Wearable technology, driverless cars, and the sharing economy are challenging the real estate industry to design cities with alternative buildings and services to keep pace with changing lifestyles, a leading design consultant said at the ULI’s Real Estate Trends conference in London.
Chris Luebkeman, fellow and director for global foresight, research, and innovation at ARUP, said that physical places have become more important in the digital age rather than less.
Luebkeman, who works with companies and countries to help them better understand the opportunities created by changes in the built environment, said societies were moving toward a desire for “village values” that require living and working in closer-knit communities. “We are seeing a renewed focus on localization,” he explained.
Density therefore “had to be the solution” for planners as citizens seek new forms of integrated city living and working, he said. Environmental concerns, however, also mean that cities must not “continue spreading out like a fried egg.”
“We need to take on the challenge of densification. We have no choice but to densify. All the signals are there and the opportunity of a lifetime is right before us,” Luebkeman said.
His comments come as ULI launches the findings of a new report on density, exploring how it can enable a new generation of global cities and the role it can play in economies and the environment.
Since many political structures are incapable of responding to the many challenges society faces, it is the responsibility of the real estate community to take the lead and develop a better vision for more integrated city living, he said.
“In the 1950s, we were thinking about outer space and how to get there,” he said. “We were going to be creating amazing environments out there. These were very empowering, optimistic representations of the spirit of the time. Where are we now in terms of thinking about the world? Where are those leaps of imagination today?”
Analysis of how future residents will use and rely on the local area when designing master plans for buildings and mixed-use development projects is key to creating more valuable assets long-term, he explained.
“Where is the gym going to be? Where will residents buy food?” Luebkeman asked, adding that global political instability makes dependence upon nearby services—such as energy supplies—ever more imperative. “Supply chains can be very fragile,” he said.
Luebkeman said another challenge for real estate developers is to create buildings that give city dwellers “spaces where people wanted to be” because despite smartphone communication, social contact remains an innate human need.
“In our digital world, the physical world matters even more. Thousands still wanted to be at the papal inauguration of Pope Francis in 2013, even though they could have got a better view of it at home. Place matters deeply,” he said.
But urban environments need to be designed with the recognition that city dwellers seek “access and mobility rather transport.” The so-called “clickizen” generation—a term he coined to describe people who have grown up with laptops and the internet—prioritizes experiences over ownership and has “big lifestyles and small homes.”
“They aren’t interested in the ownership of stuff,” he explained. “The rate of new car registration in the Northern Hemisphere is going down. Cars aren’t the trophies they once were.
“Cars are underutilized assets in cities. Would you buy an asset used only 10 percent of the time? No,” he explained, adding: “The new sharing economy is very real. We have to make sure we understand the implications of this.”
Referring to moves made by the city-state of Singapore to reduce congestion through the introduction of driverless cars, Luebkeman urged developers and urban planners to consider the implications of this on quality of life: “Imagine if every city had a three-deck parking lot for bicycles, like the one that has been created in Amsterdam.”
But technology is also offering opportunities to create “responsive assets” that improve and monitor building performance.
“Owing to technology, there [are] data that show who is coming into buildings. What does it mean when you know what’s really going on inside of your assets? We’ve never had that before,” he said.
Devices that track footsteps could provide improved information on location choices. He explained: “We actually know how wrong we’ve been in some of our movement patterns. You can now find out movements into any quadrant of London. If you’re looking to putting investments into a certain place, you can see if people go there.”
Harnessing this kind of data, as well as using resilience design to tackle to climate change, is “clever thinking,” he said.
“Incremental resilience design makes assets that are valuable for the long term as the building moves through different ownerships,” he said.
“We know climate change is coming—so what do we do? Our building codes are fossils; they don’t change fast enough,” he said, warning that developers may face legal implications in the future if they do not design assets for the extreme weather scenarios that are predicted over the coming decades.