And other lessons in flexibility and Real Estate.

This year at ULI ’s (Urban Land Institute’s) U.K Annual Conference, a large part of the theme was flexibility,  at levels both big and small. Where it has relevance to what we do, is in the built form of course, and the need to be flexible in what we build. In fact, a huge takeaway was the sentiment that what’s needed to make real estate flexible and adaptable is primarily great architecture and great design.

We often say that “we are what we build,” but the reverse is equally true. We also build what we are. And in fact, with foresight and hindsight from critical data, we are able to build for what we will become. Flexibility and adaptability in infrastructure is critical. It must adapt and predict how people choose to live in their homes, whether they be 8 or 80. (that in itself, is a design philosophy that I love and believe we should cater to).


If you look at how we’ve built our homes over the last decade or two, you can see a shift in lifestyle that dictates and influences our design, both in suite as well as shared spaces.  Just think back to the “home office.” Home offices have virtually become any area of our living space. With the asset of technology, faster speed and accessibility of wifi, it knows no boundaries. It’s a great example of what the ULI conference noted as the “fourth industrial revolution”  characterized by the effects of the internet and communications age, which has resulted in increased self-employment and remote working. There’s also that associated craving for a third space.

third space

Here’s another evolution that’s happening before our eyes.  The Dining Room and/or kitchen table. Not only is the kitchen table (if there in fact is one) multipurpose and shrinking, in some cases it’s disappeared, in the traditional sense. Here are some very revealing photos of how people in two of the largest urban cities eat dinner amidst the chaos of contemporary life.  When I was growing up, the family dinner table used to be a sacred place and time. You can likely agree that things have changed, and I’m not certain it’s for the better. (There are some said benefits and a reason to fight to reinstate the family dinner.)  I don’t even think the LAN line requires a discussion. A what??

As for amenity space – a predominant theme we’re starting to see and become widespread is family friendly. As more families turn to vertical living, we need to dedicate the spaces that they require to live “well.” We’ve done that.

Amenities also are transforming from “hard” and tangible infrastructure, to those that we can’t touch and feel, but are equally, if not more important.  The number one amenity these days is clearly connectivity. It takes time, talent, space and of course funds, to make sure your signal gets through immense amount of concrete and that residents have five full bars on their phone, anywhere in the building. We’ve started to do that. We need to continue to build homes that we ourselves would want to live in.

Offices and commercial space are also offering more flexibility. Building infrastructure has to adapt to how people work as well. Look at Boston Consulting Groups  new office space with “Landing Zones,” Team Rooms,” cafes, quiet rooms and “assigned & book-able” private offices with very few cubicles.  More and more, work spaces are being designed with the purpose of promoting cohesion and collaboration, even though we know it’s not a one size fits all.

Finally, there’s also been a recent demonstration of the need for flexibility in zoning. An issue from NRU (Novae Res Urbis) earlier this month discussed the need to look at some flexibility with zoning by law in Oakville that does not allow balconies or decks above the first storey in residential zones that are often detached, single family on larger properties.  There was an overarching refusal of minor variance applications, even in circumstances where it was deemed to have no negative impact. City Council decided to get curious about it, research zoning regulations in older areas and look at opportunities to revise the bylaws to strike a balance that would increase availability to outdoor living space with non-disruption to neighbouring residents and privacy concerns. The Ward Councillors sentiment was that they were essentially “boxing [themselves] into a bit of a corner and not allowing [themselves] much flexibility to approve good ideas as they came along.”

It almost seems like a no-brainer. Who could argue that flexibility is anything but a good thing? It can drastically extend our reach .  Just look at the results of exercising flexibility every day in terms of the human body. Each day you can go a little bit further. Now imagine the results if we practiced that in every area of our industry.


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