Productive Industries & Farms: Malls as Maker Spaces

A picture of a mall with vacant retail spaces. The text 'The Development of Productive Industries & Farms' is overlaid. This references one of the tenents in NAR's Code of Ethics preamble.

People around the country are working to revitalize malls. What moves do you see in your community?

This piece and thoughts around it were inspired by my hometown of Muscatine, Iowa. It’s a town of 20,000 that’s relied on manufacturing labor for decades. It also has a mall that was a fixture of my formative years and was my town square. It’s where you went to see and be seen. Movies, music and books, a connection to the outside world. My internet before the internet. The problem today, however, is malls like the one I grew up with are experiencing hard times. As an example, Muscatine Mall, had 30+ stores in its heyday. Today, that’s been reduced exponentially. I asked my dad to document it and below are photos from a Saturday a couple weeks back.

Main hallway of a mall. A majority of the stores are vacant

The main hallway for the mall. We used to do many laps around this space on Friday and Saturday nights, waiting for movies to start or friends to arrive. (Photo courtesy: Tom Curry)

A vacant glass storefront in a mall.

You’ll see some natural light in these pictures and that’s one of the attractive features of this space. It provided a connection to the outside world in this built space. (Photo courtesy: Tom Curry)

A row of vacant stores in a hallway of a mall.

These stores were national chains and brands. Some of the stores in the mall today are local merchants. (Photo courtesy: Tom Curry)

Glass-walled store that is empty.

This was the first video store in town. I remember going here to rent films. (Photo courtesy: Tom Curry)

A former flagship store at a mall that is vacant

This was an anchor store for the mall since its opening. It closed several years back. (Photo courtesy: Tom Curry)

Honestly, it is tough to see a place I used to frequent look so underutilized. Understand, I’m not critiquing the owners of the mall. They are interested in seeing this space succeed. It’s not their faults. Retail is taking a hit and small markets like Muscatine are suffering. The New York Times recently had a feature on a man who’s documenting the demise of malls. So what to do with the space?

A recent article of On Common Ground from our Smart Growth group at NAR points out various efforts around the US to repurpose malls. It’s a great piece. From community colleges to transitional housing, there are some really innovative efforts taking shape. But I’ve had an idea that I am certain someone is attempting and I just haven’t heard about it. What if malls became maker spaces?

What is a Maker Space?

By now, you may know that CRT is building our own environmental quality sensor for members to use as closing gifts. We were able to get this project started at our offices in Chicago. We have a 3D printer, equipment for soldering and building sensor boards. But then, we started to hit the limits of our equipment and space. Rather than asking our Budget Committee for hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment we may only use a few times, we decided to look for a space we could work on this type of thing in. We were lucky to find a space called mHUB.

mHUB is 63,000 square feet, and over two million dollars worth of light manufacturing equipment. It’s a non-profit that was launched out of public and private partnerships with the City of Chicago through an organization called World Business Chicago and an awesome 8,000 square foot maker space called Catalyze Chicago. They joined forces with a number of businesses and created an amazing space.

In mHUB, we have access to a Woodworking Shop, a Metals shop, a 3D print lab, electronics lab, laser cutting machines and several other types of equipment. Things as simple as hammers, screwdrivers and wrenches. Not only that, we have access to the mindshare of mHUB members. Engineers, industrial designers, software developers, and hobbyists with an amazing idea. It’s a village of great innovation.

We pay a monthly membership and it allows us to access any of that equipment. It also gives us access to others working on projects that could overlap with our work or who could help inform what we’re doing and learn from them. We can prototype rapidly without incurring the traditional costs of manufacturing. mHUB consists of groups, like NAR, people who are trying out a new idea with no previous manufacturing experience, industrial engineers, artists and large companies, like GE.

Now imagine if cities like my hometown Muscatine, could use this to revitalize its industry and help workers who may be out of work, or people with an idea without a lot of capital, find a new way to make a living. It makes sense to me when I think about towns like Muscatine because of the workers’ skill sets.

Malls as Maker Spaces

In taking our experiences at mHUB, I see hope for the malls like the one in Muscatine. They can become communities of industry and innovation. Here are some potential uses for the space:

  • The former shoe store becoming a woodworking shop
  • The bookstore a 3D print lab
  • The music store a tool library
  • The cinemaplex of 4 theaters a space to hold presentations and meetups
  • Job training could happen in the larger anchor stores and could be sponsored by the local companies
  • The food court becomes a place to restaurants in the city to have pop ups or a cheap kiosk to sell lunch to the workers at the space
  • Another storefront could become a server room and a local ‘cloud’ created for participants in the space
  • Yet another space becomes a place to grow food

It could become a place to attract new business, a place to let the local business and manufacturing companies sponsor, and let the makers sell their wares.

My statement above about growing food is not a crazy one. Recently, a company called Plenty received a $200 million dollar investment from Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame, and other investors. Plenty creates systems for growing food indoors. Imagine if the food court became the place to grow food. Fresh food could be harvested and sold in an indoor farmers market.

So rather than going to the mall to buy manufactured goods, they become places to manufacture.

Revitalizing spaces in Muscatine is not a new idea, or for other communities for that matter. I’m very aware of the impact malls had on downtowns. In fact, in Muscatine, our downtown was decimated by the mall. But today, there are efforts to revitalize. One building in particular now has a great coffee shop and other specialty shops and is a destination for community members. Muscatine is not unique for this. Groups like Recast City are helping local governments think about how to do this type of thing.

The Challenges of this Idea (To Be Continued)

This is a long piece, so I’ll end with the presentation of the premise and say that I see challenges. I’m also looking for your ideas around what the challenges would be. Here is what I see as some immediate challenges:

  • Cost
  • Community buy-in
  • Business buy-in
  • Building Infrastructure
  • Zoning
  • Space utilization
    • Does it all need to be filled at once?
    • Does it all need to be a maker space?
  • Covering ongoing costs
  • Who owns it?

So, what do you think? Does it sound feasible? Definitely submit ideas and thoughts in the comments below. Thanks!

Things Thursday #020: What makes a city smart?, Microsoft entering the thermostat battle, and some great resources on smart homes for you

A hand holding our environmental quality sensor, which is called the Touchstone. It's about the size and shape of a bar of soap.

The Touchstone sensor from CRT Labs. This device will read temperature, humidity, light, CO2, VOCs, particulate matter and more.

  1. What are 10 key things that make a city smart? (via ReadWrite)
    This is a great roundup of what a city needs to be smart. From connectivity to sensing, ReadWrite put together a great roundup. If you’re interested in the real estate perspective on smart cities, we’ve got a series for you to check out called ‘The Building of Functioning Cities‘.
  2. And finally: Amazon Echo 2 incoming and more (via Wareable)
    Yes, this is a list of smart home/wearable items for you to peruse. They have some good intel on Amazon’s latest smart speaker as well as what Apple’s up to on the smart home front. Check it out.
  3. What to know about smart home technology: 10 smart home resources for REALTORS (via CRT Labs)
    Another roundup??? What’s going on with this list? 🙂 I would be remiss if I didn’t point you to our roundup of resources you can take advantage of to bolster your understanding of this emerging market. Why does it matter to you? Because it matters to your clients. Read on to find out more.
  4. Microsoft’s Cortana-powered thermostat is totally gorgeous (via CNET)
    This is definitely something to consider. A nice-looking thermostat from Microsoft and Johnson Controls. No pricing info yet, but keep an eye on this. It’s called the GLAS, it’s voice-enabled (with Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri and Alexa) and it monitors indoor and outdoor air quality. If you want a voice-enabled thermostat now, check out the Ecobee4 with Alexa integration. If the $249 price point is keeping you away, you should look for rebates from your utility or insurance company.
  5. Touchstone: Environmental Quality Monitor for your home! (via CRT Labs)
    Finally, a look at what we’ve been up to. This device is not on the market yet, but take a look at our work. Really proud of our group here at NAR. Akram, one of our lab engineers, provides a pretty deep dive into what we’ve been up to with this device. I’m really proud of our team and their efforts to make this piece of hardware and the software behind it. They’ve been extremely supportive of one another and have collaborated better than I could have imagined. Kudos to them.

That’s all for Things Thursday this week. Have questions? Want us to cover something? Let us know. You can follow us on Twitter @crtlabs or Facebook

What to Know About Smart Home Technology: 10 Resources for REALTORS & Their Clients

Smart home technology is definitely here to stay. According to a recent report on consumer adoption of smart home technology, 79% said they own some type of smart home tech. Those that owned it said they would purchase more. Ninety-seven percent of consumers now know what smart devices are. This is up from 67% in 2015. Because of market awareness, there are several opportunities for you to discuss these devices with your clients. They may:

  • have interest in adding value to a home before selling it
  • be wondering if they should leave devices with the home
  • want to outfit their new home with devices
  • be curious about simply learning more

As more and more of these devices hit the market, consumers will ask you about the benefits and their needs. Below, we’ve compiled a list of resources for you to use to educate yourself and your clients on smart home technology.

Here are 10 resources that you can use in improving your understanding of smart home technology:

1. Smart Home Glossary and Smart Home/Internet of Things FAQ

The glossary and FAQ are good places to start. They give you all the terms that relate to smart home devices. From how these devices connect to what IoT is. It’s a compendium of the most asked questions we’ve received with respect to these devices. Help clients get ahead of the curve by sharing the links with them.

2. The Insecurity of Things: Understanding Security Issues Around the Internet of Things

Last fall, when the denial of service attack happened and most of the internet wouldn’t work, I wrote a 3-part series on the security issues around the internet of things. I looked at what you as a user of these devices can do to protect yourself as well as what manufacturers need to do to protect you. Security is paramount for these devices and this series gives some insights on what to do to make sure you understand the risks and how to mitigate them.

3. Smart Home Simplified 1-Pagers

Our Smart Home Simplified series of 1-pagers is meant to give you a high level overview of the different device classes in the smart home space. These 1-pagers are great tools for educating yourself, other agents, or consumers. You are able to share them with whomever you’d like. Add a link in your newsletter or other informational posts. Each sheet talks about the pros and cons of these devices, how they work and why consumers are interested in them. The 10 classes of devices we cover are:

  • Thermostats
  • Locks
  • Doorbells
  • Cameras
  • Indoor Air Quality Sensors
  • Lights
  • Hubs
  • Voice Activated Speakers
  • Water Leak Detectors
  • Smoke/CO Detectors

Each page will also provide you with a link to a resources page for that class of devices. Think we need to add another class of devices? Let us know.

4. CRT’s Smart Home Report

Last year, we did our first smart home report with our Research Group at NAR. This will be an ongoing annual report for the next few years. We are working to better understand your knowledge of the space and that of the consumer market. Use it to understand what devices are important to consumers and where there are opportunities to help support clients in their quest to understand this market.

5. Educate Yourself & Consumers on Incentives from Utilities & Insurance Companies

I recently wrote a piece on the value of understanding what rebates and incentives are being offered by your utilities and insurance companies. These incentives may or may not be known by your clients, but knowing about what is available in your area is of tremendous value to them. It also shows that you’re looking out for ways to improve their experience.

6. CRT Labs’ Things Thursday

On a semi-regular basis, we put together a round-up on the internet of things and talk about the implications for real estate. We look at the way in the future tech as well as stuff that you can take advantage of today. It’s a great list of links you can share with your team, other agents or clients.

7. CRT Labs’ Office Hours Every Friday

Our Facebook page is a great place to find resources. Every Friday, we hold Office Hours on emerging technology. They start at 3p Eastern and run for about 20 minutes. We love receiving questions and comments during the Office Hours so we can discuss with you and have active conversation on these topics. Like the page and be notified immediately of any live videos we are doing.

8. Smart Home Checklist App

Have you sold a home that had smart home devices in it already? If so, did you have those devices reset by the seller before transferring ownership? If not, the seller may still have access to the smart devices. To help with this problem, we created a web app called the Smart Home Checklist. This simple app will allow you to identify the devices in the home, aggregate them on a list and share that list with whomever you want.

9. Smart Home DB

The Smart Home DB is a great resource to find out more about specific devices. They have nearly 1,200 devices listed in this community-curated database. They also have user-generated plans for hooking up different devices and some how-tos. We are actually feeding the backend of our Smart Home Checklist from this repository.

10. IoT Podcast from Stacey Higginbotham

Stacey is an IoT industry expert and she has a great podcast on the topic of smart homes, smart cities and industrial IoT. She has vendors and industry experts talk about the market now and what’s coming.She’s even covered CRT’s work in the past on her podcast. Stacey’s expertise comes from years of covering technology for a number of news sites, including Fortune and GigaOm. Sign up for her newsletter and find out what’s coming next.

BONUS: This blog & CRT Labs

You might have noticed a lot of the resources I posted linked back to this blog. There’s a reason for that. CRT is one of the few resources thinking about the impact of emerging technology on your business. We talk to members about it, as well as speaking to industry experts, vendors, security groups, universities, government and research laboratories about you and your business. They see you as a valuable resource and are very interested in your feedback and work. So, use us as a resource. We do webinars, presentations and all sorts of educational outreach. Drop us a line if you’d like us to present to your group.

That’s it for this roundup. Are there any resources you’d like from us that aren’t listed above? Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and let us know.

 

The Building of Functioning Cities: Navigating the Smart City

Time-lapse photo of cars driving in Atlanta, GA at night. Shoes trailing tail lights and headlights with Atlanta in the background.

Photo by Joey Kyber on Unsplash

As cities become more densely populated, getting around them takes on a new sense of urgency. One of the big reasons cities are interested in smart city technology is to help solve transportation problems. In this article, we’ll look at three technologies that help residents navigate their cities and identify what the value is to them and to the real estate practitioner.

Smart street lights help the city save money, energy and reduce light pollution

Cities like Chicago, LA, Barcelona, and Amsterdam are employing new lighting strategies to cut down on light pollution, reduce energy usage, and better serve their citizens. One company working on this problem, Tvilight, has developed a solution that will brighten when there are people around at night and dim when there aren’t. Tvilight has several deployments in large and small communities throughout Europe. Their lighting allows for city administrators to remotely set levels for lights, understand evening traffic patterns, and save energy. In some cases, these lights have helped reduce maintenance costs by up to 60% as well. For the real estate practitioner, communities using these lights could become a selling point. Reduced light pollution, yet retaining a safely lit environment is something that anyone would love.

Intelligent stop lights can help clear congestion and reduce accidents

In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, adaptive signal control technology is helping improve traffic flows and reduce accidents in the city. The smart stop lights have dropped traffic congestion by 5-11%. This means fewer idling cars, saving fuel and money for drivers. Another benefit is the technology has reduced the number of accidents. Because the technology can adapt, it means less of drivers trying to outrun a light change. Sioux Falls has seen a reduction in accidents from 1 accident every three days average to 1 accident every four days average. Over time, that adds up due to all the emergency services required during these times. This data can also help inform commute times and give you a real time sense of congestion, or if there are any accidents in the area, so you can adapt your route wherever you’re going.

 

Smart parking systems can let you know if there’s a space available anywhere

One of the biggest challenges to living in a large metropolitan area is finding parking. I live in a neighborhood that used to have plentiful street parking, but now, we can drive around for 15-30 minutes trying to find a space. Libelium is a company helping cities connect with citizens by providing real time parking space data. Using magnets, sensors and cameras, Libelium relays real time information about parking spaces in a community and can reduce the amount of time you are spending looking for a space. They could also provide historical information that can help city planners think about the parking issues in their city. This data will be extremely valuable in real estate for some time to come.

As you can see from the article, cities large and small are employing these techniques. Smart city technology is not an all or nothing proposition. You don’t need to have a myriad of smart solutions added right away. Communities are employing solutions to help them solve immediate problems, then adding to those solutions. Are you seeing solutions like these in your communities? Let us know in the comments below.

Things Thursday #018: Detroit, Smart City! and how secure are your speakers and more

A picture of the Detroit skyline.

Detroit’s getting sensors provided by citizens. Read below about Sensors in a Shoebox.

  1. HomePod, Echo, Google Home: How secure are your speakers? (via C|NET)
    There are a lot of questions around security and smart devices like the speakers. In fact, the audience at my presentation at the South Bay Association of REALTORS this past Monday were very concerned around security of smart speakers. This nice quick piece on the security of your data from Apple, Google and Amazon’s voice automation speakers. It seems like Apple has the advantage based on their encryption best practices. Even though they cost around $349, the HomePods secure your data the same way that Apple’s Messages and Siri applications do. Check it out and see if your security questions are answered.
  2. Toyota is exploring heart rate monitoring cars to help prevent accidents (via Wareable)
    For me, these types of thoughts around smart technologies are very worthwhile. Nothing is imminent from Toyota, but they are exploring how to determine if a driver is incapacitated and what they can do to help them in case of emergency.
  3. Samsung challenges Google with Connect Home Wi-Fi mesh (via ReadWrite)
    Mesh networking is becoming a big market and it’s being driven by IoT. Samsung joins Google, eero and several other companies in trying to scratch this itch. Follow the link to see what they are up to.
  4. Detroit Imagines a Citizen-Led Smart City (via CityLab)
    This is the type of thing I love about smart city work. A community coming together to solve a problem. Detroit is a great innovation space due to its past economic downturn. The city is ripe for change and new ideas. Working with the University of Michigan, residents are deploying smart sensors. The project, called Sensors in a Shoebox, are providing a low-cost way for residents to understand their environment. Imagine if REALTORs could help deploy projects like this to improve quality of life. Pretty cool.

That’s all for Things Thursday this week. Have questions? Want us to cover something? Let us know. You can follow us on Twitter @crtlabs or Facebook