We are living in an era where demand for housing is more diversified than ever. In response to this, innovation is burgeoning across a range of areas to help improve the way we build, live, invest, and sustain. However, the traditional housing sector as a whole is slow in responding to or adopting new ideas and innovation. Connected Places Catapult’s City Planning Researcher Bin Guan asks how the sector can embrace this coming disruption?
We need to talk about housing
The world is changing at a rate that is actually accelerating. There will be 1 billion more of us added to the world’s population by 2030, and 2.2 billion more by 2050. Life expectancy is increasing too – we’re all getting older! – particularly in the most developed countries. Resources are tightening, we need to re-think where we source our energy and how much of it we consume, and availability of land on which we can build is becoming scarcer all the time.
But we all need somewhere we can call home. There’s no way around that. So we need a housing programme that factors in all of the above – not to mention whatever might yet be coming around the corner. This is a complex and ever-evolving challenge that we simply HAVE to find solutions for.
Housing: ‘Home’ is where its heart is
‘Future of Housing’ is a BIG idea, so before we set out, it would be a good idea to define exactly what we actually mean when we say ‘Housing’. I believe that it’s critical in the first instance that the base-unit of our thinking in this space is the idea of the individual home. However, we must then move outwards in our thinking to incorporate the broader housing ecosystem; the wider network encompassing streets, high streets and, above all else, the community whose needs housing has to meet.
So, while it might be easy to approach all of this with our infrastructural hats on, I would argue that for any innovation to succeed in this space, for it to create the requisite demand and uptake, we need to put people first. If what we develop doesn’t work for those who need it, (and by ‘work’ I mean emotionally and socially as much as practically, perhaps even more so) then it’s dead in the water and we will have failed.
This is why we’re so keen to get involved. User insight and user-centred design is what we do here at Future Cities Catapult. By applying our human–centred design approach, we can support the drive towards the kind of integrated innovation the housing ecosystem so urgently requires.
Who are ‘we’?
As well as establishing the broader definition of ‘housing’ outlined above, we need to also be clear on who this should involve. I’ve already indicated how we need to put people at the heart of it all, but who else do we need around the table?
Everyone from innovators and housing developers to central and local government, building regulators, rent and social landlords, private renting landlords, tenants and homeowners, not to mention charities, SMEs and academia – all these players should be involved in the process. Only then might we be able to fully explore and redefine ‘housing’ issues like development, engineering, planning and architecture, and the economics of the financing and funding models that underpins it all.
We need to look at the whole thing, from the ground up, and key to that is working with others who want to be or are already active in this space. That’s why we’re convening this initiative and inviting all of you to get involved.
The mountain housing needs to climb
In the face of rapid population growth, demographic shifts, climate change and resource limits, cities across the world are struggling to deliver housing. And on top of this, these urban areas are growing. The UK population is now 83% city-based and will be over 90% by 2030. Globally, 55% of the world’s population is urban and that will rise to nearly 70% by 2050.
This growing population is also ageing, and if our health services are to cope, older people need to live healthier, more independent lives for longer. The suitable housing, and the right kind of support systems are essential for independent living as we age. And right now, we are poorly prepared for this.
Not only do we need to build more homes faster, but we also need to:
- Make them more energy efficient
- Make them more resilient to climate change
- Develop adaptability for changing use and an ageing population
- Enshrine the ideal of affordability for the end user
- Refurbish older properties to meet future needs quickly and efficiently
- Improve the safety, comfort and convenience of home living
- Explore new sources of funding to support house building
- Facilitate property management and community engagement
- Empower buyers and renters to find new homes more efficiently
- You can find out more about the importance of these nine pillars by visiting our Housing Innovation map.
Daunting? For sure. Achievable? We think so. Where the technology isn’t already available, it’s certainly both conceivable and deliverable. We – the industry – just need to put our heads together and start making it.
So, there are big challenges ahead, and there is no time like the present. Our plan is to hit the ground running and to invite partners across the ecosystem – innovators, businesses, planners, investors, government, communities – to start putting their heads together, accessing finance, and getting to work.
We will shortly be announcing the dates and agenda for our Housing Tech week, where will start unveiling project partnerships, open calls, and innovation opportunities and everyone with a stake in housing can connect and get to work on projects that will shape its future.
We will also be unveiling a dedicated Future of Housing space on our website, where we have broken the initiative into nine key focus areas: Connected Homes, Low-Carbon Homes, Shared Living, Assisted Living, Modern Construction Methods, Property Management Tools, Immersive Applications, Location Intelligence, and Innovative Financing. Anyone working in any of these fields is warmly invited to get involved.
Over the coming weeks and months, we will also be publishing blogs from other thought leaders in this space, as well as welcoming notable guest-speakers to present lectures and host networking events.
If you have any thoughts related to any of these areas and would like to contribute your voice to the conversation, please get in touch and we will happily offer you a platform from which to share your ideas.
These are exciting times for innovation, and housing is an area rich with opportunity. We’re looking forward to collaborating with you all as we work to make homes for everyone that have personal, social and environmental wellbeing at their core, and are both affordable and deliverable at any scale.
Stay up to date with our work on in this area by visiting out Future of Housing hub where you’ll be able to find the latest reports, blogs and statements from the team here.