During the final months of 2017, I had the chance to attend the Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) 2017 Fall meeting in Los Angeles and subsequently share four exciting takeaways from the event. With a bit of downtime during the holidays, I revisited those initial takeaways and my notes from the ULI conference. Numerous other conference sessions introduced urban design and real estate strategies that I expect to resonate in 2018, and I wanted to share them as we head into the New Year. Below are brief summaries of three emerging realities that will affect our cities in 2018:

A “Golden Hour” for Gentrification
One of the most inspired ideas shared during ULI’s 2017 Fall Show came from PolicyLink CEO Angela Glover Blackwell who talked about the need to preserve ‘golden hours’ of gentrification globally. Through data and real-world examples, Angela explained a phenomenon her team is witnessing when longtime underserved communities begin to experience gentrification. For this brief moment of initial exposure, these underserved neighborhoods closely mirror our ideal vision for an equitable society, with true diversity of cultures and incomes.

Unfortunately, this period of equity is usually short-lived as the residents who lived through the previous “bad years” get pushed out in the “good years.” Angela talked about her team at PolicyLink is focused on preserving this transitionary moment by creating and implementing policies to create sustainable communities of opportunity. She explained that while these types of policies directly help disadvantaged people in a community, they benefit everyone. To prove her point, she highlighted how sidewalk curb cuts mandated by the American Disabilities Act to give access to wheelchairs, also benefit every parent pushing a stroller or traveler hauling a suitcase. Her conclusion – “equity is a superior growth model” and one that will hopefully be advanced in cities more aggressively in 2018.

The Future of Residential Might be Boarding Houses and Penthouses
One common theme at the ULI show that will be loudly hear in 2018 is the impact of millennials on real estate. A fascinating discussion on this topic emerged during a presentation from Podshare Founder Elvina Beck and Proper Hospitality President and CoFounder Brian De Lowe. The two shared looks at projects from divergent ends of the residential spectrum, but then highlighted how millennials’ preferences commonly impact them.

On the surface, the two projects discussed could not appear more different. Hollywood Proper Residence is an ultra-chic, super luxury residential project with a novel mix of condominiums and fully furnished rental apartments. It’s target consumers are Los Angeles upper-echelon entertainment figures in need of a short-term apartment. Podshare, a membership-based live/work community, takes advantage of archaic city zoning to create contemporary “boarding houses.” The $50 per night cost and location flexibility appeals to the other end of LA’s entertainment spectrum – the newly arrived, aspiring artist. While these properties obviously function at the opposite ends of the price-point spectrum, their developers take a surprisingly similar approach to their Millennial-based clientele. Both Hollywood Proper Residence and Podshare merge hospitality and housing to create highly-amenitized, extremely social, living communities that speaks to Millennials desire for “experiences.”

Beyond just presenting radical approaches to luring Millennial residents, the two projects might also represent a vision for the short-term future of our country’s increasingly expensive gateway cities and the ever-widening chasm between economic winners and losers. A cities of boarding houses and penthouses? Maybe it seems plausible when you take a look at LA rental prices and consider these emerging residential products.

Image of Podshare

Autonomous Vehicles and their Ethical Dilemmas
There seems to be widespread consensus that autonomous vehicles will radically transform our cities in the coming decade, but – to my knowledge – Professor Azim Shariff is one of the few people who has thought deeply about who these self-driving cars will choose to murder. It turns out that this is not only a tricky ethical parlor game, it’s relevant to real world engineering decisions being filed in Patents and entered into equations today.

To understand the nature of these decisions (while also helping the continued research on the topic), spend 5 minutes playing this super-creepy video game survey: Moral Machine. Who should die, one driver, two law-abiding business executives, or four jaywalking students? It turns out the answers to these questions vary widely across cultures. One’s inclination to purchase an autonomous vehicle in the futures also weighs heavily.

Image of Moral Machine

Moral Machine is creepy, but tackling these hard ethical questions head-on (excuse the pun) may very well be the solution to a safer, more comfortable future for everyone who uses our city street and sidewalks. If autonomous vehicles are coming, we need to invest in making them as safe and ethical as possible.

Cities change constantly, but given the numerous disruptive factors spanning technology, policy, climate and more that will impact 2018 – it could prove to be a year of dynamic change for our urban fabric.