The nephew of a long-time friend in the home building and residential community development business sat with us at dinner last night. It was the night of the first day of proceedings of the Urban Land Institute Fall Meeting in Los Angeles, whose theme is "your roadmap to where the real estate industry is headed."

This 20-something year-old engineering student, anxious for a chance to spend time with developers, builders, architects, land planners, finance, legal, and other experts over the next day or so, may be an indicator of where it's headed.

The restaurant, by the way, was a hot high-end Mexican food place, located in the middle of what's become one of Los Angeles's magnet neighborhoods for the homeless.

Homelessness in L.A. and its environs is growing exponentially. Its numbers, estimated at 58,000 in 2017, are the the size of U.S. cities.

Young people - aged 18-24 - are the fastest growing group of homeless people, up 64%. And children without a home increased 41%.

This 20-something year-old engineering student may not yet know what's impossible to accomplish in housing, and that may be housing's hope.

Melissa Majchrzak

Earlier yesterday, iconic architect Frank Gehry, whose signature can be found in Los Angeles, spoke to the ULI audience of the need for architects, builders, and engineers and their clients to partner better to solve problems and accomplish more.

Gehry said his role as an architect is to “find technology that eliminates waste.” His design for 8 Spruce Street, the 76-story residential tower in New York City with a distinctive undulating facade, required no change orders to the curtain wall, due to the use of cutting-edge technology, he said.

“If you cut into waste, that is the role of the architect, to help clients understand that,” he said. “The profession should be aligning itself with cutting costs, cutting waste.”

Waste may in fact be the word for a measure. Waste just might be the delta between making buildings and communities for part of the population versus a more inclusive universe, that would at least slow the exponential growth of the homeless population.

Waste, of course, might also characterize the magnitude of resources buildings should not need to consume--in the making and in the operations--and not return to use by the planet in equal measures.

It's no accident that two of the most provocative and material terms real estate people are hearing in the greater Los Angeles marketplace these days are "gentrification" and "homelessness."

They're a microcosm of the parallel realities we see play out in more or less pronounced fashion in markets across the country.

So, architectural legend Frank Gehry, at age 88, may have a realistic view of what is and what is not possible.

For the past four years, Gehry has worked as a volunteer to help develop new ideas for redeveloping the Los Angeles River, the 51-mile (82 km) concrete flood control channel developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The river project has led to an extensive study of water reclamation and the need to create parks in the city, he said. A plan was developed to create park space that could be turned into a lake to capture water during flood periods, but the concept “didn’t get any takers,” said Gehry, who is still working on a master plan for the river.

Some people hope to restore the river to the point where trout will once again inhabit the water, he said. “I can tell you it will never happen.”

Our young engineering student guest at dinner last night may not know why "it may never happen." And his not knowing what's possible and what's impossible may be our best hope for a "roadmap to where the real estate industry is headed."