Seventy-five years ago, a majority of Americans lived in urban areas. The big cities were, with the exception of places like Chicago, primarily on the East and West coasts. With the continued technological expansion of the American economy, a mass restructuring occurred.
"People migrated increasingly to coastal cities, such as New York, Boston, and Seattle, decreasing population in the nation’s rural midsection," explains David Hobstetter, principal at San Francisco–based KMD Architects, an employee-owned global architecture firm that has been in business for nearly a half century. "This shift demanded that cities and real estate professionals accommodate urbanization by enhancing urban livability—balancing density with sunlight, park space, transit improvements, and amenities—which continues today."
Over the years, the U.S. economy has become less dependent on an industrial base and more aligned with knowledge-based industries—technology, academics, research, and health care. "Considered anathema 30 to 40 years ago, architects and developers are now designing spaces that focus on employee cognitive functions and productivity to stay competitive in a knowledge economy gone global," adds Hobstetter.
Living today involves a mixed-use way of life—a return to a more European pattern, which is more integrated with retail and services located close, if not adjacent, to where people live. "We are demonstrating a much greater understanding of the limits to energy and land use, coming full circle in the last 50 years," he says.
In addition, real estate markets are exhibiting much greater complexity and sophistication today, from financing and ownership to design and operation. "There is more of a global aspect to the way real estate is conceived, developed, and owned," Hobstetter continues. "Technology has played a key role in that evolution. This is greatly diversifying the built environment, from grand mixed-use opportunities to niche markets and individualized user-focused structures. For example, the 1960s retail market was dominated by downtown and shopping centers. Today, the greater variety of shopping experiences goes beyond traditional retail to accommodate high-end branded shoppers, as well as young urban professionals, gen-Xers and gen-Yers—with requisite social media, apps, and instant buying tools. It is expected to change even more in the future."