For Investors, Property Tech Goes Far Beyond a Smart Home

At first listen, the term “property tech” seems to fit comfortably within the context of ultra-luxurious modernism. We picture something at home within sleek glass-and-metal walls and minimalist design. We imagine an -powered abode where the temperature, light, and -connected outlets can be adjusted with a few smartphone taps or an offhand remark, and a security app allows you to video chat doorstep visitors from halfway around the world.

These products align with the average consumer’s idea of residential technology. But for those in the commercial real estate sector, “property tech” has an entirely different definition — one far removed from the realm of modernist homeowners and IoT-enthusiasts. In fact, far from being an unnecessary luxury, property tech stands a good chance of revolutionizing commercial real estate at every point, from development to sales to property management.

Prop Tech: A Promising New Frontier for Commercial Real Estate

As defined by Tech Target,  refers to the “use of information technology (IT) to help individuals and companies research, buy, sell, and manage real estate.” Innovative PropTech solutions are usually designed to facilitate greater efficiency and connectivity in the real estate market, allowing consumers and vendors at all levels to achieve their goals quickly and at high quality. While PropTech capabilities vary widely across products, they tend to fall into three broad categories: smart home, real estate sharing, and .

The first category encompasses the majority of the IoT-powered home devices mentioned at the top of this piece — the smart thermostats, remotely-controlled home systems, and digital security solutions. Real estate sharing refers to online platforms like Airbnb, Redfin, and Zillow, which facilitate the advertisement and sale of real-world properties. The last term is all but self-explanatory; “fintech” references any tool that assists in real estate financial management or transactions.

The potential that PropTech holds to reform the commercial real estate sector is off the charts — and investors know it. According to a recent , global investment in real estate technology netted an incredible $12.6 billion across 347 deals in 2017 alone, $6.5 billion of which funneled directly to U.S.-based companies. Re:Tech researchers further noted that investment trends indicated a great deal of early interest in untested PropTech solutions, with early-stage companies receiving “the lion’s share” of funding dollars.

Early Successes Illustrate High Potential

This flurry of investor interest isn’t without basis. The PropTech sector has seen runaway growth and concrete success in recent years; aside from the evident popularity of digital-forward platforms like Airbnb and Zillow in the rental and buying markets, adoption of smart home technology has reached a fever pitch. Deloitte reports that sensor deployment in real estate is projected to grow at a  and will likely top 1.3 billion in 2020.

Some companies have even incorporated cutting-edge PropTech innovations into their business model to remarkable success. Take the Texas-based real estate investment firm Amherst Holdings as an example. Last year, Forbes profiled  and data modeling during the asset identification process, noting how Amherst used AI not only to discover investment properties, but also to make dozens of offers per day on potentially lucrative homes. The strategy has paid off; today, the investment firm is thriving, and its portfolio encompasses an incredible 16,000 homes across the American Sunbelt region.

New York: A New Sandbox for PropTech Creativity?

Now, however, companies may not need to foray into PropTech testing without support. Last November, New York announced that it would launch a pilot program that would allow PropTech startups to trial their products via NYC’s portfolio of public properties.  in a press release, “The New York City Economic Development Corporation will launch a pilot program that allows companies to implement proof-of-concept property technology products in the city’s 326.1 million square feet of owned and managed real estate.”

“We want to make our buildings available to incentivize the kinds of innovations that you are all out there working on day in and day out,” Vicki Been, the deputy mayor for housing and development, commented. “We want our buildings and our tenants to be helpful to you, and provide a way to test some of the ideas that you are developing so that we can get those ideas out to the market and into buildings even faster.”

In this way, the city is offering itself up as an innovation sandbox, a place where real estate innovators can test and troubleshoot their digital tools to the betterment of all — and especially New Yorkers.

With this philosophy of openness and curiosity comes an opportunity for New York-based real estate players to not only test innovative approaches but put them together into a unified strategy. We’ve all seen companies find significant success by leveraging one variety of PropTech solution. Airbnb thrives in facilitating short-term real estate transactions, Google and Amazon have cornered the smart home market, and Amherst Holdings has established a winning, AI-powered strategy for finding and acquiring assets. Individually, all of these tactics show impressive results — but what could we achieve if we managed to link them together?

The Tools of Today Could Create the RE Strategy of Tomorrow

In theory, the disparate PropTech solutions we see now could be stitched into a seamless strategy. The strategy might progress as follows — real estate operators could use  and  to identify lucrative neighborhoods and home in on investment properties, then apply -powered  to purchase those buildings. Next, they might retrofit their assets to have utility sensors that can ensure optimal utility use and management. These IoT-equipped devices could also better automate the care of a building by notifying owners when a system requires maintenance and providing real-time insights on how tenants .

When linked, these PropTech solutions can , allowing property firms an opportunity to gain better insights into how they can best use, maintain, and improve their asset properties.

The implications for commercial real estate improvement are huge — and, to be clear, this is all available technology. Real estate operators could incorporate PropTech into their strategic workflow today if they wanted. Will that change require some upfront investment and effort? Absolutely — but, as New York’s decision to offer itself as a testing sandbox demonstrates, there is no better time for real estate operators to get ahead of the curve and start crafting unified strategies than right now.

Originally published on 

By |2020-07-20T21:17:45+00:00July 20th, 2020|Business, Technology|

Taking a Byte Out of Real Estate with Cryptocurrency

Whether it’s a bubble or bona fide, anyone who pays even cursory attention to the financial world can’t deny that bitcoin is a force to be reckoned with. The decentralized digital cryptocurrency, a form of payment comprised of lines of code, entered the mainstream consciousness late in 2017 and has remained a controversial topic.

The currency that’s purely digital whose value rises and falls quite unpredictably has understandably earned many antagonists. But for true believers, bitcoin represents a revolution in money, where power has been wrested from big bankers and into the hands of the people who use it. So what does that mean for real estate, where major, life-changing transactions happen every day?

There’s been a number of quick adapters all over the industry. From the East coast to the west and even across the globe, Bitcoin has come into enthusiastic use for purchasing real estate. To say that these sellers are simply hopping on the newest craze sells a bit short the advantages that bitcoin carries for the property business.

Average people joining the bitcoin revolution enjoy the freedom from financial institutions that cryptocurrency offers. Rather than a credit card where you’re entrusting your money to a network of institutions, crypto is a one-stop shop without third party interests or issuers taking their cut.

This simplicity in moving funds around is a special advantage when purchasing real estate. The ease of movement eliminates the long waiting periods necessary for looping in the banks, lenders, and fee payments that have been part and parcel of real estate transactions for generations. Today’s cutting-edge homebuyer, armed with bitcoin, can close as soon as they find a property they like, as long as they have a seller willing to play ball. Such expediency is an undeniable advantage.

Buyers hoping for privacy will find exactly what they’re looking for with bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as well. In an industry where secrecy is often a must for major private transactions, the untraceable, encrypted payment enabled by blockchain technology can give anonymous buyers the complete discretion they desire. Blockchain can also cut down on fraud, so even faceless buyers can be held to the same standard of financial transparency as the rest of us when it comes to spending funds.

Some influential names in real estate proclaim to be intrigued by the Bitcoin craze, but when pressed admit they don’t want to tie their own money into crypto. The risk factor in using a currency that’s more like a commodity is simply too volatile for many, and the potential that bitcoin amounts to another risky bubble has left major financial giants steering clear. So where does that leave the average homebuyer?

For many everyday people, buying a home is enough of a major undertaking without adding in the risk of dealing with such a volatile payment method. In a real estate world prone to bubbles in its own right, mixing bitcoin into the equation may well pile on risk to a situation where buyers and sellers would rather minimize, not multiply, potential hazards.

But for those untimid about riding the ups and downs of this craze wherever it may end up, there are worse things you can do with your money than acquire some valuable real estate. With a growing number of agents and sellers using bitcoin to gain an edge on the competition, you may well end up financing the house of your dreams with money that exists only in computer servers. If the unpredictability of cryptocurrency can be held in check in the future, expect this to truly be the beginning of a transformation in real estate.

By |2020-02-11T16:33:35+00:00September 5th, 2018|Technology|

Can Urban Design Create Smarter, Kinder Cities?

There is no one way to think about a city. But one thing, until recently, has been certain: cities aren’t thinking about you.

The idea of conscious cities challenges the assumption that cities are thoughtless spaces, or stationary backgrounds for busy urbanites to make their mark on. Cities make their mark on us in ways we don’t realize, and often unintentionally so. By adding intelligence to city design, urban planners have the opportunity to create smarter, kinder cities.

Like any sentient being, a conscious city affects how you feel and what you do. It is an active participant that can improve or worsen your health, your comfort, and your wellbeing. The concept was coined in a 2015 manifesto by Itai Palti and Moshe Bar.

“The foundation of consciousness lies in the city’s awareness of the motives, personalities and moods of its inhabitants,” the authors write. Though architects have long designed to elicit emotion, from Pyramids to monasteries, we now have the data to base these decisions— from small details to large-scale urban plans—on actual science instead of instincts.

This isn’t to say today’s cities weren’t purposefully designed. Most city streets are planned for efficiency; the same goes for buildings, which are designed for convenience, if not luxury or bravado. Concern for public health and comfort, though, has not always been high-priority, let alone backed by science. True, there was a brief moment in the 70s when psychologists teamed up with architects in an effort to encourage “environmental psychology.” Unfortunately, the idea fizzled quickly.

As urban populations surge, the first instinct of builders and planners may be to save and make space. This alone is not enough, especially considering the well-documented psychological effects of overcrowding. Planners need only utilize science and research to plan for happy, healthy cities. Otherwise, they may worsen the existing condition.

How Our Cities Change Us

Before planning for the future, it’s useful to understand what elements of urban design are impacting us today. We know, for example, that repetitive patterns like stripes and tiles can induce migraines or seizures, while more natural and visually interesting shapes and spaces can ease stress.

Then there’s the paradoxical phenomenon of loneliness in crowds. Ample evidence through MRI scans suggests that people who grow up in cities are more prone to mental health issues, and it’s likely that crowding is one of these reasons, as our brains are not conditioned for such environments.

Technology helps us understand the way our surroundings affect us in ways we may not understand on the surface. Social psychologist Colin Ellard conducted a study to examine the physical reaction participants had to building facades using EEG headsets and wristbands. He found that facades, in fact, played a large role in the comfort levels of the participants.

According to the BBC, “when he walked a group of subjects past the long, smoked-glass frontage of a Whole Foods store in Lower Manhattan, their arousal and mood states took a dive, according to the wristband readings and on-the-spot emotion surveys.” They sped up as if to escape a dead zone, then returned to a state of liveliness when passing storefronts.

Triangulation and public spaces foster community and reduce car accidents by implying that roads aren’t just for cars. Green spaces consistently correlate with higher levels of well-being in cities, even when taking other considerations into effect.

There are even worse ill-effects, planned or otherwise. The placement of highway systems and public transportation have led to segregation and poverty. Design features including spikes and high-pitched beeping discourage loitering at the expense of pedestrian comfort. Flashing lights and advertisements, especially at night, may induce anxiety and interrupt natural sleep cycles too.

Planning for the Future

Conscious cities, in theory, would use science and technology to optimize cities for the wellbeing of their inhabitants. This could—and should—go beyond just mental health by taking things like public health, ROI, and efficiency into consideration, too.

Take trees as an example. As a key component of “green space,” trees carry with them a number of psychological and physical benefits. A recent article by Vox outlined the findings of a recent Nature Conservancy report, concluding that “planting more urban trees, if done right, could save tens of thousands of lives around the world each year—by soaking up pollution and cooling down deadly heat waves.”

Besides these tangible, measurable effect, studies have found that simply viewing green space caused people to become happier and also changed their physiology, as their autonomic nervous systems showed strong signs of relaxation responses. Further research has shown that even simulated green space can have similar effects.

According to the Guardian, this type of research could be “the basis of a new and powerful discipline of experimental urban design based on sound principles of psychology and neuroscience,” perhaps utilizing virtual reality and other technology to simulate these types of responses. Neuroscience-based architecture and design could reinvent cities as we know them, or at the very least make little updates that pack a big punch.

After all, it follows that happier, more relaxed urban dwellers will be more productive, contributing to a happier and healthier economy. It’s a whole new way to think about cities, and ultimately a return on investment that can’t be ignored.

By |2018-10-31T19:15:11+00:00October 2nd, 2017|Culture, Urban Planning|

For Seniors and Disabled People, Adaptive Technology Helps at Home

Seniors and disabled people have specific living space challenges. Luckily, technology makes things easier.

When it comes to safety and accessibility, not all homes are created equal. In fact, a recent New York Times article highlights the difficulties of “aging in place.” The article states that less than 4 percent of the U.S. housing market has the three most important accessibility features. In order for older or disabled people to move, safely, around their living spaces they need entrances without steps, single-floor living, and wide hallways and doorways that can accommodate wheelchairs.

How many New Yorkers need to adapt their homes in order actually live there? Data shows that there are more than a million people, over the age of 65, living in New York City. According to a report by the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York, “In New York City, there are 889,219 individuals with disabilities; that is, 11.0 percent of the population.”

Together, that means there are nearly 2 million New Yorkers that may need to adapt their homes in order to engage in standard activities of daily living. Both populations experience barriers, physical and communications-related, that the young and able-bodied don’t face, but that’s where New York grit and determination, combined with technology, come into play.

Because, whether the challenge is a senior’s desire to stay in their home, or a physical disability, adaptive technology is making things just a bit more user-friendly for people at all ages and stages of physicality.

The first place to consider adaptive technology is literally at the front door. Entering and leaving a home, or apartment, is a daily activity for most. Ideally, a door entry system with a keypad or hands free access should be installed at a height that’s convenient, usually about three-feet. Caretakers and family members can also have fobs, or access codes.

Senior safety devices are a growing field. Given that, according to the CDC, about 33 percent of accidents and falls involving people aged 65 and over occur at home, a Personal Emergency Response System, Medical Alert, or Medical Emergency Response System is a very good idea. All systems work easily; the push of a button summons emergency help (police, ambulance, etc.) immediately. The technology has been around for a while and today’s systems have three components. A small radio transmitter in the form of a “help” button carried or worn by the user sends a signal to the console, or base station, connected to the user’s telephone. The console automatically dials the Central Monitoring Station and an emergency response center monitors those calls.

On the other end of the technology spectrum are electronic personal assistants, like the Amazon Echo. “Alexa,” the electronic voice that takes requests from the user, can do everything from reciting the daily news, to setting a timer or alarm (think, medication reminder!) That’s without even considering the 15 thousand (and growing) list of “Skills” that can be added to Alexa’s “to do” list. For instance, Smart Skills allows the user to control lights and thermostats via the voice controlled system Uber and Lyft both have skills that can be enabled, making it easier on people who don’t drive.

(Of course, in New York, there are also cabs and excellent public transportation.)

For anyone who doesn’t want a Medical Alert system, but might need help quickly, The Ask My Buddy skill will send a notification (text, SMS or phone call) to a preselected contact. It’s perfect for emergencies when the phone is out of reach.

The ultimate in technology-that-helps is, of course, robotics. Toyota announced, in July, that it had completed its first in-home trial of the Human Support Robot (HSR.) The meter-high robot successfully helped a 100 percent disabled veteran with basic household tasks like opening doors and picking up a bottle of water.

The video makes it clear that this sort of technological assistance is life-changing.

Technology “gadgets” have the reputation of being novelties, but when those devices are used to help people live better, safer, more independent lives then it’s clear that they are valuable tools and not just toys.

By |2020-05-07T19:15:54+00:00September 19th, 2017|Technology|

How Real Estate Developers Can Help Alleviate Food Deserts

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines a food desert as a part of the country where it’s difficult to buy fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthy whole foods. An area is considered a food desert if 500 people or more, or 33% of the population in the area live at least one mile away from a supermarket or large grocery store. If that distance is 10 miles or more, the area is described as a rural food desert.

According to a recent report by the Economic Research Service of the USDA, about 2.1 million households i.e. 1.8% all households live at least a mile away from a supermarket and don’t have a car, making accessibility harder.

Food deserts are common in impoverished areas. This means that, for these people, buying that nutritious fresh fruit takes a lot of careful consideration and money management. One is faced with the task of either taking the exhausting ride in a bus (which also costs money) or paying a significant proportion of the grocery bill to have the purchase delivered. With the budget constraints, neither of these choices makes sense.

The dilemma too often ends residents foregoing the healthy eating entirely. They substitute the healthy food they can’t get with the available unhealthy food. Yes, it’s a big irony that the available shops stock processed, sugary and fatty foods instead of healthy foods––leading to another epidemic: Obesity.

As a side note, studies have been conducted suggesting that the distance from a supermarket or large grocery store has very little to do with the unhealthy eating habits. The studies say that the healthy foods just don’t sell in those food desert areas and it wouldn’t make a difference if stores were opened.

But we can pursue the little difference such a change would make.

It’s encouraging to see that there’s a wide range of models such as non-profit, corporate, charitable, and governmental programs that have been employed in trying to tackle the problem.

Working together with the communities, I believe there are a couple of measures that real estate developers can also help alleviate the problem.

1. Community Gardens

 

A community garden is a piece of land gardened or cultivated by a group of people in the same locality, usually for domestic consumption.

In the past, many developers have less than championed community projects that looked to turn vacant lots into food production areas. Rather, they have been more for house development.

To encourage growth of food in these communities, developers need to take the center stage by not just allowing people to farm in their communities but also designing those spaces and even funding them.

Community gardens can also be set on hydroponic rooftops, freeing up more space for housing developments.

2. Farmer’s Markets

 

Very much like a community garden, a farmer’s market is a retail market that features foods that are sold by farmers directly to consumers.

Instead of developing a whole area, one could decide to leave out sufficient space for the development of a farmer’s market where farmers can easily sell their produce and consumers can access foods without having to travel for miles.

3. Employment Opportunities

As mentioned, food deserts are often found in impoverished areas. Hiring local skills provides employment and a source of income to the people. With that, they can actually start thinking about eating healthy.

Also, the employees get to learn from the masters, especially where the project is about sustainable food production in the community. They can then use the skills learned to grow their own food back home.

4. “Giving Up” Land

As the situation escalates, developers need to start giving up more land to set up of community gardens, farmers markets, and even stores.

Giving up land isn’t a new thing. Developers have been giving up land to the city during new housing developments.

This time, instead of constructing parks and public structures on that land, it should be turned into a food production area.

Besides, giving up land for food production raises the value of the project in the long run.

As retailers and the government continue looking for ways to address the situation, real estate developers must also chip in and do their best to utilize their knowledge, access, and tools to ensure that even the low-income residents are able to eat healthy through convenient access to supermarkets and grocery stores.

By |2018-10-31T19:10:19+00:00September 9th, 2017|Culture, Current Events, Urban Planning|

Urban Diaries: Documenting Cities as they Evolve

All cities have a life of their own. Buildings are the bones, streets and rivers and sidewalks the veins and arteries, weather changes, wind blows, papers fly–the breath.

But the soul is the people who live in the city, and perhaps nowhere more so than in New York City.

New Yorkers love their city to an almost unhealthy degree, which means that New York is an ideal place for urban diaries — photographic documentation of the city as it evolves, changes, and keeps on living.

The concept of an urban diary, which can certainly include notes, and written observations, traces back to artist Eugène Atget. Atget was a photographer who lived in Paris and who began documenting the city, through photographs, in the 1880s. He is considered, also, to be a flâneur, or stroller, which he certainly was given his apparent desire to document all of the architecture and street scenes in Paris, to capture a living culture and history.

It takes true love of a city to dedicate oneself to keeping an urban diary. With camera, and perhaps notebook (or a tablet that is both!), in hand the diarist must, as Atget did, walk the streets and sidewalks, noticing change, recording the unique, the quirky and the mundane in turn.

Atget did exactly that until his death in 1927, and the images that endure tell a story of a city-always-changing, evolving, alive with shopkeepers and schoolchildren.

New York is exactly that sort of city, and worthy of the efforts of the urban diarists. Not because New York is in any danger of disappearing, but because of the constant cycle of growth, renewal, decay and revitalization that part and parcel of the city.

Noted writer, and native New Yorker, Pete Hamill, says this about his city:

“We New Yorkers know that we live in a dynamic city, always changing, evolving, building. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. The city’s enduring slogan could be: Get on with it, my friend.”

Artists and writers seem to know this instinctively, that New York is, at any and every moment, worthy of noticing, describing, depicting.

For instance, Camilo José Vergara, a Chilean-born, New York City transplant and street photographer spent the seventies photographing the grit and joy of the South Bronx and Lower East Side.

But what about other New Yorkers? The recent transplants and the third generationers? This is where keeping an urban diary is more than whimsy, and not an artistic endeavor. There are actual individual and practical implications.

Author Chuck Wolfe argues in his book “Urbanism Without Effort” that urban diaries can translate into practical use and cause city dwellers to engage with their space in a more deliberate, interactive way. In the Crosscut article (linked above) he says, “Documenting and contemplating the journey from place to space — crossing and intersecting and embracing the edges of the public and private realms — may be the best way to understand where we live, the choices we make and the choices that are made for us.

Wolfe also says that urban diaries can take many forms, from scrapbook to notebook to journal to photography. With the technology available today, combining the written and the visual is simpler than it’s been at any other time in history. If New Yorkers take advantage of their electronic devices, what an amazing body of work could result.

On the practical side, Wolfe notes that documenting city space allows the diarist to track:

  • The intersection of constructed and natural environments;
  • The evolution of transportation
  • The application of associated and applicable land use plans and regulations; and
  • The continuation and/or evolution of surrounding land uses.

Whether for artistic, whimsical, or practical purpose, the act of deliberately keeping an urban diary is a worthy way for any New Yorker to engage with the living city they love.

By |2019-05-30T19:22:11+00:00September 6th, 2017|Culture, Current Events|

What The Shed at Hudson Yards Means for Public Space in NYC

The nonprofit art center the Shed will open in Spring 2019 at the High Line next to 15 Hudson Yards, at the edge of the Public Square and Gardens. While it has come under some fire for its price tag, lack of clear programming, and even its original name (the Culture Shed), what I find most interesting is the physical opening and closing of public space which the shell of the Shed makes possible. The flexible space, combined with the hiring of a chief technology officer who is known for creating real-world video games, suggests we are only just beginning to understand how we will interact with the Shed.

As a physical space, the Shed is in three parts: a building, a shell, and a plaza. The building will be eight large floors of display space total, including two levels of galleries, a theater that can merge into the outdoor plaza, a rehearsal space, a creative workspace for artists, and an events space at the very top. Covering over the entire building is a large, mostly transparent shell of metal and glass. Next door is a 17,000-square-foot plaza. When the shell is covering the building, the plaza is open for public use and as an outdoor performance space. However, when the shell rolls out to cover the plaza, things get interesting.

The shell of the Shed will be 120 feet high and mounted on rails so that an outdoor space is made into an indoor space with a pull of the lever. All of the necessary electrical equipment and platforms are built into the shell and so roll out with it. Of course, several features of the High Line already make use of rails, in homage to the trains below, but the wheels and rail for the Shed will be a new scale, with three large gray wheels on each side. It’s easy to see the possibilities for aerial and multi-level performances in that space.

Looking at the video on the Hudson Yards New York website for the Shed, the exterior walls of the building can also move to accommodate and meld with the plaza. On the sides of the shell, parts can open and close to create entryways and adjust flows of foot traffic.

The High Line averages 4 million visitors a year, so the exterior plaza of the Shed will be a natural place for foot traffic to pool, whether they visit inside or not. Also, the side of the shell facing the plaza can become a large projection screen, which can project shows or images to be viewed by those passing by.

Public space is sacred in New York first as part of the iconic 1961 Zoning Resolution which influenced the shape of skyscrapers with the idea that open parks and public spaces would surround them. The Shed has been criticized for its price tag of more than 500 million, and construction photos which make it look like a skeleton of the AT-AT Walkers from Star Wars don’t necessarily help. But is the plaza enough?

The American Planning Association outlines several questions for determining if a public space is any good. The questions as if it can:

  • Reflect the community’s local character and personality?
  • Foster social interaction and create a sense of community and neighborliness?
  • Provide a sense of comfort or safety to people gathering and using the space?
  • Encourage use and interaction among a diverse cross-section of the public?

We will have to see how people feel once the construction is complete, but I suspect that the use and interaction will be heavily influenced by our digital lives. Why do I think this?

The Shed has hired Kevin Slavin as the chief science and technology officer. He has a popular TedTalk on algorithms which has nearly four million views. He is also a research affiliate at the MIT Media Lab and co-founder of a gaming company that used location technology to create large, real-world games. This is worth thinking about because the public space of the Shed can really extend to cover the entire High Line area. Could interactive events begin all over New York, and end in the plaza of the Shed? Is the removal of walls both physical and digital?

The Shed is designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the same firm hired for the MoMa’s unsuccessful Art Bay, in collaboration with Rockwell Group. While there is still a lot left to learn, I suspect that digital art and interaction through smartphones and technology will be a major part of the Shed’s arts programming, which is an exciting prospect.

By |2020-02-11T16:49:35+00:00July 18th, 2017|Culture, Technology, Urban Planning|

How NYC Artisans Keep Historic Real Estate Like New

From Brooklyn to the Bronx, and all the brownstone and mansion studded boroughs in between, owners of historic homes know they need a little help when it comes to renovations and upkeep of their historic properties.

Especially if their home is officially designated historic by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, which recognizes buildings with “special historical, cultural, or aesthetic value and that (are) an important part of New York City’s historical and architectural heritage.”

The Commission, which was created in 1965 in response to the destruction of historically significant buildings, designates individual buildings as well as entire neighborhoods.

According to the Commission’s website:

To help protect the city’s landmarks from inappropriate changes or destruction, the Commission must approve in advance any alteration, reconstruction, demolition, or new construction affecting the designated building.

But New Yorkers don’t maintain historic properties just because there are rules and regulations. People who own these properties want to preserve a small piece of history, indulge in the luxury of having a gently used, but still beautiful, home.

Of course, there are the practical problems associated with old homes: plumbing; HVAC and electricity. For that owners need licensed, insured, technicians with a great reputation.

But once (or while) those dollar-draining issues are dealt with the enticing details that lure people into purchasing historic properties—stained glass windows, wood floors, ornate plaster ceilings, tile- demand attention.

Fortunately, in New York, there’s plenty of help available, according to a recent article in the New York Post. There are large firms, such as EverGreene Architectural Arts, which can handle multiple aspects of a restoration project from mural restoration to recreating ornamental plaster.

Not just any handyman can handle the job of restoring, or even duplicating, the gorgeous architectural flourishes of past eras. It takes artisans with years of training and experience.

The Post article quotes two men who began learning their craft as teenagers. Vincent Battiloro, of The Finest Brownstone Wood Restoration, learned to work with wood as a teen in Italy while Larry Feldman, of Feldman Stained Glass, began working in window repair at local antiques shops while growing up in Greenwich Village.

Battiloro’s story exemplifies the evolution from starving artist to in-demand artisan. According to the Post “he moved to New York in 1960 — a time when preservation was less popular — and picked up odd jobs like repairing wood furniture in hotels.

“The business changed when young professionals realized that instead of paying $1 million for a studio in the city, they could buy a brownstone in Park Slope,” Battiloro says.

Today he mainly restores high-end woodwork in townhouses—much of which gets painted over or varnished from decorative fretwork to carved doors to elaborately detailed staircases.

Like Battiloro and Feldman, many of the artisans who focus on restoration and historical preservation are craftspeople who operate small, independent, businesses. That means their work isn’t cheap, but the end results can be priceless.

Deborah Mills, a custom wood carver based in Long Island City, is quoted in the Post article, admitting her skills “are pricey but valuable.”

But, she said, her firm is “up to any task, including recreating mantels, cornices and friezes for homeowners.”

One of the best resources for finding an artisan is the “Find a Professional” page on the New York Landmarks Conservancy website. The artisans aren’t vetted, but dozens of professionals are members of the organization (for instance, there are 10 who consult about stained glass.)

With resources like that available, it is possible to own, maintain and even improve historic houses in the boroughs of New York. It’s not easy, and it certainly won’t come cheap, but for those who love the idea rest assured, it’s do-able!

By |2018-10-31T18:29:25+00:00July 18th, 2017|Culture, Urban Planning|

The Rise and Fall of McMansions—And Why Cities are an Attractive Alternative

More than 20 Years After the “Bigger is Better” Building Trend Began, are These Odd Monuments to Excess on their Way Out?

It began—like parachute pants, shoulder pads and “supersized” fast food meals—in the 1980s and became full-blown in the early 90s: McMansions. Houses described as bland, standardized, dis-proportionate and, like the other fashions of the time, ostentatiously large.

The structures, which average 3,000 to 5,000 square feet, sprouted up all over the country and have been blamed for everything from destroying regional architectural charm to being the pin that popped the housing bubble in 2007.

Overall, home ownership is considered to be part of the American dream. That ideal began before the great depression and blossomed in the post-WWII housing boom when returning veterans took advantage of the GI Bill benefit that offered low-interest, no down payment, mortgages.

That, along with a generally growing economy, increased the homeownership rate from 43.6 percent in 1940 to 61.9 percent in 1960.

But the houses on the market at the time were small, sturdy, structures that were about 985 square feet, on average. One 1952 ad for a home in Syracuse, New York, lists a “modern three bedroom home, living room, furnace, kitchen and new roof, $9,900.”

Hardly a palatial set-up.

By 1990 the homeownership rate was at 64.2 percent (it took a dip in the 1970s during the recession) before hitting 66.2 percent in 2000.

But these were not homes meant to last, nor were they necessarily affordable. During the housing crisis, more than 10 million homeowners lost their homes (more families were displaced than during the great depression.)

An article in Business Insider quotes Kate, who created the blog McMansion Hell, about the quality of many of the homes that went into foreclosure. According to the blogger, McMansions were “built cheaply in order to get maximum items checked off the check-off list for the lowest cost. The designing of houses from the inside out caused the rooflines to be massive and complex.

“These roofs are nearing their time of needing to be redone and maintained at extraordinary cost due to their complexity,” she said. “As the era of repair draws near, I suspect many homeowners are quietly trying to walk away from their bad decision.”

So, owning a large, expensive, possibly poorly constructed home became considerably harder in 2007-2008. Does that mean the trend is over, permanently, even with the economic recovery?

The same Business Insider article makes the case that it is. Similar articles have appeared in Curbed and even The Chicago Tribune. With cities undergoing property booms and becoming safer all around, it’s attractive to live in downtown areas as opposed to the suburbs. Perks include the convenience of having everything you need in 5 blocks radius, without the need to even own a car.

A counter argument, citing recent data from a February 2015 survey by Trulia, which states that 43 percent of American adults would like to live in a home that’s bigger than where they currently live, has been offered.

The fact that the trend was especially evident with millennials, ages 18 to 34, seems significant.

However, the survey also covers the size of the current home and, unsurprisingly, those in smaller homes would like to upgrade. In fact, 55 percent of those in 800–1,400 square foot homes and 66 percent of those in homes with less than 800 square feet would like to live in larger spaces.

Not included in the survey results are whether it’s millennials who live in the smallest of spaces.

Since millennials are credited with renewing growth in cities, have less disposable income than the yuppies of the 80s, and are buying into the “tiny homes” movement, it seems likely that the days of the McMansion are numbered. Especially if those roofs start caving in.

By |2018-10-31T18:19:36+00:00June 22nd, 2017|Culture, Current Events, Urban Planning|

Donald Trump’s Plan For Energy Independence, and What it Means for Climate Change

We are all aboard for a new and potentially challenging journey for America and the planet. With Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, it seems like all that can be agreed upon is that things are going to be very different for the next four years.

After the White House’s first busy months, we are all waiting with bated breath to see his policy changes and their results. Will Trump “make America great again,” or will his changes come with dire consequences, intended or not? As an NYC-based real estate entrepreneur myself, it will certainly be interesting to see how things unfold.

One of the big issues in America—though not necessarily for the Trump administration—is climate change, and for New York, this could ultimately be the difference between dry, sturdy coastal developments and severe flood damage. For others, like Trump, energy independence takes priority for its ability to provide jobs and reduce dependence on foreign resources.

It’s no surprise, then, that everyone from oil executives to environmentalists will have a stake in Donald Trump’s plan for energy independence. So I’ve taken it upon myself to boil down what exactly what the plan is, and what it could mean for climate change.

The Energy Plan

On March 28, Donald Trump signed an executive order that, among other things, initiated a review of the Clean Power Plan, rescinded a moratorium on coal mining on US federal lands, urged federal agencies to identify “identify all regulations, all rules, all policies … that serve as obstacles and impediments to American energy independence,” and rescinded at least six Obama-era executive orders aimed at curbing climate change.

As new details and initiatives emerge, one thing is certain: The Trump Administration is committed to unleashing the potential of American energy. For Trump, American energy dominance is a “strategic economic and foreign policy goal.”

Here’s what else we know at the moment about what the Trump administration aims to do:

According to the White House, better energy policies will stimulate the economy and bring vast new wealth to the people. They will ensure our national security and protect our health. Only time will tell if this goal can be achieved in reality.

What the Trump administration thinks about climate change

Donald Trump has stepped back from his previous assertion that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese (he claimed it was a joke), and some do think that Trump believes more about climate change than he says. Still, the Trump administration’s energy has many worried about long-term negative implications to the environment.

Perhaps most important to consider is the confirmation of Scott Pruitt as leader of the EPA. This could be taken as a sign that the administration is out of step with what mainstream science is saying about the issue.

Scott Pruitt, considered by many scientists to be a skeptic of climate change, has admitted that science tells us that the climate is changing. But he says the level to which humans are impacting that change is not clear.

As Pruitt says, “The ability to measure and pursue the degree and the extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue.”

This doesn’t really provide a clear answer of what Pruitt—or the administration that nominated him—will do specifically. But this line of thinking is out of step with what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) asserts about 2016 being the hottest year on record: human activity is to blame for the heat.  

What Donald Trump’s plan means for climate change

Since Trump has made clear he will get rid of certain regulations, it’s probably best to start by looking at what impact that will have. As his March executive order made clear, the dismantling of Obama-era policies has begun. Other climate policies Trump plans to end include:

  • Waters of the United States
  • Climate Action Plan
    • What it does: The Climate Action Plan establishes a comprehensive strategy to guide efforts for climate change mitigation. Main goals are to cut carbon dioxide emissions, prepare the US for climate change impacts, and lead international initiatives to address climate change.
    • Why the Trump Administration will repeal it: Again, those that don’t agree with this rule see it as overly burdensome, unnecessary, and/or making Americans poorer. To the Trump administration, repealing it can stimulate business in all sorts of sectors, from energy and agriculture to manufacturing.
    • Dangers of a repeal: Too much carbon dioxide in the air is mainly what’s driving global warming. Lifting restrictions on the emission of greenhouse gasses could lead to severe environmental consequences. The United States is the second largest contributor of heat-trapping gasses, and not making efforts to reduce CO2 emissions could greatly (and negatively) impact the entire earth.

In addition to repealing these two environmental regulations, Donald Trump plans to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a comprehensive global climate deal that aims at climate change mitigation and mobilizing the world’s leading nations to find ways to solve the challenges we’ll face tomorrow. The Paris Agreement was signed by both the United States and China (the world’s greatest contributor of heat-trapping gasses), and was hailed as a breakthrough in the fight against climate change.

If Trump withdraws America from the Paris Agreement, much momentum in that fight to save the environment will be lost. Since the United States is a leader in the global arena, there is also risk that other countries will follow—which would greatly hinder worldwide efforts to solve key climate change concerns of today and tomorrow.

Climate change initiatives under Donald Trump

The Trump administration is focused on lifting regulations so that the economic benefits of energy can be fully realized. Exactly how Donald Trump will address climate change hasn’t been covered extensively, but the administration does say it is committed to “protecting clean air and clean water, conserving our natural habitats, and preserving our natural reserves and resources.”

But many don’t believe the administration is committed to protecting the environment, as we’ve only really gotten details about how deregulation will unleash the potential of American energy. If lifting restrictions remains the top focus going forward (and no substantial efforts to address climate change challenges are made), the issues we face concerning the environment will at best be put to the side and at worst be greatly exacerbated during the Trump administration.

By |2020-05-07T19:49:06+00:00June 18th, 2017|Current Events|