Are garages obsolete?

Let's consider this as an example of an average home builder's challenge. If you take a snapshot in time--today, for example--the answer would clearly be "no," as this data from the National Association of Home Builders attests, about 9 out of 10 new homes have a garage of one size or another. However, if you're an average home builder, your business model--resources, investment, and returns--embraces at least a present and a mid-term future, if not a longer-term future.

So the question, "are garages obsolete?" takes on different meanings across time, stretching from now into at least two discrete futures, one more proximate than the other. And the real urgent matter for every home builder or residential developer--given the upfront investment necessary to do the job--is how to mete out bandwidth enough for the mid-term and longer term future. Especially when keeping things humming in the present part of the time spectrum feels challenging enough.

Still, going back to the initial question, "are garages obsolete," lets look at this. Personal transportation is in flux. Its long-term future looks like something between The Jetsons and an even more outlandish scenario than that. As cars become autonomous and battery-fueled and are, literally, algorithmically driven, the getting-to-and-from places by people changes, and vehicular ownership changes, and business communities change.

Add to that this increasingly clear trend as home transactions match up with buyer values: walkability. Now, we're not suggesting walkability rules out cars, only that more walkability probably runs counter to more cars. Here are Redfin's data points on the top 10 new home markets with the best Walk Scores.

Walk Score: Top 10 most-walkable new residential construction markets

That said, it's reasonable to guess that, some time between the mid-term future of the next two to four years, and the longer-term future beyond that, architects and builders will be thinking quite differently about the time, money, materials, and space that go into making residential garages and driveways.

KTGY [architects] principal Manny Gonzalez predicts that something entirely different will be likely to happen with those materials, that money and time, and that square footage sometime well before 2040.

Here are a couple of other ways to think about garages.

One, is the Miami project at 1111 Lincoln Road, which has reimagined a parking structure, pictured here as a curated high-end venue for dining, entertainment, and cultural experience.

Another, here, is Northwestern University's The Garage, which Harvard Business Review contributor and Fast Company founder Bill Taylor describes in this way:

[Northwestern] has reimagined an old, musty, on-campus parking garage as an incubator space for budding entrepreneurs, complete with 3-D printers, interactive screens, and loads of software. Here’s how the Times describes The Garage: “To maintain a sense of the provisional and knockabout, the architects preserved the parking lines on the (cleaned-up) concrete floors and used inexpensive plywood, embellished with spray-painted graphics, for many of the walls. ‘We embraced the raw nature of the parking garage,’ said Todd Heiser, design principal at Gensler in Chicago. ‘We left the cinder block. We left the concrete in its natural state.’”

From these, more commercial instances we see, though, that maybe asking the question "are garages obsolete" is the wrong question. We can see from more NAHB data here that garages--especially as a place to store items not currently in use--are on many buyers' "most-wanted" lists. Just as important, garages are not cropping up on anybody of any age's "most-unwanted" list. When buyers think of the extraneous, unnecessary, and wasteful ways of using money, time, materials, and valuable square footage, they're not clamoring to get rid of garages, at least today.

Which brings us back to the reason for the question in the first place. Asking it may seem like a worthless, senseless exercise in light of today's market dynamics and value set. However, builders, residential developers and investors absolutely need to be thinking beyond today, and the big honking challenge is how much bandwidth is the right amount to commit to that kind of thinking.

Bill Taylor's key point in his HBR essay, "There is No Such Thing as an Average Business, Just Average Ways to Do Business," is this. Innovation doesn't have to be a moon shot, but it does have to be new behaviors that lead to an ability to see and meet needs in a new way. Taylor notes:

The thrill of breakthrough creativity can be summoned in all sorts of industries and all walks of life if executives and entrepreneurs are prepared to reimagine what’s possible in their fields. In fact, the opportunity to reach for extraordinary may be most pronounced in settings that have been far too ordinary for far too long.

It’s even true for parking garages — whether that’s repurposing an old, bland facility to store cars into a buzzing incubator to unleash young, hard-driving entrepreneurs, or transforming the mundane experience of parking into a stylish retail-and-social complex unlike anything the world has seen. How are you doing ordinary things in extraordinary ways?

What can be more everyday than where it is we wake up, go to sleep, and live? HIVE asks this question. What if you choose not to build what people don't use and don't need, and instead used those same resources--money, time, space--to build only what people do use and need? That's a real-time present question, but also think about what happens to that question when you warp it for the mid-term and longer-term future.

More than 400 people--innovators, strategic leaders, planners, business chiefs, and investors--have registered for HIVE, and the spaces for attendance are limited. It's your opportunity to get in on the ground floor of learning how to look at both the present and the future of housing through a new lens, with greater clarity, more purpose, and, ultimately, better chances at sustainable success. Register here now.