Future Prospects: Healthier Buildings, Futuristic Transport

Health-promoting buildings, cars that drive themselves and cars that fly: Check out the next generation of CRE disruptors discussed at this year's DLA Piper Global Summit.
DLA Piper Real Estate Summit 2019. Left to right: Phil Williams, Delos Living; Mark Joseph, Mobitas Advisors. Image courtesy of Michelle Weeks

The final session at DLA Piper’s 15th Global Real Estate Summit, dubbed RE Live, focused on the most “futuristic” concepts, though both presenters pointed out that many of these concepts and technologies are already entering the marketplace.

Phil Williams, executive vice president of building and human performance at Delos Living, started off “The Business of Buildings, People and Data” by saying that he’s leery of the term “future-proof,” as it implies a defensive attitude; he prefers “future-ready.”

“We now spend 90 percent of our time inside,” he noted. “So don’t tell me that we don’t have a responsibility for providing the best environments we can.”

Seventy percent of your physical health is determined by your physical environment and your personal and social choices, Williams said, and only 10 percent by your DNA and 20 percent by your health care.

See our full coverage of the 2019 DLA Piper Global Summit

The confluence of more-prevalent chronic diseases, or what he calls “sicker sooner, living longer,” in addition to the issues of an aging population, mean, for example, that diabetes and obesity are both increasing and occurring sooner in individuals’ lives. “We can’t survive as an economy unless we start doing something about that,” Williams warned.

On the positive side, he said, “We can now let doctors help design our buildings” through the evidence-based WELL Building Standard from the International WELL Building Institute. So far, 500 million square feet in 58 countries and representing almost every asset class has been registered under the standard.

“It’s not just about the future, it’s about the people we have today,” Williams said. “And it’s not just about sick days. If the average is four sick days per person per year, and we decrease that by one, that’s 25 percent, and that’s big bucks,” especially when coupled with small improvements in work performance every work day.

“The next generation of health and well-being is having the ability to make that building respond in real time, for the real performance of the people in that space.” Williams cited The Edge, an energy-neutral office building in Amsterdam that’s occupied by Deloitte, as an example of a state-of-the-art structure, but one whose performance its architect is already working to surpass.

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“How can we be more than someone who just collects rent every month?” he challenged the conference attendees. Circling back to his point about how we’ve become an essentially indoor species, Williams said, “This room is not what Mother Nature intended. Is it going to hurt us?”

He concluded with a vision of using augmented intelligence to link building data, people data and business data in the pursuit of healthier buildings and recommended “The Financial Case for High-Performance Buildings,” released in February by sustainability consultancy Stok.

Mobility disruption, opportunities

Mark Joseph, founder & CEO of Mobitas Advisors, started off “Mobility Impacts on Real Estate” with a vintage photo of the downtown Chicago intersection of Randolph and Dearborn streets in 1909, clogged with streetcars and nose-to-tail horse-drawn carriages.

“Over a 10-year period, we went from horses to horseless—and we’ll go from drivers to driverless probably over the same 10-year period,” he predicted.

As we continue into the current era of mobility disruption, Joseph said, “This is going to be something where there’s going to be winners and losers in both the city and the suburbs. What we do know is those who don’t think about mobility in terms of real estate are going to fall behind.”

He then described a sometimes startling list of cutting-edge transportation technologies and concepts that are imminent or already under development.

U.S./Israeli company SkyTran has developed and is starting to build an innovative elevated transit system that is “as personal as a car,” according to the company. The system uses magnetic levitation to propel small one- or two-passenger “Skypods” above city streets at up to 50 mph. Stations are narrow enough to fit over a sidewalk, and construction reportedly costs just one-tenth as much as light rail.

Another concept is electric VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft. The technology is being developed by Uber, Joseph said, with Boeing as an investor. At this point, it appears that a flight from downtown San Francisco to SFO would cost about $100 and take only five minutes.

A crucial factor to bear in mind, Joseph said, is the generational differences as to preferred transportation modes. Talk with a concert promoter, he explained, and they’ll point out that acts for Boomers (Elton John) fill up a venue’s parking lots, but with acts for Millennials (Martin Garrix), the parking lots are empty, because the concert-goers are using Uber, scooters and other means of getting there.

“Vehicles are the new real estate”

In some concepts, “vehicles are the new real estate,” Joseph said. For example, Cabin Technologies operates an overnight sleeper bus, aka “a hotel on wheels,” between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It’s intended to avoid wasting passengers’ daylight time and also the hassles of airline travel. (Online reviews seem positive overall.)

With these and other new transportation concepts as the backdrop, Joseph described Suburbs 2.0: affordable, walkable satellite villages with their own city centers, plus “super-commuting” to metro downtowns made practical by autonomous vehicles (AVs).

As car ownership decreases, he said, garages and parking lots will be redeveloped into green spaces and for revenue generation. Parking lanes will transform into “flex zones” usable by delivery vehicles and bikes and scooters.

In tandem with that, Joseph said, urban parking lots will evolve from warehousing cars to warehousing goods and be repositioned as mobility hubs: AV staging and maintenance, electric vehicle charging, “cloud kitchens” serving only delivery customers, rideshare waiting areas, bases and charging stations for delivery drones, and last-mile delivery hubs.

“Even faster than autonomous vehicles for passengers, we’re going to see lots of autonomous vehicles for goods,” Joseph predicted. Why? “It’s low-speed, less dangerous, easier to solve and highly useful,” he explained, adding that Kroger is already investing in this.

Both Williams’ and Joseph’s presentation slides can be downloaded here.