It’s garbage day. It’s also Boxing Day. Ironically, I have a lot of boxes to throw out because it seems that every year, I accumulate more garbage around this time. I’m also buying more of my Christmas gifts online to avoid the hassle and headache of bricks and mortar. And it seems very clear that there’s a correlation between increased garbage and online shopping.

Each item I buy comes wrapped not once, but twice—first by the manufacturer and then in that nice, familiar package with a smile with an arrow at one end. The package is either a manila envelope (size permitting) or a larger cardboard box—and most often (and conveniently) it comes in a truck and is delivered right to my doorstep. (I’ve since learned the “smile” is an arrow pointing from A to Z in the word “Amazon” indicating that you can buy everything in between.)

The Price of Convenience

There is a price to pay for convenience though. Not the kind we see in our bank statement, but the kind that we’ll leave for the generation behind us.

We live in an era where we look for ease and convenience as a remedy to for being time poor. We live in a city with a cost of living that isn’t as high as other cities, but it’s still very high. And so, we look for ways to save with our wallet. Online shopping attempts to “bridge the distance” between a large pain point for people’s purchase of physical goods and their cost. For the most part and for many of us, it’s hard to resist. And the delivery (while somewhat built into the price of products) is free. Or is it?

According to the PwC 2019 Emerging Trends in Real Estate it’s taxpayers that are paying the price. And not just in B2C purchases, B2B is having an impact as well. As retail and commercial spaces push the cost of “just in time” management down the supply chain, we are all exposed to the consequences.

This includes an increase in the volume of goods traffic, which, according to the report, has doubled in the United States. In fact, vehicle miles there increased 80% despite the population lagging at a mere 24%. The most visible effects are potholes, poor road conditions and traffic congestion which we all face, regardless of which end of the transaction we’re on, if any.  Our air quality is also impacted, when you think of idling vehicles pulled up on the side of the road. Perhaps the greatest financial impact is the reduced lifespan of our infrastructure and roadways.

The Delivery Habit – Impacts on City Living

From one perspective, we thought we were doing a good thing by aggregating demand and delivery and removing single car drives to the mall. But hindsight teaches us what we can’t foresee. And now it’s become a habit – and as we know, habits are hard to break. So, we’ll have to work on improving. Surely drones will play an important part. Perhaps pricing will creep up as well, as a disincentive, which has in London. Maybe the solution that peaked my interest the most, as a developer playing a role in shaping the fabric of our city, is the concept of solutions that are preplanned with urban design. Such is the case in Chicago, Seattle, Detroit and Minneapolis where alleys and off-street loading areas are being created to accommodate delivery isolated from curbside traffic lanes.

Speaking of building in solutions, another factor related to convenience is the need for larger parcel rooms in vertical spaces, to keep up with every day deliveries, not only around the holidays. This comes at a cost to developers of course, who prefer to make valuable square footage sellable. (I’m still wondering when the day will come that we’ll be able to sacrifice the mail slots that get used less and less. Mail seems to be in the same category as cheques—on the cusp of being obsolete.)

The PwC report says storage is also becoming an issue for hospitality business, “While more space inside the box generates revenue, an obvious need exists for non-revenue-generating support space.” The same applies to residential homes whether they are purpose-built rentals or condominiums. This is a trend that’s not going to go away. Making sellable space, shareable space also happens to be the subject of my next post. Thanks for reading…stay tuned.


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