by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright February 2016
Who will be owning homes in 2050? What will the homes be like compared to 2010's homes? How much smarter? How much more Hobbiton-happy?
This is an area where humans can still find lots to argue about. And the arguing will be intense, and meaningful. The choices humans make will affect how housing is constructed, as well as who gets in it.
What the challenges of home owning will be in 2050 is the topic of this essay.
A definition: "Hobbiton" is my term for a suburban neighborhood which is laid out to be cozy, picturesque, well suited for bicycling and walking, but just miserable for getting things done efficiently where autos and trucks are concerned. A gated community is the archetypical example.
In the mid-20th century suburban home owning replaced the "yeoman farmer on his small farm" as the instinctive "right" form of housing and lifestyle in the US. It took the automobile to provide the mobility to let this thinking change happen. As the changeover was made this new dream was then supported by a lot of government intervention to support mortgages, first for returning veterans, then for many others. Levittown outside NYC was the first high-profile example of the transition happening. Contemporaries were complaining that all the Levittown houses and all the streets looked the same.
The surprise downside of this instinctive aspiration is NIMBY -- Not In My Back Yard! When the dream didn't work out well because of NIMBY, you ended up with Detroit -- places where change in how a neighborhood is laid out, and functions, is difficult. Because of this strong support for stay-the-same the brightest and best migrate away from the neighborhood to places that are change-tolerant -- California being the iconic example in the 2nd half of the 20th century. In the 2010's the hot urban/tech/entrepreneurial centers such as Bay Area and NYC are the places to migrate to.
Fortunately NIMBY thinking is not strong everywhere, and thanks to improving technologies another housing transformation is coming. This one will be enabled by extensive factory and service automation on the job front, and smart appliances, lots of surveillance, and ubiquitous communication in the houses themselves. The definition of "house" will transform.
My prediction: The biggest change will be massive urbanization -- most people will live in a handful of really big cities. They will live in large neighborhoods of high- and mid-rises with great access to services and parks and be quite happy. The new suburbs being built in East Asia in the 2010's come to mind as typical examples.
Most will want to be in the big cities, but there will be different aspirations for what style of habitation to have in the big city. In 2050 there will be tension between those wanting to move into high-rises and those wanting to set up detached homes in Hobbiton enclaves. The instinct to create suburban Hobbitons will be strong, but many will complain about the wastefulness these cause.
Where will the ambitious classes want to live? They will want to be some place different... distinctive, but how so?
The most common form will be apartments in high-rises with distinctive atriums and interior decorations. Less common will be houses in gated communities. Also on the list will be the 2050's version of resort cities such as Aspen and Hilton Head. What other forms will there be?
What will be the downside? The Detroit equivalent? What activities and housing changes will lots of humans not get involved in because they are trapped by instinctive thinking dictating "the right kind" of housing for everyone? The NIMBY instinct? Related: what activities will neighbors complain about? What will HOA's be notorious for complaining about that tenants want to do? This is where prescriptionism will interact most vigorously with home owning.
What will replace "That will kill the value of my property." as the main theme of NIMBY objection? Or... what new technologies/activities will neighbors fear will kill their property values? How will they feel about drones?
The Kiplinger Future Forecast of 2015 calls for people to get into creative furniture, as in, it changes form and function depending on what the inhabitant needs at the moment. A century old example being Murphy Beds that pop up into a wall when not needed for sleeping. Personally, I don't think there will be much more than we have now. There will be a lot more sensors, but not a lot of morphing. My opinion: The morphing stuff will be mostly showoff stuff.
But I could be wrong. If average living space gets really small, and morphing furniture is cheaper than buying more space, then it will get popular because it is practical in a way that TES inhabitants can clearly see.
The Forecast also calls for a decline in "pack-ratting" -- collecting stuff "just because". I don't see the pack-ratting happening much, even though pack-ratting is instinctive thinking. It will decline because harsh circumstance will be teaching people to travel light -- an example being moving around a lot to take up different jobs. This discouraging of pack ratting will happen mostly to ambitious people because they will be moving around a lot. (road warriors)
TES Necessity Living humans may vacation a lot, but they won't move around their living quarters a lot. Why should they? Basement living plus lots of VR provides all the moving around experience they are likely to want. They can pack rat until there is literally no more space. That said, there can be surprises -- luxury livers may experience more home moving, but their cyber can help with the moving so many are unlikely to learn traveling light.
In sum, I see no reason for a decline in pack ratting.
The biggest change in housing will be caused by demographics -- the dramatic urbanization of humanity into a handful of mega cities, and the dramatic aging of humanity. This will bring a lot more high rise living to the people of the world. So much that most people will be living this way.
Surrounding the high rises will be some Hobbiton-style suburbs -- gated communities -- but these will be expensive, inefficient and wasteful so they will not become too widespread. There will also be distant resort communities comparable to the Aspens and Hilton Heads of the 2010's.
These will be the main forms of housing in the 2050's.