This is what resilient real estate looks like

24 Feb 2021

As Executive Director of Resilient Cities Network, Lauren Sorkin oversees global efforts to strengthen cities in the face of the complex and interconnected challenges they face. In this guest piece for Green Building Voice, Lauren says we’re seeing the first glimpses of a future property sector, one that is more resilient, equitable, climate sensitive and integrated.

The future is now. From floating apartments in the Netherlands, to Russia’s Hypercube, to levitating homes in Japan, real estate is proving dynamic and responsive. Striving to meet the changing needs of people, communities, and the planet, traditional industries are transforming and harnessing innovative solutions that can deliver results to address multi-faceted challenges.

The greatest priority of our time is resilient communities. Communities that can flex under unforeseen pressures. Systems that are redundant in the face of outages. People that value inclusion as the key to survival. The real estate sector has the potential to provide some of the biggest advances here, through sustainable development, circular economy procurement, and climate change mitigation. There is incredible opportunity for this sector to deliver results toward the aim of net-zero carbon cities, combat the urban heat island effect, as well as to insulate and shelter urban dwellers from inevitable future shocks and stresses.

Developing resilient communities requires understanding how the demand and preferences for built space is changing. The COVID-19 pandemic has expedited several trends, such as the future of work drifting away from traditional offices and the 9-5 model. The pandemic has caused individuals to not only change how we think about work and professional interactions, but also the spaces where we live and play. Real estate is central to all we do – from the houses we live in, to the offices we cohabitate, to the social facilities where we congregate. The pandemic has provided an opportunity for reimagining real estate in a more resilient manner – equitable, climate sensitive, and integrated. 

The next generation is looking for more equitable spaces, more flexible multi-use, car-free neighbourhoods, more technology for remote workers and to access remote family around the world. More live-work options. There is increasing demand for the convergence of spaces where we can – at the same time - live, work, recreate, social distance and improve wellbeing – all aided by technology. In this type of development there is the opportunity for collaboration with other sectors such as education, healthcare, hospitality and infrastructure to create more multifunctional and cohesive spaces. This is integrated, multi-disciplinary thinking is only accomplished through the lens of resilience.

Building resilient communities means thinking about real estate as an integrated part of larger city eco-systems. Ensuring that future development is inclusive, redundant, flexible, and integrated. Businesses and entrepreneurs in the real estate sector, for instance, can pioneer developments in resource-efficiency, carbon neutrality, waste management and water consumption, among many other processes throughout the lifecycle of a building that matter for the long-term resilience of the wider community.

Resilient cities like Paris are shifting towards the “15-minute city” model, where housing, education, work, leisure, and healthcare exist in one neighborhood. While this may improve social cohesion, on a larger scale, it embraces redundancy – while one neighborhood may be facing a shock, such as a flood, other neighborhoods may continue to thrive, thus adding no further stress to the city’s economy and the wellbeing of the masses. Shifts in cities like this create an opportunity for real estate to be increasingly resourceful, flexible, and mixed-use and therefore resilient.

We have before us an incredible opportunity to pause and reset the way we go about our daily lives. The innovations employed going forward must ensure a resilient approach to recovery and development that considers the linkages between sectors and solutions, such as equity and climate as interlinked. The defining challenge of our generation is to transform cities, development patterns, and the real estate sector in a manner that can address multi-faceted problems, offer innovative solutions to meet interrelated demands, in a word establish the resilient communities that strive in the face of future shocks and stresses.