A Dear Landlord Letter on Health
To the real estate owners of the world:
Unless buildings empty out in a business crisis, building managers will soon use digital sensors to track how people use spaces. By the time the high school class of 2012 pays off student loans, a property’s market price will reflect how craftily its managers size rooms and fit out passageways to match how people tend to use them.
We stand at the edge, someone very smart about buildings and their marketing told me confidentially yesterday, of a real-estate era. Landlords and investors who once worked off measures of size, material and function will increasingly also measure how buildings and parks make people feel- and make them behave.
Whether this puts us at the edge of a mineral-bath swimming pool or a cliff depends on how we understand privacy and how we understand metrics.The second is a lot easier to norm, so let’s bang it into place: now that sensors and Web surveys can tell us stories about how people tend to move through a space, we should use those stories to make places promote better health.Which means we should anonymize all the data like this we get, and let vendors like Facebook make incursions on our privacy.
Health anchors both a value proposition and a moral code. The riddle of how you measure activity within a place springs to life with no clear lineage in the history of private property. We’ve spent common brainpower adjudging how people should use a place, through zoning and floor plans. We’ve come up with rules for how owners should safeguard a place, with fire codes and air quality laws. But now that sensors can pick up where people tend to sit, fidget, gather, throw spitballs and nap, what do we track? For capitalist ends, we can either choose what people seem to like to do- and then sell cues toward that implied preference – or get arrogant and choose what people should do to live fuller lives.
Let’s get arrogant- we’re real estate professionals, after all- and see what makes people less likely to become obese or develop Type II diabetes. Let’s see what connects them more frequently to each other and to sunshine. Let’s leave to other economic actors (like publishers) the game of guesstimating what really maters to them based on their habits and then stuffing those habits down their throats.
Healthier people tend to keep their spaces clean. They negotiate in good faith. And odds are they survive floods, food shortages, new airborne diseases and other climate events more inventively and with less rioting.
This letter is open.
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