A new lease on life, Hamilton 2039

By Dr Robert Hickson

3 min read

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  • Opinion
  • New Zealand

Futures speculator Dr Robert Hickson envisages a future Hamilton where there has been a transformational change in home life, with co-living arrangements and leasing being common. It has had implications for the construction industry. 

House on mushroom Flickr by Jenn Wrenn2
Photo: Photo: Jenn Wrenn, Flickr

The “enchanted house” our parents called it, with a sense of trepidation, when they first visited us in our new home.

Their frisson of fear was not just because of the electronic “smarts” it had, but also because of the co-living set-up that we were entering into. They thought that we might get trapped in a digital hippy commune, sort of like their parents did in the old analogue world.

Far from it. Whare Mōhio (loosely translated as “smart house”) is neither enchanted nor a commune. Sure, there is facial recognition and other personalised sensor systems, but these have been around for a while.

We do share some things (kitchen, work spaces), but we have our own private spaces. It’s not big, but it’s enough for the two of us, at least until we start a family. And because there are only 11 other residences sharing our part of the complex, it doesn’t feel large and anonymous. The surviving old inner-city apartments, and in-fill housing from the last two decades seem so isolationist and soulless in comparison.

We’ve signed up for a two-year lease, with the option to upgrade if we need more space. The leasing, I think, really was the biggest thing that worried my parents. They understood renting and owning houses. For them businesses had leases, not people.

Not anymore. The “construction-as-a-service” approach appeals to many. Technologies, materials and regulations continue to change quickly. First, the construction and infrastructure companies consolidated to better manage it all. Then, as buildings became more electronically sophisticated, the data flows and maintenance became lucrative. So leasing and facility management were more profitable than simply building.

I’m not sure how many people the company has working for it. So much seems automated, but the service people we’ve met have mostly been very friendly and helpful. There are still a few “traditional” tradespeople and small construction firms around, but that seems more like a hobby than a career in the cities now.

Our maintenance contract, like most, is in a blockchain, so we don’t have to hassle the company to come and fix things. If something isn’t working, and it’s covered by the contract, then the maintenance group should be automatically informed. Often, it’s repaired before we even know it’s broken!

I had heard of some bad experiences before we signed up, so we used the Consumer Protection Services AI system to run some simulations on the standard contract. We were able to negotiate some responsibility and performance changes. That’s saved us some money, and we haven’t had to go to contract dispute arbitration.

The different levels of service can be quite confusing though. We just picked a fairly basic plan. Some of our neighbours have fancier plans, with better functionality and services, and more control over their spaces and data. Overall, though, we are happy, and can upgrade if we want to.

You soon get used to the wizardry of the shared facility. It’s by no means perfect. The periodic system upgrades can be a real pain at times. But we love the shared spaces. The social connections are what really make the place enjoyable.  I don’t mind being maintenance free, though some residents do miss fixing stuff themselves. The Whare’s maker space is so popular for that reason.

Ironically, my parents seem to have become enchanted themselves now. They are selling their house and moving into a multi-generational co-living complex south of Tauranga. Perhaps we inspired them.

Robert Hickson

By Dr Robert

Dr Robert Hickson is a futures speculator; that is, one who does not predict the future but examines trends, and history, to imagine what non-bleak futures may be possible. Author of the foresight blog Ariadne, he works with many New Zealand organisations to improve foresight thinking. He holds the view that in New Zealand, we don’t do enough looking forward.

The thoughts expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those held by the Industry Transformation Agenda.