What will you build in your city?

How the real estate industry works (or doesn’t), and how Popularise shakes things up

H Street is a cool and funky neighborhood in Washington, DC

Have you ever wondered why D.C.’s Baseball District is so characterless but 14th Street is so vibrant? Why H Street NE is so cool and funky while NOMA* is impersonal and corporate? Why Georgetown has the same bland stores as Michigan Ave in Chicago?

You probably have some sense of why this is. But let me tell you—you have no idea how deep the rabbit hole goes.

After working in real estate for years, we’ve developed an intimate understanding of how great neighborhoods get turned into vanilla clones. And we want to make it stop happening.

We created Popularise as a new way to approach developing authentic places, by using the web to give development power back to local residents like you.

To fully explain why we started Popularise—and why it will change how real estate projects get built—we need to explain how the real estate industry works. So I intend to spend the next few posts explaining just that.

My goal, and I would love your help, is to pull the curtain back on the real estate industry in the same way Food, Inc. did for the agro-business and food industry. Because in many ways, the same financial engineering that transformed how we eat also drove similar changes in how we live, work, dine, and shop.

Basically, real estate development has become dominated by huge investment funds and public real estate companies—most of whom have more than a billion dollars in assets.

While this money brought a lot of benefits, these corporations just aren’t based in the neighborhoods they develop. They’re out of touch with what people in those neighborhoods want, need, and use.

So they build cookie-cutter projects. It’s a lot easier to repeat a past success than to risk something new. I have watched—and sadly taken part in—large corporate institutions making their decisions based mostly on financial analysis. Analysis which usually lacks any sense of what belongs in, or amplifies the local texture—something almost any local resident or consumer intuitively understands.

The good news is that, just as the web transformed the media industry, so it can transform the real estate industry.

Instead of a few conglomerates controlling the creation and distribution of information, the web turned media into millions of people creating and distributing information themselves.

We want to do the same thing for the real estate industry: thousands of people building and owning their own neighborhoods.

I’ll explain more in the upcoming posts.

- Ben Miller, Co-Founder

* North of Massachusetts Avenue at the New York Avenue Metro Stop