Davy podcast


A great many problems such as fragmentation, ribbon development and poor insulation are a consequence of the vision of construction and living in the second half of the twentieth century. If we want to keep our planet habitable, then we need to shift our focus to green space and to more sustainable, energy-neutral and more compact building.

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Davy Demuynck, CEO of project developer ION, Herman Konings, change psychologist and trend analyst, and Rick Splinter, Associate Partner at Mecanoo Architects, reflect on building in the future. But first we talk about living in the present. Where are we now?

Splinter: “In the Netherlands, there is a shortage of around three hundred thousand homes for the middle class. The average property now costs about four hundred thousand euros. Rising construction costs and sustainability requirements will push this price tag up even higher.”

Konings: “In Belgium, an average house costs approximately two hundred and eighty thousand euros but here too prices are rising very rapidly. The difference between both countries is a historical one: where Belgians traditionally invest in a property and regard this also as a form of pension savings, the Dutch will more readily choose a pension fund. On the other hand, wages in the Netherlands are higher and taxes lower, and these are also aspects you have to take into account when making a comparison.”

Demuynck: “Affordability of homes is being squeezed in both countries. We can see that the population size in Dutch cities is growing faster than in Belgium, whilst urban living was relatively cheap in Belgium until recently. In the future, owning one’s own home will also become increasingly more difficult owing to the rising prices. Fewer people opting to buy and more opting to rent could have a financial impact because traditionally we are not investors as is indeed the case in the Netherlands.”

Konings: “I expect that the next generation, the so-called Xennials, who are now aged between forty and forty-five, will focus on financial investments and less on investing in property. This is a development we are seeing worldwide and is linked to globalisation and digitisation of society, displacing local traditions as a result.”

How can we deal with this challenge in the future?

Konings: “Experts from different disciplines anticipate that in the future we will be back living in the city provided it offers more rural qualities such as nature conservation and tree conservation [making space for nature to thrive], local production, local consumption and certainly community engagement. According to a recent German study, European cities are deemed to be more sociable than villages. For example, people do not have their own garden which means they have to come outside and thus have more contact with one another.”

Demuynck: “The Netherlands leads the way in this area, devoting proper attention to the pleasant character of cities and public domains. Belgian cities have already become more attractive than they used to be but there is still work to be done.”

Splinter: “There has certainly been a realisation that life in the city needs to adapt to the rhythm of the cyclist and pedestrian. We are revisiting how we experience the city for the better and this is a positive development.”

Konings: “Whenever cities become nearly car-free, children can play outside again and this automatically results in contact and social cohesion. Today we see that the middle-class baby boom generation makes up a very large proportion of city populations. In turn, the Xennials who have children are swapping the city for rural and suburban areas. Consequently, both generations are shifting places. The Xennials take their urban mindset with them to their new places of residence and so these areas are also developing urban aspects. On the other hand, we need to bring rural aspects to the city in order to also keep this a healthy environment worth living in."

Splinter: “In the Netherlands, however, we do see that this reversal cannot be implemented in a straightforward manner. For instance, people increasingly want to live separately instead of sharing a single-family dwelling and this has a major impact on the availability and prices of property.”

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It is clear that things need to be done differently in the future. Will the future bring us alternative ways of living and new collective forms of housing such as cohousing or kangaroo housing?

Demuynck: “In my opinion, trends such as cohousing and kangaroo housing will remain marginal in the future, in percentage terms. Besides the purchase price or rental cost, in the future people will assess a property based on the monthly heating, cooling and living costs. This will provide a stimulus to those committed to sustainable homes. Today a number of investors already offer buildings for a fixed price per month, which is inclusive of both the rental cost and energy services. For economical use of energy, you get part of your rental cost back, failing which you have to pay an additional amount. This change in mentality is a relatively recent one but in the years ahead will have an impact on how we build.”

Konings: “I am an advocate of coliving and cohousing. Civil-law notaries have incidentally seen this trend coming for many years. According to a global study by Kantar, one of the biggest market research agencies in the world, at the moment around twenty to twenty-five percent of the younger generations have an interest in cohabiting with different generations. Add to that the increasing energy and house prices and cohousing becomes an appealing option, whereby a financially attractive living option goes hand in hand with sufficient autonomy.”

Splinter: “You also see this trend to cohousing in the Netherlands. Virtually every new development we are working on right now includes an old industrial building. Schemes are being integrated here which benefit the local area and this makes people proud to be part of this too.”

Konings: “From a legal point of view, you do, of course, still have a tough job to deal with. Well, I do think that such cohousing projects absolutely have a chance to be successful, particularly if the project developers place them clearly in the market and get the message across about the benefits.”

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This is in fact the area in which ION is active. Mr Demuynck, what do you think about this?

Demuynck: “It is indeed the responsibility of first movers to take it up. The banking sector sadly still holds a traditional view of property, potentially leading to a problem of a lack of financing. This puts the role of the customary market players under pressure. In my opinion, the biggest competition does not come from the large property groups or real estate players, but from the world’s largest companies. These are often technology firms who are interested in the property sector because there is a lot of money circulating around. Google, for example, is building a neighbourhood in Canada and offering a reduced rental cost if you agree to have sensors installed which generate data. Then the notion of value suddenly shifts from the property in itself to the generated data.”

Konings: “This is one of my main concerns when it comes to the future of property. The very largest companies on earth will invest in property but in return want to know everything about you. They want your soul and that soul is made up of the data you generate.”

Demuynck: “Furthermore, the customer satisfaction which these businesses generate is of such a high level that the customers are fairly loyal. These sorts of companies create an experience of top quality and this will undoubtedly put the conventional property sector under considerable pressure.”

Konings: “If you hand over property to these tech firms, as a consumer you will likely be consenting to a number of privacy-sensitive aspects. Then not only do you have to take into account the internet of things but also the fact that someone is looking into your room. I am very concerned about the digital religion, certainly about the impact it has on the younger generations.”

Demuynck: “On the other hand, in the past ten or fifteen years we have seen a mentality shift in society in relation to living. Young people no longer commute, they lodge for a short or longer period closer to where they work and switch more easily from one place of residence to another. The fact that family members live further away also means that the social network of older people no longer exists. This puts a strain on caring for one another and caring for our homes. This changing reality compels us to think about a rather more flexible ownership structure, whereby you can buy shares or tokens in certain property structures.”

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Splinter: “These currently already exist for example in New York, Amsterdam, Brussels and Copenhagen where you choose a certain type of home with a specific service throughout the world. Then you know exactly what you are getting, wherever you are. My concern here is that when large companies who have the property markets at their disposal, the question remains whether everyone still gets access to such domains. Who is allowed to rent and who is not?”

Konings: “Of course, you also need the government. If the government wants to truly develop a long-term vision, it has to be involved and enable these developments. The possibility of, for example, financially supporting coliving, cohousing and coworking might eliminate many problems in due course, also mental ones. Because if you don’t live in a pleasant environment, you’re not comfortable with yourself, in your soul and go on to develop psychological issues.”

Demuynck: “The government has an important role. In my opinion, the European Green Deal which stipulates that by 2050 we have to be a CO2 neutral continent is a game changer. Also, the rumours about a CO2 tax are getting louder every day for Brussels and we are faced with the challenge of modernising our historic building stock. Only when the legislative framework is in place will individuals also modify their behaviour more quickly.”

It is clearly a topic that gives food for thought. Thank you for providing us already with a peek into the future of new living. We can leave behind traditional living and look ahead with curiosity to new forms and patterns of living. Thank you, Herman Konings, Davy Demuynck and Rik Splinter.

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