Seven Urban Development Trends to Watch in 2016

As the urban development trend continues to grow, a new way of city living is being created in the nation’s metropolitan areas. Urban development is being driven by demographic changes to a younger set, thus creating the need for mixed-use and mixed-income models of urban design. The result of this growth, with proper development, includes higher density in downtown areas, more diversity among its residents, more dynamic, social, and interconnected people, and more environmentally conscious architecture and renovations.

It is when city planners and city-building professionals come together with an understanding of the following trends, that the nation’s metropolitan areas can enjoy the momentum and new opportunities of urban development.

1. Sustainable Building and Development. As awareness of green building practices becomes more common, builders and developers must adapt to include such methods. Utilizing sustainable materials, incorporating water conservation, and utilizing appropriate landscaping for the region are a good start.

2. Addressing the Need for Mixed-Income Residences. The increasing cost of urban housing in many cities, including Denver, has pushed lower and middle-income workers out of the city. Yet studies show that having a diversity of people residing in our cities not only makes them more vibrant, but also adds to the overall economy of metropolitan areas. As such, a well-functioning city needs to incorporate a mix of housing types. Affordable housing needs to be incorporated into new development via cross-subsidization with a developer voluntarily or mandatorily including a percentage of such units.

3. The Times are a Changin’… Preparing for Shifts in Demographic Trends. There are two significant demographic changes on the horizon, and it’s important for developers to take note now. First, over the next 30 years, the population of Americans over age 65 will double, and the number of those over 85 will triple. In 2015, housing demands for seniors was 18,000 units per year, and is expected to grow to 82,000 units per year by 2030. The second shift will come from the rapid growth of minority populations, who are already approaching 50 percent of the home buying market. With this growth comes the need for affordability, and amenities that address such factors as larger family sizes, multigenerational families, and specific cultural preferences.

4. Density, Density, Density. With greater demand for city living, comes the need for development to provide greater density. Modern design can minimize the feel of large, overbearing structures by incorporating altering building heights, varying elevations and exteriors, and reducing unsightly parking structures. The result of quality density projects is positive urban dynamics, including cost-effective public services, and vibrant neighborhoods.

5. Walkability and Mass Transit. Residences that are within walking distance of stores, parks, amenities and employment tend to have a higher value than those that don’t. Developers and city planners can create a compatible pattern of mixed-use projects to create smaller villages within the city. These villages create a sense of identity and loyalty to the neighborhood and its businesses. Adding mass transit to these areas makes getting around the city that much easier, while also reducing traffic congestion and auto pollution. For example, a light-rail system that carries 120 passengers along a city arterial removes 60 cars from each of the city’s streets.

6. Don’t Forget the Public Spaces and Amenities. Getting out and about are some of the best parts of living in a city. Developers, planners, and builders who make the most of public space will contribute to the overall happiness and well being of residents. Such amenities could include wider sidewalks, plenty of lighting at night, planters, water features, public art, seating areas, jogging paths, pet parks, and open green space; all of which are desirable features that help make the urban lifestyle more humane, interactive, and vital.

7. Modernizing Urban Infrastructure. In order for all of this growth to be truly sustainable, it is necessary for municipal and metropolitan leaders to make extensive investments in their city’s basic infrastructure. Most U.S. cities have waterlines that are more than 100 years old and pose health and safety risks. Dated rail stations, aged airports, and crumbling bridges, tunnels and underpasses all contribute to the public’s lack of confidence in urban governance. Cities must focus on three levels of infrastructure to create the conditions to draw future private investment to urban areas. These include the existing infrastructure in need of repair, such as bridges and tunnels; the modernization of existing infrastructure with new technologies, such as interactive power grids linked to smart appliances; and the installation of new forms of infrastructure for the future, such as high-speed telecommunications lines.

Many of these trends have been on the radar for years. As developers, planners and builders create new urban climates, it is important to keep in mind demographic shifts, technological advancements, and sustainability concerns in order to create urban living to address our needs now and well into the future.


Excerpts from this post adapted from Urban Real Estate Investment: A New Era of Opportunity.