Greg Lindsay, a futurist, speaking at the 2019 ULI Florida Summit in Kissimmee.

At the 2019 ULI Florida Summit, futurist Greg Lindsay, a futurist and senior fellow with the NewCities nonprofit organization, detailed change agents of future development including the electric scooter mania, shops without checkouts, and “urban cabins.” Lindsay described broadly how the disruption of retail, office, residential, and transportation will continue around the globe—and, in some cases, increase.

A senior fellow with NewCities, a global nonprofit committed to shaping a better urban future, Lindsay first touched on London’s mix of pocket parks and vintage coffee shops. “People make places, places make gossip, and gossip makes people money,” the futurist told the audience of hundreds gathered at the Gaylord Palms resort near Orlando, Florida.

Lindsay, a partner at the Singapore-based FutureMap advisory firm, emphasized that walkable communities will increasingly draw more investment dollars than drivable ones. Posing the age-old question of “suburban or urban,” Lindsay said that both hold promise but in ways never before seen.

New development now emerges along “spines of growth” that stretch out from the urban core. Companies are now drawn to “walkable, diverse places” in both urban and suburban sites, said Lindsay, who has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Harvard Business Review.

“It’s false to say there is tension between urban and suburban,” he said. 

Mobility

Finding future growth patterns, he said, is as simple as following the locations of scooter- and bike-share programs.

“The hottest thing in mobility is scooters and bikes. Scooter growth shows where growth is headed,” Lindsay said. “In cities where bike lanes are placed, these are leading gentrification trends.”

Uber and Lyft are getting into the game with the purchase of scooter companies. In Berlin and Helsinki, Finland, ride-share services offer bundled, monthly plans in much the same way as phone companies.

“Uber and others are doing loyalty programs and they want more subscription-type growth,” he added.

Even basic mobility infrastructure falls into question in the “futurescape.” The urbanist author cited temporary closings of the Champs-Élysées in Paris as a high-profile example of reclaiming pedestrian space.

“How do we rethink what streets and parking can be,” in an age of autonomous vehicles, Lindsay asked conference attendees. “In downtown L.A., if you reclaimed surface parking, you could house thousands of residents [and] build mixed-use mid-rises and new shopping centers.”

But don’t discount cars altogether, he added. In the United States, car sales were near all-time highs in the past three years, the speaker noted. But as the average sales price of new vehicles climbs to $37,000, debt becomes a greater issue and that mobility quickly becomes less affordable, he added, in contrast with a mobility-on-demand service such as Uber or a scooter.

Retail

In the city of tomorrow, retail is all about “unbundling the trip chain,” Lindsay said. He cited examples of ways that retailers are rethinking the shopping sector, including:

  • Amazon is moving toward stores in which customers walk with their goods through sensors rather than stand in checkout lines.
  • The overseas online marketplace giant Alibaba is taking over existing convenience stores—restocking shelves, installing new hardware, and offering the products online.
  • Walmart is testing its Walmart Reimagined Centers, featuring destination-style village settings with green space, food and beverage, and entertainment mixed together.
  • In Shanghai, mobile markets in cargo vans relocate to better serve high-traffic spots.
  • Pizza Hut is heading in the direction of mobile ovens that bake the pies during delivery.

Overall, the loss of big-box bookstores, apparel shops, and sporting goods stores leaves mostly restaurant tenants and more service-oriented businesses. Demand and pricing for industrial warehouses, meanwhile, will continue to grow.

Despite concerns that “the robots” will replace workers, Lindsay sees an emerging working class of businesses geared to delivering people, food, and products.

Office

The audience at the conference session laughed and nodded at Lindsay’s rhetorical question of whether the WeWork coworking movement was actually a cult. As someone who has not tethered himself to an office in 15 years, Lindsay advocated working from different locations.

Even though businesses with a permanent address seem more stable, workers can better network and share ideas when they are not tied to one office, he added.

“The shape of an office shifts with the change of projects and workflows,” he said. “Working face to face with others is the last thing left.”

Looking ahead, underused space can accommodate a mobile workforce. He cited an example of restaurants leasing tables as short-term offices once the lunch crowd leaves.

Residential

In terms of homes and apartments, walkability is the key ingredient moving forward, Lindsay said.

He pointed to BMW for building its brand with a new Global Village concept, which brings “urban cabins” to cities including London, New York, Los Angeles, and Beijing. The small-footprint cabins are designed and built in partnership with local architects.

IKEA also is launching an urban village project that supports sustainability with food gardens. Residents pay only for the rooms they use, taking more or less space as needed in an “expandable house that grows—or shrinks—with your needs,” Lindsay said.

The shift will be toward better serving residents.

Detroit is creating residential demand by taking previously blighted areas and creating parks filled with sand, beach chairs, and entertainment. Other cities are testing pop-up parks, shelters, and venues as a way to test concepts before committing to them.

At the massive Babcock Ranch community in the Fort Myers, Florida, area, an autonomous school bus offers opportunities for extended learning with the prospect of having a teacher on board. The test, Lindsay added, was sidelined temporarily by the National Transportation Safety Board, but it still holds promise.

Thomas Hoban, president of Kitson & Partners, helped develop Babcock Ranch and lauded the concepts presented at the session.

People begin to realize how big the universe is and think outside the box, he said. The discussions about coworking space and autonomous vehicles were particularly relevant, he added.

“Regardless of whether you’re trying to stay ahead of a trend, there’s no such thing as future proof,” Hoban said. “But you can build future flexibility and be flexible in your land plans with strategies to morph over time as these technologies evolve.”