Friday, August 24, 2012
I Wonder As I Wander
I have been wondering (a lot) about where growth and development will happen as we move from this cycle of collapse and retreat. I won't be pointing fingers or shaking my fist at the stars - too easy and accomplishes absolutely nothing. For this session let's just lay back on the couch and think a little about the future.
Currently there are strong regional growth areas, such as Silicon Valley and other high tech areas that will continue to add jobs and more importantly entrepreneurial growth - from little acorns come huge oaks. While sadly I think that most tech manufacturing will still be outsourced overseas, the intellectual capital side will significantly support residential growth and the expansion of nearby existing research facilities. But housing will not be cheap, if anything, too expensive. I am also seeing sales of once high-tech land rezoned into residential use in these same markets - this is market driven as home prices continue to rise. The first builders in are the big regional players followed quickly by the national public companies.
Retail is in turmoil. After almost twenty years of building too much square footage there is a strong sense that this retrenchment (i.e. selling off malls for other uses, converting urban retail to multi-story residential) will have ongoing and serious effects on existing retail centers. The two major players, Simons and GGP are fighting it out in the marketplace with rumors of acquisitions and privatizations. There are too many big box retailers cannibalizing their own markets. Regardless of the "green mindset" people will drive to buy. Look for a return to and growth of well supported and "improved" older downtowns. Retail will continue to be more than loading up the SUV at Costco (but don't short their stock either).
The Boomer market is a head-scratcher. While there is a strong, albeit small, retirement community market - many of these are too remote to be effective. The days of the huge Del Webb communities are probably gone, they will be more modest and actually focused on one particular regional submarket such as south and west side of Chicago, affordable areas of New Jersey, the nearer suburbs of the San Francisco Bay Area. Most Boomers still want to be near their children and grandchildren but an international airport as well. The "urban" life is not for most of them, but think urbane. I also think there is a huge opportunity to develop dense and well amenitized senior neighborhoods with attention to great security and medical support. The things that scare most older people are being alone, ill, and forgotten. Senior and assisted living communities (at all economic levels) can provide these comforts. A good model is Sunrise - but costs are very expensive. This will be a big, big, political issue. Far more then even today's medicare debate, just wait and see.
Look for more and more assisted living communities - this doesn't take a genius to figure out. But they are still more often than not mom and pop operations. I see trends to larger and more resort oriented assisted living facilities. Not everyone is senile and bed ridden - at some time we will all need just a little more help.
What I also hope to see is more regional and sub-regional support for transit systems. This mania for high speed rail will pass as urban areas suddenly realize that the funds they desperately need are going to remote and underutilized areas. Look for expansions of systems such as BART and other Metro lines. One impact is the blowback form neighborhoods faced with freeway widening - they will not except it. The days of stacked freeways are a long time, if ever, away.
And lastly (as noted in last week's blog) look for renewed pushes into the regional edges. Land is cheaper (and way cheaper today than five years ago). This helps to support the primary reason for this edge growth - better and less expensive housing. It drives the enviros and pols crazy - but as always the marketplace will win out in the end.
Stay Tuned . . . .