Although it can be interesting, I’m always sceptical and nervous about future guessing. I tend to agree with writer John Naughton’s First Law of Technology that says that we invariably overestimate the short-term impact of new technologies while underestimating their longer-term effects. Ryan Avent’s long piece in yesterday’s Observer was a very interesting analysis on the future of work – and worklessness for the least able. The last few years have seen a growing belief that technology is going to reduce demand for a lot of jobs (not least academics!) producing dramatic social change. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the various scenarios outlined. Will we as a society find ways of redistributing wealth to the ‘losers’ from this change or will the ‘winners’ from this change successfully use their wealth and power to retain the wealth that they feel that they’ve created by themselves? These different visions of society are likely to produce different spatial outcomes and different built environments. Arguably an increasing concentration of wealth has already been showing itself in the growing price gaps between major hubs of knowledge, culture and capital such as London, Oxford and Cambridge and other parts of the country.
Bob Thompson has been doing some work for the RICS on the implications of these changers for real estate professionals – but I’ve yet to see it. I haven’t read much on the bigger picture about how the quantity, location and nature of demand for real estate might change. It would be good to see some scenarios thought through. Social and economic polarisation is likely to produce spatial polarisation with all its implications for polarisation of development, prices and performance. In turn, a society that emphasises redistribution and inclusion is more likely to produce a built environment in which economic values (prices) are less concentrated. Avent is not very optimistic about an inclusive and redistributive future.