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Markets & Geopolitics

Price of success

It’s easy to celebrate increased property values — but what happens if talent is priced out?

Daniel Hajjar, Managing Principal, HOK, London
15 September 2017

What contributing factors make somewhere a good place to live? A 2014 report from Savills, The Importance of Placemaking, cites neighbourhood safety, greenery and amenities as more important to homeowners than buildings. If we use this as a benchmark, we need to address whether our existing urban fabric is sufficient to meet the challenges of affordability, population growth or talent retention.

Great cities attract great talent

And this talent needs to flourish. It’s easy to celebrate increased land values or property prices, but consider the implications for a city such as London if current and future talent is priced out. Empty investment properties would line our streets, while human capital takes flight for other cities.

Although new development needs to create worth, it is the quality of the public spaces and amenities that draws people to cities. This is a common experience globally, where urban centres seek to integrate public and private housing, offering a strong urban form and public realm. A successful example is Copenhagen, which emphasises the importance of retaining elements that attracted people to the city in the first place. Placemaking focuses on the long term, not quick returns.

Organic evolution

We should also ask if the organic evolution of London’s Shoreditch can be deliberately engineered by developers and investors. Redevelopment projects such as Old Oak Common and King’s Cross Central appear to have progressed under direction. But is that all they need to succeed? Let’s not forget that the ability to attract human capital, thought and creativity is also a major contributor to the richness of our urban centres.

These urban environments evolve via consensus and the gradual process of creative groups adopting certain neighbourhoods, often in search of affordability. Authenticity happens organically with time and the right conditions. It can’t be fully imposed, and places can’t have real character in the face of homogeneity and anonymity. If we accept that an urban fabric of quality public spaces and amenities attracts people, and that more affordable homes are pivotal to securing talent, should government policy or the private sector be driving this? To derive the maximum use from assets, unique partnering solutions between the public and private sectors need to be explored. Vancouver’s False Creek project is a strong example of a combined social housing and privately owned development where residents live together as one community.

What is the draw of cities?

Beyond affordability and amenities, what else is the draw of cities? Don’t underestimate the impact of intellectual capital. Look at what the Francis Crick Institute in London has created in one urban block, and consider the economic contribution that institutions such as University College London make to the city.

To ensure the longevity and success of cities, we need to look to the elements that people are typically drawn to: largely the quality of the urban fabric, public realm and amenities. Individual buildings are often more temporal in nature, therefore the collective environment is critical to the success of urban areas. Affordability is vital, and to address this fundamental principle of urbanity, the public and private sector must look beyond traditional models of delivery to mutually succeed.

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