.” Imagine a house ¾ of a mile from the local cool street. In the house is a button. You might press the button and go out. Not that long after you get to the curb, a small robocar pulls up. This is a simple, low-speed model that only goes 30mph. It doesn’t have seatbelts, and is tall and not very aerodynamic. You might just stand in it, rather than sit. You get in and it starts heading towards your neighbourhood center. If you like, you tell it a more specific destination along the street and it takes you there.
Without belts or low seats, you step out quickly when you arrive in just under 3 minutes. You walk the street, picking up items you like to shop for in person, chatting with friends, perhaps pausing in a cafe to take in the scene. When you are ready, even though you are at the other end of the street, you push a button (this time in your phone) and in short order the “elevator” arrives and you step in to get back home.
This ride probably is free to you, or certainly very cheap. The vehicles are simple and not expensive, and either the businesses along that street or your own neighbourhood association are probably quite glad to pay for them to get your custom. Most importantly, it’s as seamless and easy as riding an elevator in a condo tower or a high density area.
It could get even more seamless. Imagine all you do is walk out of your home and start heading up the street towards the neighbourhood. Your phone notices you are doing this, and in well under a minute the neighbourhood shuttle slows down to match your pace. If you don’t get in, or wave it off, not much energy is wasted, and you go on your way. Otherwise you step in and are soon shopping. When you head back out from that street, your phone probably figures out your needs even faster — you don’t have to do a thing. This gives you a little more exercise and more closely emulates having a house one block away.
This seamless experience could make a very large area — 2 or more square miles — feel just as close to the walkable space as the houses that are “steps” from it. This in turn will both raise the value of the more remote houses and possibly slightly drop the value of the really close ones who lose a bit of their advantage. (In fact they are noisier so they may lose more of it.) The merchants get a big win with a lot more people who find it trivial to shop this way.