In my home city of Birmingham, there’s a new wave of development driven by HS2 and the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Public and private money will pour in, and we want it well spent.
Trouble is, the pace of socio-economic change is so fast that there is a serious risk of getting business-as-usual investment wrong.
At what point do we start doing things differently?
Japan launched a utopian vision for taking what’s best about deep digital interconnectedness to make life better for civil society. They call it Society 5.0. It anticipates what will be needed in the future, and it is pregnant with potential for us in the built environment.
The theory goes as follows. With the rise of ICT, society in all its diversity is leaving a sprawling data footprint. From GPS tracking to transactional trails to the fuzzy overlay of likes and search terms on social media, cyberspace is strewn with data.
This footprint is already packed with value, but by adding sensors to our environment, we can increase its usefulness. All you have to do is process it and use the lessons to produce things that citizens need or want.
Among the many beneficial effects for the construction industry, two stand out.
First, it will throw the disparity between what designers intended and the reality of how assets are used into sharp focus. This is the Holy Grail for property development: a way to validate investments with in-use feedback in a way that allows continuous improvement.
Second, it allows us to track trends, improving the signal to noise ratio and thus allowing us to predict the direction of change with more accuracy.
This changes everything.
It allows genuine optimisation not just of M&E services but the qualitative experience of buildings, something we’re keen on through our Inhabitant project. For example, if happiness quotients are higher among people who walk to work compared to those who don’t, how should that affect the workplace? What does it say about planning zones?
It allows us to cut out waste and create genuinely sustainable communities. If we design only what’s needed, how much more does that limit climate change and environmental degradation?
It will revolutionize the ponderous bureaucracy of the planning system, instead making it truly responsive to the current and future needs of local citizens. With a real-time view of socio-economic trends and local needs, can the largely artificial use classes developed in the 20th century give way to twenty-first century tailoring?
Clearly, data is neutral. What counts is how we use it. Utopia or dystopia, it’s down to us. The Roslings’ Factfulness project has taught us that humans around the world have transformed their quality of life for the good over the past 60 years. This offers hope for the next phase of our development.
The data capital is there. We – architects, builders, developers, investors, regulators and insurers – can see its potential for good. At what point do we make use of it?
Ian Tipton’s #shapingfutureplaces essay: New build is fundamental to achieving placemaking can be read in our book 10 Essays to Shape Future Places – request your free copy here
Ian is also speaking at “Birmingham’s Bright Future“, Estate’s Gazette Question Time, on Thursday 28th February from 17.30