Everyone has some kind of mission or vision, something that gets them up in the morning, so when I say my sense of mission in real estate is different I'm not trying to distinguish myself. I am just trying to pursue what's on my heart---but I am aware that we're all doing that in one way or another.
However, in order to implement the ideas I have in mind, I do need to distinguish what I'm trying to do from the normal way of doing things in real estate, because one thing I've learned over the past few years is that my mission is different. It's not better than that of others, it's just different.
My reason for plunging into this business is because I have this frustrating passion to rebuild our society. That involves rebuilding our communities one property at a time. That involves proposing new ways of thinking about residential areas, strip malls, and presenting concepts for mixed use development so we could live in more human environments again.
This sense of mission may seem foolish and self-righteous to many people. After all, aren't all real estate agents and investors looking to help people in some way? Why should I assume that my task is any more important than that of anyone else's in the business? Well, I don't think my mission is more important. I do think it is more focused on the big picture, and in that sense it is more idealistic. That is not a boast but a self-critique. We all have ideals we wish to implement, but life happens and then we come to our senses. We then choose a more practical, humble path and abandon our ideals. So I critique myself for not letting go of the ideals I've always held to, because it's not that other people don't have similar ones. They're just being realistic and they don't see any way to bring those ideals into reality.
So in a sense, this post is my confession of the fact that I cannot help but get these thoughts off my chest, even if nothing comes of them. Nevertheless, with the abilities we now have with free media and AI tools, our ideals can come to life a little bit more than in the past. Just a few decades ago, I'd have to hire an architect and find a publisher just to share the urban planning ideas I have for the forgotten tracts of land I pass each day in my hometown. Now I can just use an AI image generator and post the concept on my blog. It may never become a reality, but there is at least some value in simply presenting ideas.
A writer often has to deal with the reality that his ideas will never be fully realized within his lifetime, but that doesn't mean they're not worth having or sharing. Future generations may find ways to implement them. Or we can start projects within our lifetime, even if we know we will probably die before anyone completes them. That doesn't mean they're not worth starting. Some of the most beautiful cathedrals, like Cologne Cathedral, took centuries to build. In fact, that's kind of the point. The vision for those man-made wonders was to build something larger than life---and it takes more than a lifetime to do that.
There is a chasm between concept and reality today, one that didn't exist---or at least was not as large---in the past, because people were interested in more than profit. Our excessive concern for profit these days has resulted in a soulless environment. Forgive me for believing we can do better. I'm serious. I don't like being cynical, but saying nothing about it is even worse. Like Waylon Jennings sang, I've always been crazy but it keeps me from going insane. In other words, I may be crazy in thinking we can reshape the entire modern landscape; but if I don't at least share my ideas on how we can do so, I will go insane.
Concept 1: Convert the large parking lots of huge strip malls into plazas, and build parking garages to compensate for lost parking. This will create more pedestrian space, which can be used for small business ventures. We already see a similar concept in flea markets, farmer's markets, and even indoor malls which have island carts along the main concourse.
The image this concept generated is far from satisfactory, but it's a start. If an actual architect drew up the concept it would be much better. For one, there is no perceivable car entrance for the parking in the center plaza area. On top of that, I didn't ask for parking in the plaza in the first place. Also, the commercial architecture is far too modern. I don't know why our default style for conceptual architecture is modern. Modern is not always better, but for some reason many people think "modern" and "better" are synonymous. By definition, modern things are not tried and true. They have not withstood the test of time. If something modern does stand the test of time, it becomes classic and traditional.
'Tradition is the sum of successful innovations' - Mieke Bosse, architect
Concept 2: Build a parking garage on the ground level and build a promenade on the second level with shops, residential units (condos, apartments, townhouses), and make the second level more conducive to walking but also include some parking spaces. This concept has been successfully implemented in Carmel, Indiana.
As Jim Brainerd, mayor of Carmel, said, ever since cars became more popular after World War II, "We've neglected creating places where people can come together". We are human beings, not cars. We need to build more spaces that allow for more natural human activities and interactions. Large housing developments, strip malls, and commercial highways do the opposite.
Concept 3: Build open walkable small towns with all necessary amenities within one hundred yards of residential units. Provide access for cars, but make the streets narrow and meandering so drivers naturally drive slowly. The city of Cayalá in Guatemala, built in the past 12 years, beautifully implements this concept.
Our society, and Western Civilization in general, is in serious decline. In order to rebuild our society, we have to build our environments to encourage a different lifestyle, one that is healthier, more natural, and more visually literate. Modern architectural designs, both structural designs and urban planning, emphasize simplicity over beauty and practicality over elegance. But beauty and elegance do have practical applications. We've simply forgotten their purpose because our pursuit of wealth has superseded our pursuit of truth.
There may have been a time when only practical ideas had a place in public discussion, but these days we are so far from realizing our full potential as a society that we need a forum for larger-than-life ideas, because that's what it's going to take to get where we need to be.
So, what do you think? Is this discussion outside the realm of a real estate investor and agent? I think not. It's the job of agents and investors to buy and sell the properties that forward the ideas mentioned above. If architects, developers, and municipalities know that there are groups of agents and investors standing behind these ideas who will help them sell the properties once they're built they will be more willing to build them. How our communities are built is up to not just the planning boards, zoning boards, architects and engineers.
A topic as large and influential as our built environment should not be closed to a small group of specialists. New development ought to be a popular discussion on every town's local social media page. We should attend as many municipal meetings as we can, build relationships with local architects, engineers and builders, and talk about local construction projects at our family dinners. These are our communities, afterall. And if we are going to have any influence on our built environment, we ought to get involved in some way. That's why I entered real estate. Many people in the business say we are actually in the marketing business and our product is real estate, but I believe our impact can be greater than that.
Now that you know how my mission in real estate is different, I hope you can help make these ideas more concrete by helping us pour the concrete.
Featured image generated by Microsoft Designer