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Housing 2030 – A Better Way of Living?

By Steve Wells, Rohit Talwar, Alexandra Whittington, and Maria Romero
How might intelligence technologies shape our homes and lifestyles?
Smarter Living—An Abundance of Possibilities

There are numerous visions of what the cities of the future could look like, but a core idea about the future of cities is the notion that in the coming decades, urban environments will be enveloped by a digital blanket of sensors, devices, and cloud connected data which makes life run smoothly. Disruptive technologies ranging from renewable energy to artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, 3D printing, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are being brought together to deliver a newly enhanced city living experience: the smart city. The core concepts encompass all of the key elements of what enable cities to function effectively—from traffic control and environmental protection to the management of energy, sanitation, healthcare, security, and buildings.

Future smart cities promise to harmonize the benefits of contemporary “smart” technologies in order to provide a high quality of life. As the infrastructure upon which smart cities rest begins to take shape, the impact on homes is a critical strategic issue for estate and property professionals. How does life in smart cities translate to the city’s most personal microcosm, the home? How might it impact notions such as property leases and rental—could entirely new concepts emerge to replace them? Could the technology enable properties to lease themselves on the open market—charging literally by the minute or hour? To what extent are renters and buyers willing to give up some degree of privacy and free will to live in a smart city? Will homes be state-owned, privately owned, or organized on a sharing economy model? Smart cities will have a direct but as yet unknown potential impact on the world of property letting.

At the occupant level, how does the prospect of living smart appeal to customers today, and what will it be like ten years from now? Who will be responsible for smart sensors and data—if it breaks, or malfunctions, who will fix it? Above all, how will humanity be preserved in a future where technology is involved in every step of the day, even within the privacy of home?

A Shared Vision

City governments have to create inclusive processes to encourage citizens to join conversations about the forces shaping the future and the possibilities and challenges on the horizon. In particular, it will be essential to engage the population in dialogue about the desired future. Involvement might be best coordinated on a local/neighborhood level, for example—coming to agreement on what a livable city means, and how to attract jobs and support a constant flow of industries of the future.

Alongside the visioning role, local communities must have a voice in articulating a clear preference around education, environment, public services, access to justice, city administration, and civic engagement. These pillars then provide the guiding requirements which will in turn influence the design of smart infrastructure. City residents, as individual stakeholders or in coalitions, could provide a much-needed check on the powers of the smart city policy-makers and technology service providers. The quality of a smart city’s engagement might actually have a direct bearing on its popularity and hence property rental values.

Big Data—A Fine Line between Observation and Surveillance

Smart cities are designed to inform decisions by capturing massive amounts of data about the population and its patterns, such as water use and traffic flows. This information gathering results in what is called big data, and it is essentially gathered via surveillance. There can also be voluntary efforts to collect information, but the ease and affordability of sensors, AI, and advanced analytics in the future will mean this function can be completely automated. The data can be collated from almost any city infrastructure, encompassing traffic lights and cameras, pollution sensors, building control systems, individual homes, and personal devices—all literally feeding giant data stores held in the cloud. The ability to crunch all this data is becoming easier due to rampant growth in the use of algorithms, AI, and predictive software running on networks of high performance computing and storage devices. The availability of such near-complete data might prove extremely valuable in creating true comparisons of the environmental footprint, energy efficiency, and safety of homes and hence of rental values.

While the technological capacity is nearly in place, is there a matching political will to use it effectively? A number of questions need ironing out concerning freedom, surveillance, and privacy in smart cities. Interesting developments recently, such as court admission of evidence collected by a smart home assistant, remind us that smart technologies could evolve in ways that could jeopardize human rights and social justice.

Internet of Things (IoT)—Always Connected

Smart cities rely on advanced technology to make sense of massive collections of information. Indeed, the amount of information on the internet is expected to grow exponentially as a result of the IoT. Essentially IoT means that everything (“things”)—and potentially everyone—will become beacons and data collection devices, gathering data on ambient and behavioral patterns from its surroundings and from the information it is fed, and networking all this data via the cloud. Hence, after data, the IoT is the second driving force behind the rise of smart infrastructure: in order for everything from air conditioning to parking meters to function in a smart city, the use of microphones, sensors, voice recognition, and all sorts of other high-tech gadgetry must be hooked up to the IoT.

In terms of the private home, it is conceivable that the Alexa or Google Home will become connected to public IoTs in order to communicate everything from home energy usage to ordering fresh groceries. The future of the home may be wired for calling up a self-driving taxi when it is time to leave for work, for example. Smart home products that are already in place, such as security and temperature/ambience automation (i.e., Nest) will be able to “talk” to the police department in case of an intruder or unlock the door for expected guests using facial recognition cameras at the entryways. Homeowners will find themselves becoming a hub in a city-wide communication network—one of millions communicating to the same central “brain” of the city. What might the implications be for property rental models when we can access such “perfect information” about a home, one’s neighbors, the neighborhood, and every facet of the lives of the individual?

Sustainability—Low-Impact Strategies

Finally, all this data and awareness will enable decisions that make the best possible use of space, fuel, energy, water, electricity, and all resources, with an emphasis on sustainability. For example, a clear smart city priority is being able to anticipate big traffic jams and provide alternative routes to save time, fuel, and reduce impact on the city infrastructure itself. Limiting waste is a very logical outcome and benefit of the merging of big data, AI, and IoT which feed into the rise of smart infrastructure.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are growing their market foothold; hence the charging concerns related to EVs are gaining urgency in the eyes of many policy-makers and planners. Interestingly, the car companies themselves are exploring similar options as they place their stakes on sustainable solutions beyond transportation: BMW and Nissan have released home energy batteries that can extend the life of an electric car battery as an in-home renewable energy source, even capable of storing solar energy. With a view to reducing parking requirements, could access to a shared EV become an essential requirement for new properties and rental offerings?

Eventually, with a growing array of such distributed power solutions, a centralized energy distribution grid for homes and businesses may not be necessary. In the next decades, homes could run on their own energy stores, and preserve enough to share, sell, or store for their own later use. The homeowner would no longer depend on a power company to provide electricity, and the home would reach a “net zero” level of ecological impact; giving back more (if not less) than it takes from nature. How might rental prices be affected by a home’s capacity to generate income from electricity generation?

Cities Get Smart

It can be argued that the future of human life on the planet rests on a smooth transition to cities that are more efficient, less wasteful, and more conscious of the impacts of the individual upon the greater good. This may include a range of new negotiations along the boundaries of freedom and privacy: for example, allowing self-driving cars to replace human drivers in the hope of preventing death and injury in auto accidents, increasing traffic efficiency, and removing environmental impacts. Similarly, to reach municipal conservation goals, we might have to agree to invasive monitoring of waste generation, energy, and water use in the home. These are the kinds of tensions that future planners will need to wrestle with on a continuous basis. Furthermore, they form a set of novel and emerging concerns for future home renters and buyers. For the letting industry, a key question arises around the role it should play in contributing to smart city visions and developing smart rental models that take advantage of all the continuously updated data and insights we will have about properties and their all-round performance.

Ultimately, this is about creating cities that work for people. A thoughtful vision of the future enabled by a robust and well-executed smart city model could provide a foundation for channeling science and technology advances into the creation of a very human future in the city of tomorrow.


  •  How do we define the boundary between smarter lifestyles and invasion of privacy when it varies for each of us?
  • What are the critical services you would want in your future home?
  • How do we ensure that every lifestyle choice improves our environmental footprint?

This article is excerpted from A Very Human Future – Enriching Humanity in a Digitized World. You can order the book here.

A version of this chapter was originally published in The Negotiator.

Image: by Catharina77


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