Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Could Pokémon Go help affordable housing?

What we're building 
by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

You’ve likely heard about, or even played, Pokémon Go, the new mobile game that overlays imaginary creatures onto a real-time map.  What you may not have heard is that Pokémon Go gives us a new way to think about how and where we live and travel. The map within Pokémon Go highlights public spaces, denser living patterns, transit and other features of places that offer more affordable housing opportunity.

Sure, it’s just a game. It has all the trappings of Pokémon: weird but oddly cute imaginary creatures, a puzzling imperative to collect them in spherical cages, and an undeniable ability to capture the attention of many, many people. By placing all of those features on top of a real-time map that you interact with by actually going places, the game pushes players to engage with the built environment in a way I’ve never seen before in a game. 

Pokémon Go rewards players for visiting Pokéstops and Pokégyms, all of which are pre-marked on the map. In my individual assessment and others’ more thorough review, Pokéstops highlight all sorts of valuable public and private spaces:


There are some businesses, too, including a few bars I won’t mention by name (one is immediately below NHC’s offices). For the most part, though, the game encourages players to appreciate the public spaces that come from investment of public resources.  Near my suburban home, there are just a few Pokéstops: two parks, my transit stop, a church and a hospital.  In downtown D.C., near my office, there are probably five times as many Pokéstops in the equivalent land area. Players will find a lot more Pokémon Go activity, closer together, in more densely settled, walkable communities. Stimulating positive encounters with those environments can help build appreciation for the smarter patterns of development that generate housing opportunities.

And in case you think this is too abstract and disconnected from the world of real estate, know that it’s already becoming a selling point for single-family homes. So, if you play or know those that do, let me know. We’ve already discovered that NHC member CPDC’s Edgewood Commons development is a Pokéstop, but if you find other Pokéstops that connect to affordable housing, please share them with me. I think we’re all curious to see where this goes.

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