Advances in science, technology and architecture are changing our cities at a rapid pace and affecting how and where we choose to work, live and play – essentially forcing us to rethink the built environment.

From the ubiquity of smartphones to ever-lighter laptops and more powerful tablet devices, technology has created an inextricably connected world. With the virtual barrier between work and home all but gone, the way we think about real estate is fundamentally changing.  In response, urban centers are embracing new developments and improving their infrastructures to boost the quality of life of their current and future inhabitants.

Cities of the future face various demands to fit the increasingly dense populations. Some of the questions city planners and investors have to be asking are how to make sustainability the norm in cities, how to reduce the congestion on our streets and to create safe places for people to live and work, along with ensuring the security of our food and water. While some cities already have solutions in place which are paving the ways for tomorrow’s innovations, others have yet to start.

 Here are four trends which are already having a big impact:

Sustainable cities

Creating green space in city centers has become a key aspect of city development. Evolving styles of architecture also mean that many buildings are adding green spaces that seamlessly integrate with the environment around them. An increasing number of them now have living walls or green roofs or incorporate courtyards into the building landscape.

Mobility replacing congested roadways

Congestion is one of the most urgent challenges in big metropolitan areas where traffic jams cause chaos in rush hour and generate substantial noise and pollution. Big name car manufacturers have piled into the marketplace from Fiat in Italy, Audi in San Francisco and General Motors in New York.

Taking things a stage further, electric cars are another alternative to improve noise and pollution levels in cities. The U.S. already has 20 highway legal plug-in cars from 12 car manufacturers available.

Other innovations are still far from becoming mainstream. New motoring devices, for example, use sensors to allow cars to control themselves – with the presence of a driver. Other companies are taking the autopilot idea further through driverless cars. Google have already tested this type of technology amid much discussion over safety issues with plans to launch the first car in 2020. Other manufacturers including General Motors, Nissan and Toyota are hot on its heels.

New cloud-based technology is also having an impact, connecting vehicles to the internet and giving them access to live information to help shape decisions – for example which roads have less traffic.

The rise of autonomous vehicles and transportation—self-driving cars, multi-modal trucking, distribution drones, etc.—coupled with collaborative models like Uber, will make it easier for people and goods to move around more freely. It may also ultimately change infrastructure needs, cutting down on the number of cars on the road or in parking lots at any given moment, while simultaneously creating a competitive market for space utilization.

Building up instead of out

Skyscrapers already dominate the skylines of big cities but there’s still room for them to extend their domain. As the cities stop growing outwards they are starting to grow upwards.

However, as the concept of ‘good density’ becomes more established and better understood, cities will see pay more attention to considerations of scale than merely that of height.

Connectivity and transitional spaces

The ability of people and machines to work from anywhere is transforming the utilization of traditional spaces. Much of the work that was once capable of only being done in an office can now be done from anywhere, and companies are going to be looking for much more adaptable real estate frameworks to fit the diverse working styles of employees.

By 2020, 40 percent of workers in the U.S. will be self-employed as freelancers, contractors or temp employees, which will further affect the role of traditional office space. Our cities will become more connected to help them become more liveable.

As people migrate to cities, they may prefer to rent apartments or cars rather than own them. Similarly, if more people are going into business for themselves as freelancers or contractors, the demand for coworking spaces could outweigh the need for traditional office space.

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