Constructing the Future

Photo by Christopher Burns on Unsplash

By Martin Adler, PhD, Partner, Hoag+Co.

THE ROAD AHEAD

The autonomous vehicle revolution is transforming mobility, and with it, urban infrastructure and the entire construction and real estate industry.

Tesla’s Boring Company tunneling under LA; Google’s Sidewalk building a neighborhood-sized laboratory in Toronto; Toyota’s Woven City in the foothills of Mt. Fuji.

The writing is on the wall:

Photo by Bruno Bergher on Unsplash

Big tech is investing in the real estate sector while mobility companies try their luck with municipalities and construction work. Are these just outliers, or the first signs of a much larger trend?

Of course, the reader might easily feel swayed to think that a global pandemic makes transitions slower. Long-heralded emerging mobilities are far beyond the horizon, their prospective producers faced with ‘Schumpeterian’ destruction[1]. So far the construction sector has avoided any major change triggered by mobility.

It is prudent to expect the imminent proliferation of Level 3 vehicle automation on the streets.

Lowered expectations about a group of novel technologies following an initial enthusiastic euphoria about their debut is a prime example of the Gartner Hype Cycle[2]. The Cycle provides a fantastic explanation why it is prudent to expect the imminent proliferation of Level 3 vehicle automation on the streets. While wide-spread full automation (Level 5) is still at least 10 years in the future, semi-autonomous driving is already installed in the newest vehicle fleets.

Gartner Hype Cycle on Wikipedia
Gartner Hype Cycle on Wikipedia

In addition to autonomous vehicles, new mobility services like bike sharing apps; bike leasing[3] concepts; electric scooters; and electric ride hailing are emerging at a previously unimaginable pace. Mobility as a service (MaaS) will allow for multimodal, high-speed intercity travel with a mix of individual and shared services on the last mile.

Car ownership in Asian countries is forecasted to decline rapidly[4] and plateau in the West over the next decade. How this is food for thought for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) is easy enough to see; but how is this related to construction and the built environment?

TOMORROW’S REAL ESTATE

The built environment contains travel infrastructure that includes our highways and bike lanes and pavement that connect work and home, leisure and family. When we think of the roads that we have constructed,we notice that these were adapted to the mobility technology at the time of their construction, now representing laughably anachronistic things in today’s ever-congested world.

Rome now represents two millennia of unresolved gridlock.

Small streets might have connected ancient Rome on top of which we built large, multi-lane avenues to allow for motorized traffic in the modern era. And while ancient Rome was stuck in traffic, so is modern Rome one of the most congested European metropolises, now representing two millennia of unresolved gridlock.

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

As a citizen and traffic participant, we more or less choose our residence location according to many criteria, but access to family, work and play will be top priority. Does the location have public transport or airport access? How long does it take to find parking? Is there a Starbucks?

The public and private sectors react to such preferences of individuals by supplying a mix of housing and office interlinked by mobility infrastructure. When employment shifts, so do houses and roads, providing an oscillation of adjustments in built and socio-economic environments.

Since emerging mobility fundamentally alters price, supply and comfort of travel, consumers and construction adjust. Real estate prices respond and give an indication to future construction projects. Hence, when we think of autonomous vehicles (AVs) and emerging mobility, we should see them as a direct boon to construction activity.

84% of companies do not consider themselves prepared for autonomous vehicles.

ROADS TO SUCCESS

According to a survey by a consultancy provider, more than three quarters of companies think they will be affected by changes in mobility such as autonomous vehicles but 84% of companies do not consider themselves prepared.[1]

This under preparedness of traditional companies with the looming tech and mobility revolution enables the perfect storm.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

But in every challenging environment there is opportunity. Infrastructure needs to be adjusted to new circumstances such as vehicle-to-infrastructure communication; new technologies provide new ways to build. A deep understanding of the upcoming transformations enables us to provide the products that customers search for.

How to provide more floor space and cheaper living with dynamic supply of parking space in urban areas? Which neighborhoods need flexible hub structures that deliver mobility but also customer experience? How will regulation shape the big picture?

These questions need answers when preparing the short-, medium-, and long-term success strategies crucial now and in the two decades to come.

Martin Adler, PhD is an expert on transport and urban economics, award winning scholar, and entrepreneur. Martin has extensive knowledge and experience on the topics of emerging technologies, autonomous vehicles, real estate and road infrastructure, and has worked for clients such as the EU commission; the OECD; national ministries; Nissan and Dropbox. He is founder and partner at Hoag+Co., a global autonomous vehicles and mobility strategy consulting firm, where he is organizing a webinar on these issues together with H+C. co-founder Marc Hoag.

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