Freakonomics ep435 – Why Are Cities (Still) So Expensive?

VoltServer is honored to be mentioned on the latest Freakonomics Radio podcast by Dan Doctoroff, CEO of Sidewalk Labs an Alphabet company.


DOCTOROFF: There is a new technology, relatively new, called mass timber, and it uses wood, which is not a new technology, but the way the wood is, in effect, manufactured and laminated gives it really powerful properties that we think with factory automation can dramatically reduce the cost of construction. But at the same time, they’re significantly more sustainable than traditional building methods. Think about it as Lincoln Logs or something like that, where you could develop a kit of parts that could then be assembled partially in a factory, partially on site with dramatically less time and effort. 

DUBNER: And cost, I assume. 

DOCTOROFF: And cost. So we’re quite excited about that. Here’s another example, which we think is really compelling, which is a new technology called digital electricity. It’s essentially electricity that is delivered over Ethernet cables. Now, there’s a lot of advantages to it. One is it effectively works as sort of a communications backbone in the building itself. But more importantly, it’s much safer than traditional electricity. And as a result, you don’t need to put wires and conduit in walls. You can put them in the baseboard.

Why does that matter? It matters because that gives you the ability to make buildings a lot more flexible going forward. You can design wall systems that actually don’t need wires in them, that can be moved more easily. Now, let’s take an example of retail. So, we know in urban environments — this was happening before the pandemic and it’s only been accelerated now — that the retail environment is horrible. Right? That’s threats from e-commerce. So, there’s a lot of potential new ideas for retail.

Rents probably will be coming down. That’s going to be an important thing to encourage new people. But they don’t want to enter into long-term leases, which is what landlords typically require. Well, the reason landlords want long-term leases, among other things, is renovation costs are so high. So, if we can create buildings that are a lot more flexible, and digital electricity is a key component to that, then you know what? Maybe what we can do is really help to accelerate the retail revival.

Listen to the podcast or read the transcript here