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The Future of Housing/The Future of Cities, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

One thing is clear for the future:  in a world that is forecast to grow in population from around 8 billion in 2023 to as many as 10 billion in 2050, the Earth’s biggest metropolitan areas will be under intense pressure to provide services and housing that will meet ever-changing needs of residents and businesses.  Infrastructure investment will be needed in massive amounts for improvement and replacement of water, sewer, transportation and other public service systems.  Many city planners are assuming that there is a practical limit to the growth of giant cities.  In China and India, for example, vast migration from low-income rural areas to cities with better economic prospects has created stellar growth in the largest cities.  The result, in many cases, has been traffic congestion and unbearable air pollution.
China is attempting to control this growth by creating entirely new population centers.  Part of the plan is the eventual creation of one massive population center out of a nine-city region in the Pearl River Delta, in Southern China.  Infrastructure investment, such as high-speed railways, will be continued in a way that will encourage growth in several regions of the nation, including remote areas.  Beijing itself will be the economic center of an 82,000-square-mile megaregion called Jing-Jin-Ji that will eventually hold 130 million people.
In the U.S., the Metropolitan Institute (MI) at Virginia Tech University has done extensive research into what it calls “megapolitans;” that is, regional concentrations of population totaling 10 million people (now or by 2040) that comprise two or more contiguous metropolitan areas and feature other selected characteristics.
MI finds that 10 megapolitan areas exist within the U.S. today, comprising less than 20% of all land area in the lower 48 states, but holding almost 200 million people, about 66% of total U.S. population. By 2040, MI projects that these 10 areas will add 83 million additional residents and will attract more than 75% of all private real estate development investments from 2003 to 2040, or about $33 trillion.
MI lists the 10 megapolitans as 1) Cascadia in the Seattle/Portland area of the Pacific Northwest; 2) NorCal in Northern California; 3) Southland in Southern California; 4) Valley of the Sun in the Phoenix/Tucson area; 5) I-35 Corridor stretching from Dallas-Ft. Worth through central Oklahoma and parts of Kansas; 6) Gulf Coast comprising the coastal areas of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama; 7) Peninsula comprising all of Southern and Central Florida; 8) Piedmont in Central Georgia, the Carolinas, and nearby metro areas; 9) Northeast in the Northeast Corridor of the U.S.; and 10) Midwest in Chicago and the surrounding Midwestern metro areas.
Urban vs. Suburban:  It is not yet clear what the long-term effect of the Coronavirus pandemic will be on metropolitan areas, suburban sprawl and building design for the future.  Certainly, there is at least a mid-term trend toward working from home, for those whose careers will allow it.  Advancing technologies, such as video conferencing, support this trend, along with the desire for social distancing.  Work from home also has the positive effects of eliminating traffic congestion, time wasted in commuting and pollution from car exhaust.  However, it is challenging to maintain collaboration and innovation in a work from home strategy, and many people simply want to go to the office to be around their co-workers.
Nonetheless, there is likely to be long-term demand for dedicated, quiet work or hobby spaces in both single-family homes and apartments.  Also, even after vaccines for the Coronavirus are developed, there may be a long-term growth in interest in living in smaller cities and suburban areas where future pandemics cannot spread as quickly.
Dense population areas where people live and work close together foster the use of bicycles, public transportation and walking to get from place to place.  They offer compact opportunities for shopping, dining, education, sports events and cultural events.
Some analysts previously projected that aging Baby Boomers will desire smaller, urban homes as they age—homes that are easier to care for and less expensive to operate than their suburban houses on large lots.  The concern is that such a trend could lead to mass migration from the suburbs into the city, leaving millions of empty homes on large lots.  Likewise, some analysts have projected that younger people will forever shun the old model of large, single-family, suburban homes, opting instead to live in cities.  However, recent trends indicate that large numbers of Americans continue to yearn for single-family homes on large lots in the suburbs.
In the long run, urban living in densely packed areas faces significant competition.  Advanced communication technologies centered on the internet will continue to evolve quickly, making it more and more effective to work remotely while collaborating with associates, customers and suppliers who are far away.  Households are also able to use advances in communications to stay in touch with far-flung family and friends.  This encourages many people to live in the suburbs, or in communities with smaller populations that may offer better recreation, cleaner air, lower crime rates, better weather and/or better public education than they would find in major cities.
This is causing large numbers of knowledge workers to relocate to cities such as Boise, Idaho or the Spokane, Washington area.  Communities that are even more rural, such as Taos, New Mexico or Grand Junction, Colorado are finding an influx of knowledge workers who realize that they can live nearly anywhere that suits their unique individual tastes and budgets, as long as they have very fast internet access and reasonable proximity to a major airport.  This trend is already very evident in the rapidly growing small metro area of Bryan-College Station, Texas, and throughout popular small cities in Idaho, Utah and Florida.
While a large number of younger Americans seek out the employment and social activities of dense urban living while they are single, they also have the potential to fuel immense demand for suburban homes, with larger lots and access to public schools and public safety that are often much better than those found in major cities. 
Several major cities that have long been automobile transportation-intense are now experimenting with advanced urban light rail, with good success.  Young people, aged 18 to 34, have a strong interest in public transportation, according to studies by the National Association of Realtors and Portland State University.  Cities like Los Angeles and Denver are developing highly popular urban train systems.  Part of the success in this trend lies in municipal encouragement of mixed-use real estate development near train stations, giving residents the ability to walk to shopping, dining and other amenities, from dense housing units clustered around train stops. 
Mega-Regions:  On a global scale, the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto defines 40 mega-regions around the world that collectively power the global economy.  While home to one-fifth of the world’s population, these mega-regions produce two-thirds of global economic output and more than 85% of global innovation.  Major mega-regions include Greater Tokyo (55 million people) and the 500-mile Boston-Washington corridor (54 million people).  Other regions of note include Chicago to Pittsburgh, Los Angeles to San Diego and the areas around global centers such as Amsterdam, London and Bangalore and Mumbai.
Green Construction and Factory-Built House Components: Sustainability and energy efficiency will be of ever-growing importance in the residential and commercial buildings of the future.  This will be driven by several imperatives, including consumer interest in green initiatives; local, regional and national legislation and tax incentives; along with what is often seen to be an excellent return on investment for properties that use less energy and water, create less waste and have a more positive impact on the environment.  Both building design and the growing availability of ever more sustainable building materials, appliances, heating and air conditioning systems will boost this trend.
Prefabricated building components, created in factories and assembled on site, are likely to become more common, as are large portions of houses that are factory-built and then bolted together on the site to quickly build a finalized home.  “Panelization” is the practice of building and assembling elements such as walls and staircases off-site at a factory and then trucking them to a home site for assembly.  PulteGroup, one of the largest homebuilders in the U.S., is embracing the practice, as are many major builders across the nation.  The use of robotics in such factories will become more widespread.  Meanwhile, a growing number of startup firms are experimenting with using 3D printing technologies to empower robotic arms that create wall units quickly using concrete and other materials.
With Baby Boomers reaching retirement age while enjoying lengthy expected life spans, many families are seeing the economic and support advantages of having the oldest generation living on the same property with a younger generation (possibly with children/grandchildren at home, as well).  Builders and zoning authorities in many cities are now creating designs specifically for these situations.  An example would be a main house that has a smaller, fully equipped unit attached, where the oldest generation could enjoy its own living space and some privacy, while they could also walk easily through the door to join the children and grandchildren on a regular basis.


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