Five Future Opportunities For Planning
I should really start carrying around two dictionaries: one for interpreting the development and planning sector, and the other for when we moonlight in the tech startup world.
In both worlds, we are surrounded by talk of innovation (not only talk – we see lots of action too!). However, the definition, tangibility and impact of the respective innovations allow for varied interpretations. In tech circles, innovations can be so complex and alien that the market isn’t even ready for them. In planning, whilst still extremely complex, the overall result of innovations might only cause a marginal improvement.
At the recent launch of GL Hearn and The British Property Federation’s Annual Planning Survey, Ben Wrighton borrowed Team GB’s Cycling team’s analogy of progress through marginal gains. Unfortunately, taking this approach can often mean that, by the time these well-thought-through processes are implemented, the market itself might have moved on: the evidence base, the technology can all be out of date. This inevitably puts the entire planning sector and in turn our towns and cities under pressure: after all, how can we plan for the future with out-of-date methods?
Historically, this is the capacity of the planning system to face the future, constrained by current processes. How then will it confront the pace of change empowered by new technologies? It would seem that only by the assistance of a technologically integrated approach will the development and planning system be in a position to effectively plan for the impact of technology on the urban dynamic.
Planning for the future must mean planning for the impact of technology
After all, we are only now coming to terms with urban transformation caused by technological innovations of the past decade (cases in point: Airbnb, Uber). The obvious lesson learned is that the risk lies in not acting, in being reactive, rather than proactive. Planning for the future must also mean planning for the impact of technology. Although initially this seems like a challenge, on reflection endless opportunities are uncovered.
Following are just a small number of the transformations on the horizon for cities that will be fuelled by technological changes. Are these opportunities being overlooked by mainstream planning discourse?
According to research by Neopay, a financial regulatory compliance firm, half of 18-24 year-olds lack trust in the traditional banking transactions used by high-street banks. Earlier this year, Monzo, a bank with no high street property, became the youngest company ever to be granted a banking licence in the UK. Traditional bank branches have long since moved on from their original functions and now are inefficient occupiers of prime real estate, some might argue just remaining as advertisements. If we can expect these trends to continue, how long will we require financial institutions to have retail space on every high street? An evolving ‘high street-scape’ like this could also be further influenced across the country by a shift in focus towards fully online models by bookmakers, who have equally substantial high street portfolios.
2_Financial District Restructuring
Remote working and co-working spaces are increasing in popularity and the conviction of their implementation. If we couple this with the potential for automation of financial services, how will our vast commercial office centres adapt, not only to avoid problems associated with vacancy, but also to protect financial markets highly sensitive to financial district occupancy rates (Lizieri, C. and Pain, K. (2014)?
Drones and autonomous vehicles are obvious examples of the more tangible and overtly futuristic elements due to change the urban landscape. Sometimes I feel like we forget how much the automobile altered our cities over the past century. In the coming years, we might not require the parking space, or even the road space for a more optimised vehicular transport system. Do we automatically tear down multi-story car parks or can we adapt them? That is an awful lot of under-utilised underground space. How might they become part of a new ‘superblock’ system like that being implemented in Barcelona? And how might logistical industries adapt to this new urban structure?
Augmented Reality (something that personally holds much more interest than VR) is changing, and will continue to change, the way people interact with public space. Will this technology and others eventually allow us to remove signage from streets? And in turn will landmarks and lines of sight become increasingly more relevant to our cityscapes once more?
Distributed manufacturing, facilitated by what has been coined ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’, may indeed, along with peer-to-peer lending opportunities, assist custom builders and smaller developers to feasibly develop overlooked sites. This of course will help to intensify land use within our cities and meet the housing shortage. Is this the best route forward? Should we encourage or restrict what to some might appear as ad hoc development?
…the most influential innovations are born out of a hybrid of technology and the real world, technology and humans, technology and the built environment.
Whilst technological innovations might require complex algorithms and softwares, innovations in planning are often about system and process. Too often it seems technology is left out of the equation. It does not have to be one or the other; the most influential innovations are born out of a hybrid of technology and the real world, technology and humans, technology and the built environment. Perhaps then it is no coincidence that property technology is finally being unearthed as the next ‘tech’ sector. And this can help us prepare for the entire landscape of issues we face.
This article was originally posted by Urban Intelligence’s Business Development Director, Ronan O’Boyle, on LinkedIn (November 29th 2016).
Author: Ronan O’Boyle
Ronan holds a Master of Architecture (UCD, Dublin) as well as a MSc. International Real Estate & Planning (UCL Bartlett). He previously worked with award winning architectural firms in Shanghai, Dublin and San Francisco. He leads our business development and customer relationship operations, helping to work customer feedback into the development of our products.