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 – traffic control, environmental protection, energy, sanitation, healthcare, security and buildings.
Future smart cities promise to harmonise 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.
What might the implications be for property rental models when we can access ‘perfect information’ about a home, its neighbours, every facet of our lives? Rohit Talwar, Fast Future.
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 organised 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/neighbourhood level, for example – coming to agreement on what a liveable 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 data about population patterns, such as water use and traffic flows. This 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? Questions need ironing out concerning freedom, surveillance and privacy in smart cities. Interesting recent developments, such as court admission of evidence collected by a smart home assistant, remind us that smart technologies could evolve in ways that could jeopardise 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. 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 behavioural 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 home may be wired for calling up a self-driving taxi when it is time to leave for work, for example. Smart home products 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 intruders, or unlock the door for expected guests using facial recognition cameras. Homeowners will find themselves becoming a hub in a citywide 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 neighbours, the neighbourhood, 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 alternate 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 centralised 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 channelling science and technology advances into the creation of a very human future in the city of tomorrow.
About the authors
The authors are futurists with Fast Future specialising in the impacts of emerging change. Fast Future publishes books from future thinkers exploring how AI, robotics and disruptive thinking could impact individuals, society and business and create new trillion-dollar sectors. Fast Future has a focus on ensuring advances are harnessed to unleash individual potential and enable a human future.
Rohit Talwar is a global futurist, keynote speaker, author, and CEO of Fast Future where he helps clients develop and deliver transformative visions of the future. He is the editor and contributing author for The Future of Business, editor of Technology vs. Humanity, and co-editor of a forthcoming book on Unleashing Human Potential–The Future of AI in Business.
Steve Wells is the COO of Fast Future and an experienced Strategist, Futures Analyst, and Partnership Working Practitioner. He is a co-editor of The Future of Business, Technology vs. Humanity and a forthcoming book on Unleashing Human Potential–The Future of AI in Business.
Alexandra Whittington is the foresight director at Fast Future. A futurist, writer and faculty member on the Futures programme at the University of Houston. She is a contributor to The Future of Business and a co-editor for forthcoming books on Unleashing Human Potential– The Future of AI in Business and 50:50–Scenarios for the Next 50 Years.
Maria Romero is a futurist and foresight researcher. A recent graduate from the University of Houston Master in Foresight, Maria has worked on projects for consultants, NGOs, for-profit organisations, and government clients. She is currently working on a study of AI in business.