Tools to manage resources efficiently, spaces for communal use, technological systems implementation and services: these are some of the ways we can improve our communities in an ever-changing world. Besides delivering a superior quality of life, these initiatives can also give new strength to a sector that is central to the economy.
A considerable wealth of information has been captured as a result of the global experience of the pandemic. Companies have been driven to rethink the way they operate, and governments reconsider how healthcare is managed and delivered. As such, it is also necessary to reimagine community life and the quality of existing residential housing stock.
The health emergency has amplified shortcomings that were already evident. Change is needed – not just to deal more effectively with future emergencies, but because, in recent months, people have become more aware of their needs and the inadequacy of their housing situation.
While new environmental and social sensitivities have emerged over the last years, real estate supply has remained pretty much the same. This is likely due to the demand for innovation when buying a house not having followed that of other goods, like cars and smartphones. The shock of the pandemic has heavily impacted people’s lives across the world, and could now accelerate a change in demand, forcing the supply to evolve towards a new way of designing and building community life.
In practice, there are four categories of innovative interventions which can improve life in residential neighbourhoods and condominiums: efficient management of resources, design of spaces for collective use; use of digital technologies; and services for community well-being. Examples are listed below:
Resource efficiency: real-time information on electricity, heating and water consumption accessible to residents through their smartphone or tablet device; community composters; smart IoT systems that can regulate the irrigation of green areas; energy-efficient solutions applied to roofs of buildings.
Collective spaces: rooms equipped for sheltering and repairing bicycles; common spaces that residents can book for private activities or community events; car-sharing initiatives.
Digital technologies: fibre optic networks to make homeworking more efficient; free Wi-Fi hotspots in common or green areas; low-power long-range radio frequency networks that monitor and control services through sensors; energy-saving lighting systems; neighbourhood apps which facilitate collaboration between residents in the community, and provide access to innovative services and the condominium’s data.
Community well-being: innovative neighbourhood concierge who provides remote assistance to residents; video surveillance systems; local air quality monitoring systems; bookcrossing initiatives; spaces to borrow tools that are not used every day by residents, such as power drills and sanders.
If we compare these innovations to today’s average housing situation, we realise that the room for intervention is extensive. While not everything may be feasible in residences conceived twenty or thirty years ago, there is certainly a lot that can be done now.
I can almost hear the objections: it’s all very nice, but what about the cost? Can real estate, with the prospect of having to face the impact of the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, take this innovative direction?
Which users, today and in the medium-term, will ever be able to afford innovation? Are those with lower than average incomes, and who likely live in low-quality housing, prevented from accessing innovation and technology?
Planet Smart City’s experience in its ongoing projects in Italy, Brazil and India tells us that integrating innovative solutions like those mentioned above into large projects increases construction costs by an average of only 2-3%. This rise in cost could then be offset by the growing appeal of the real estate product since buyers would perceive it as innovative and, in the medium term, less expensive to manage.
To conclude, not only does innovation improve people’s quality of life, but it can also bring benefits to developers, construction companies, and property owners, by helping the real estate industry face this difficult phase in the market.
Co-founder and Global CEO