One of ULI’s great strengths is the predictive nature of its work, helping members plan business strategies by identifying trends with stickiness—not just changes in design and development, but outside forces that will affect the built environment for decades to come. One of the most influential of these change agents—advances in technology—was a prominent topic at our Mid-Winter Trustees Meeting in January.

The dialogue left little doubt that the land use industry will be affected dramatically and permanently as the world becomes more automated and more connected virtually. Keynote speaker Vivek Wadhwa, an internationally renowned futurist and entrepreneur, listed several technology breakthroughs on the brink of becoming mainstream:

  • Health care: We can expect broad availability of self-administered health tests such as echocardiograms; localized medicine that affects only the area requiring treatment, minimizing side effects; bionic enhancements, including “super-power” sight and hearing capabilities and exoskeletons that could transform the lives of the disabled; and robotic surgery.
  • Transportation: Driverless cars will reduce traffic congestion and accidents, and they will affect urban development by reducing the need for parking, freeing up space for other uses. The prevalence of car ownership, already waning in urban areas with the rise of car sharing, will evolve further into a “use-as-needed” form of urban mobility as driverless vehicles chauffeur people from one place to another. Drones will be used to deliver packages to both businesses and consumers, expediting delivery times and curbing the need for street delivery vehicles.
  • Production of goods and materials: Manufacturing will once again be a major economic engine for the United States, with robots performing tasks ranging from clerical work to assembly. Three-dimensional printers capable of producing products ranging from construction materials to clothing will become accessible to consumers.
  • Energy: The cost of producing solar and wind energy, which is already dropping, will continue to fall, making these energy sources a viable, reliable alternative to electricity generated by coal-fired power plants.
  • Water and food: Technology is being developed to affordably purify saltwater, which will help greatly in eradicating waterborne diseases and increasing the supply of usable water in developing countries. Meat will be “grown” through in-vitro fertilization, eliminating the need to slaughter animals for food. Vertical farms will reduce the need to use large amounts of acreage for agriculture.
  • Education: The rapidly expanding availability of inexpensive tablet computers will continue to change education around the world; courses from the world’s top educators will be accessible regardless of where people are located.

We will continue to explore the implications of technological advances for land use at our 2014 Spring Meeting in Vancouver. While there is much to contemplate, one thing is certain: the nature of the built space must adapt, sooner rather than later. What we are building must reflect the needs of people who are living far longer, and who, later in life, are healthier, better educated, driving less, and are either working less or entering new careers.

And while ours is a long-term business, in this era of innovation, building for flexibility is just as important as building for permanence. This will require the design and development of space that balances the increasingly impersonal nature of day-to-day activities with the still-strong desire by consumers for social interaction and connectivity. That is no small task, and it is one that is falling squarely to real estate professionals who are entering the middle phase of their careers—most of whom are still under age 40. For this group of professionals, there is perhaps no more challenging, exciting, or promising time to be in the industry. They take risks. They experiment.

And they are unfazed by technology that is upending long-held notions about what works and what doesn’t.

Urban Land is celebrating those who are creating the communities of tomorrow with a new program, 40 Under 40. First announced at the 2013 Fall Meeting, 40 Under 40 is recognizing the world’s top 40 real estate professionals under 40 years of age. Nominations are being accepted through June 1, and the winners will be profiled in our magazine and honored at the 2014 Fall Meeting in New York City.

Regardless of your age, if you are a ULI member, I encourage you to nominate a land use leader for this special recognition. While nominations must be made by ULI members, nominees do not have to be members (although we hope they see the benefits of membership and join ULI). We are looking for those who are pushing the envelope in all real estate and land use disciplines, including design, development, finance, planning, sustainability, public policy, and academia. Nomination forms are available at uli.org/40under40.

I look forward to meeting the winners and learning from their ideas on community building in a technology-driven world.