Propteq Europe 2016: Life in a living city

Propteq Europe 2016: Life in a living city

Tomorrow morning I’m giving the keynote address at the new Propteq Europeconference in London. I’m using the opportunity, as I did with GeoBusiness last week, to expand on this idea of the ‘living city’.

Put simply, this is the idea that as we embed and overlay more and more technology on our built environment, it starts to take on the characteristics of a living organism. When I first spoke about this it was to an audience of architects, and I suggested that their focus, historically on the design and construction of projects, needs to be more directed towards the lifetime of these living organisms. After all, as any gardener or pet owner knows, living things need tending.

Who better to do this than a profession with a balance of scientific and aesthetic skills?

At GeoBusiness last week, I made the point that the living city is really about the synchronisation of the two worlds we currently inhabit: the physical and the digital. Right now our access from one to the other is limited to small windows. The screens of our laptops, phones and tablets. But in the future our experience of the digital will be embedded and overlaid on the physical, making it much richer.

Location is the point of synchronisation between these worlds.

Speaking to an audience of property developers, owners, financiers, and the technologists who support them this week, I realise that the living city will have many less tangible components. Technology often tackles issues of friction that slow and add cost to our personal and financial interactions. If you have ever acquired or rented a property, you will know that this is a market filled with friction. Unsurprisingly, every time I interact with a community of entrepreneurs, there are a few tackling this topic in one form or another.

In tomorrow’s cities it looks likely that there will be a more transient population. Home ownership is on a downward trend, which though perhaps stable for now has hit a 25 year low. Private lettings are a dramatically greater proportion of rentals now, with a concomitant fall in the duration of lets. Multi-occupancy houses are on the rise for tenants with tenants’ average age rising. People may stay in the city but they will move around — something that’s easier to do when an increasing proportion of your possessions are digital and many owned items have been replaced with rented services (music, video, books, cars, bikes). AirBnB and competitors have already enabled the ultra-short let market, further driving turnover.

This will only expose and exacerbate the current frictions in the marketplace. And as I always say, friction starts fires.

The process of discovering a new property has been transformed but that transformation is far from finished. Next we will address the legal and financial issues of taking possession. On the virtual side, blockchain contracts, digital checks and transfers. On the physical, digital locks. You might be able to discover and view a vacant rental property and take possession of it in under half an hour.

And there might be no interaction with another human being in the process.

Once inside you may be able to transform the look of the place without opening a can of paint. Printed pixels on the wall could change to match your preferred palette. Digital picture frames pick up your online art subscription. The modular kitchen is rearranged to suit your needs. Your environmental preferences are imported from the smart thermostat at your previous property. And the integrated media system syncs to your subscription services.

House becomes home in a matter of hours.

This is what the living city is really all about. A city that responds to our needs, at speed, and at scale. Right down to the detail of the interior décor.

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Tom Cheesewright