Future Cities Fringe Culture Communes in Cannes

Real estate pros recently met in Cannes for the industry show MIPIM. But if you listened closely, you would have heard a conversation developing on the fringes about future cities.

World Cities Network, Resilient Cities Round-Table event
World Cities Network, Resilient Cities Round-Table event

For those who don't know, MIPIM is an international real estate fair where thousands of investors and participants come to talk yields and deals, prime vs. non-prime, and to see and be seen.

It turns out, there is an alternative MIPIM involving regeneration festivals, investing in people and place, low-carbon developments, and a number of great minds attempting to work on projects suitable for future cities. It's possible that if you came, you missed it while you were chatting with the same old people about the same old things. If so, that's a shame -- you're missing out on conversations that could redefine our industry.

Let's start at the macro level with the World Cities Network, a new organisation set up to bring people working in cities around the world together to debate, and ultimately find ways to make our cities more resilient. On a sunny afternoon, on Arup's yacht, Rich Michos, Vice President of Smarter Cities at IBM; Lynda Shilaw of investors Scottish Widows; and David Partridge, CEO of property developers Argent, came together with city leaders including Hannu Pentillä, the Deputy Mayor of the City of Helsinki; Mario Rubert, Director of International Promotion Strategy from Barcelona City Council; and Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, to debate how cities can be more resource efficient, less vulnerable to shocks, and more pleasant places to live as urbanisation trends continue.

It turns out, future-proofing our cities is not rocket science. The main conclusions from the seminar are, rather simply: When cities have a vision, a plan, and some deadlines, and can create long-term projects with stable returns, they achieve twice as much as those that don't.

The subject of housing went on to become the focus of my MIPIM, and how we can create sustainable residential development fit for the future. A beautiful morning by the waterfront saw a collection of industry innovators, including John Badman of Asseal, Nick Jopling of Grainger, and Jackie Sadek of UK Regeneration, discussing the development of the build-to-rent industry. Providing an attractive alternative to owner occupation is a key challenge for many cities with mounting housing pressures as populations continue to expand.

I suggest they listen to those doing it. UK Regeneration, for example, used the floor at MIPIM to announce an agreement to proceed with their 200 home, private rented sector development in Nottingham, an investment in the local community for the long term.

Low-carbon homes are also a vexatious subject for some, but vital for the urban-built environment. Many argue that low-carbon design is complicated and expensive, but it doesn't need to be that way at all. Vertical Thinking, led by Mark Bradbury, has developed what appears to be a viable model, delivering low-carbon homes quicker and cheaper than standard housebuilding. Now, if that's not disruptive innovation, I don't know what is.

Last but not least, and perhaps the highlight of my MIPIM, was discovering Re:Fest! -- a festival for all that's great about the regeneration sector. Regeneration has taken quite a bit of knocking of late as traditional funding sources have dried up, and investment in all but the most prosperous areas has been thin on the ground. However, the successful future of our cities is dependent upon us investing in existing communities, and will need to involve developing on previously developed sites to allow for population expansion in a resource-efficient way. Re:Fest is designed to give a kickstart, and a bit of oompf, to those working in this sector; to create new ideas; and to get this industry moving again.

Missed all this at MIPIM? There is always next year. And while you're there, take some time to speak to those you haven't met before, and uncover what is set to be the future of the property and development industry.

Categories: Housing