The business model of the built environment is broken. Communities have long felt the strain of housing shortages, aging transit systems, and a shifting retail landscape; the COVID-19 crisis pushed them to the breaking point and exposed the shortcomings of how we plan and manage cities.
The business model of the built environment is broken. Communities have long felt the strain of housing shortages, aging transit systems, and a shifting retail landscape; the Covid-19 crisis pushed them to the breaking point and exposed the shortcomings of how we plan and manage cities. There are two driving factors:
At Replica, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this challenge. We’ve walked in your shoes as former public sector officials, employees, real estate professionals, and consultants ourselves. Over the past eight months, we’ve also been fortunate to work with some of the largest public agencies in North America as they navigate the peril and ambiguity of our current situation. Here’s what we’ve learned:
What does this mean for your work? We recognize it’s easy to wax poetic about what’s not working, but how can we address these challenges together? First and foremost, any solution(s) need to actually match the way work gets done on the ground. It has to be rooted in existing workflows; otherwise, the inertia of those workflows will prevent integrating new insights. In drawing from our experience and speaking with many of our partner agencies, it’s become clear there are generally three buckets of work:
The goal here is to understand the current state of the world, as near to the present as data allows. The overarching intent of this work is (a) identify areas that require urgent intervention, and/or (b) flag certain metrics for further monitoring and evaluation. This work is about understanding the relative change in direction — the trend lines across key areas of the built environment. In many ways, this phase is about embracing daily and weekly volatility. We need to understand micro cause and effect.
Are people moving again? Are people going back to work? How have travel patterns changed? Are people spending money on the same things they did before?
The goal here is to identify more systemic, permanent solutions for a future world. The overarching intent of this work is (a) do our previously completed plans still make sense moving forward, and/or (b) do we need new plans for a new world? This work requires depth of insight and requires absolute, stable, and measured insights. For this work to be done, we must identify a point in time that we believe represents “normal” — a new baseline of sorts — and mute the volatility of the present. We are trying to identify opportunities to build and manage against the anticipated mid-term future of the world.
Should we extend the transit line as planned? Should we invest in more pedestrian infrastructure? Should we rethink our land use?
The goal here is to understand the implications and trade-offs with the decisions we are making. The overarching intent of this work is (a) understand the impacts of lightweight, near-term changes, and/or (b) understanding the implications of longer-term, systemic solutions. For this work to be done, we must first develop a set of short- or long-term solutions/interventions, document our assumptions for those decisions, and utilize tooling to measure the impacts. This also requires that we identify a stable jumping-off point from which assumptions are made. We are trying to forecast, project, and ultimately measure less known and unknown future impacts across the whole of the built environment.
What if we banned private autos in the central business district? What if we extended the transit line? What if we implemented congestion pricing?
We’ve structured our product offerings to fit into each of these respective buckets of work without further siloing the way we think about the built environment. It’s clear that to solve these immense challenges, we need data and tools that provide insight into all parts of the built environment — mobility, economic activity, public health — and appropriately sit within the workflows that already exist. Our Trends product is built specifically to help you monitor and act on current conditions. Our Places product is built with identifying systemic, longer-term solutions. Our Scenario product is built to help you understand the potential impacts of your decisions. Finally, our company is built to be your partner as you grapple with the extraordinary challenges facing cities today.