What’s Not Going to Change

I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time.” — Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon

 
I’m not quite sure I’m a fan of Jeff Bezos.
But I sure do respect him.
He knows how to scale a business and disrupt industries as well as or better than anyone.
Just ask Walmart or any legacy retailer, bookseller or even cloud storage companies. 
I’ve been thinking about Amazon lately and what it’s impact and the impact of ecommerce may mean for cities and real estate.  But that post is for another day. 
The quote above made me think about something else. I think Bezos is right.  And while entrepreneurs always seek to skate where the puck is heading, the quote is also relevant to cities. 
A loud and active group of people seem to lament change in cities and I get it, we don’t want to lose the soul of our communities but change is inevitable and so the discussion should focus on how to best manage and steer the inevitable.
But what about thinking about what won’t change? What will still be needed in 10 years and beyond?
There are –as Bezos instructs –opportunities in what won’t be going away.
 
As much as we love Delivery Dudes we probably will still want to visit a great restaurant because it’s not just about the food it’s about the experience and the ambience. 
As much as we “stream” we may still want to see a great movie on a big screen with other people. We still may value “date night” or a matinee as I did the past two weekends when we went to see “The Big Sick” and “Baby Driver “at Cinemark. 
I love Netflix, but when I’m home I’m distracted. When I’m in a theater I focus and I end up enjoying the movie that much more–provided I don’t nap. 
Ipic is banking on that experience to endure as they build a new theater in Delray. 
I grew up the son of a retailer. My dad owned a retail pharmacy in Smithtown, N.Y., a business model that was disrupted by the likes of Walgreens and CVS. 
Now there are rumblings of Amazon going into the prescription delivery space. It will have an impact I’m sure. But as I watch an independent pharmacy being built on US 1 in Delray which will include an old-fashioned counter and other elements of retro drug stores I wonder if maybe we will leave room for authentic, old fashioned experiences like my dad’s old store. 
Yes AirBNB is all the rage but I think hotels will be around in 10 years. Maybe not the generic kind, but cool independents and boutique brands like Aloft that embrace local aesthetics will make it as will the incredible Crane’s Beach House which offers service, intimacy and strong ties to the local community. 
Big box retail and malls will be severely challenged but independent stores or highly curated chains with unique products and superior services and experiences should find room to survive and thrive. 
Food stores are changing too. 
A news story last week reported on a landmark study that showed consumers shopping for different items in different places. They may grab some items in a local farmers market, buy paper goods at a big box, shop for prepared meals at a local market and hit up a dollar store for staples. The 60,000 item supermarket may find itself struggling or having to reinvent.
So while we should cheer the CRA’s and WARC’s pursuit of a long coveted Publix for West Atlantic we should also recognize that our Green Market, local gardens, ethnic food stores and food halls have a place in our communities. Today’s consumer seems to crave options, authenticity, experience, ambience and value over generic mass. One wonders whether local retailers may mount a comeback: remember when Burdine’s was the Florida store? They didn’t stock sweaters in September because Burdine’s served the Sunshine State not a mass national market?
One of the bigger questions related to what will remain has to do with the future of the car.
Will it remain the same as today? My guess is no. 
There’s too much money being bet by major companies to think that the auto culture won’t be disrupted. 
When autonomous vehicles arrive, it will become the single greatest real estate opportunity of our lifetimes. With so much land and infrastructure given over to the car—i.e. seas of parking lots, garages, lanes and lanes of heat trapping asphalt–think of the opportunity to reinvent cities.
 No, transportation won’t be same. But my guess is the need for people to gather and experience together won’t change–providing great opportunities for cultural institutions, parks, recreation, restaurants and I hope old fashioned town hall democracy to thrive. 
The more technology engulfs our life the more we may crave human interaction and experience; which is the beauty of cities.
Cities are one “invention” that may change but I think they will endure and become more important than ever. 
I sure hope so. 

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