Google ‘What are the coolest, most investable cities in Europe’, and you’ll usually find Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool and Birmingham top of the leader board.
Why? Because of pull factors such as their cultural assets, world class universities, breadth of diversity, talent and widespread connectivity – the list goes on.
But for how long?
Progressive cities – like the ones above – are already thinking about the future and how they can retain their appeal in a society driven by technology. Which is no easy task when faced with a greater sense of social and environmental responsibility than ever before.
During MIPIM 2023, we took the opportunity to speak with some of real estate’s leading voices.
In between the meetings on yachts and talks hosted by Gary Neville (not to brag), they told us what steps cities should be taking to future-proof our cities for future generations.
Early-stage engagement with the next generation
Long-term strategic goals may not bear fruit for Generation Z, or even Millennials. Instead, it will be Generation Alpha (those born in or after 2010-2024) and Beta (born from 2025-2039) that are most likely to reap the rewards.
Which is why you’ve got to ask; how do we know our plans will meet their requirements?
“There is a need to consult with young people, but how much is it happening? I don’t know,” says Choë McCulloch, Editorial Director at Assemble Media Group, which publish Building Design, Housing Today and Building.
“I do know there are pockets where good work is happening. Companies whose sole purpose is co-design and engaging with communities and are doing that [job] really well. To be optimistic, I would look at these success stories and see if that could be rolled out across the industry [and] not just on some, high-profile, public-sector projects.”
By engaging with young people in the early stages of future development, we can learn what they want from place makers.
Jane Healey-Brown, Director at Arup, completes workshops with Year 6 children across Greater Manchester.
“Working with children in a facilitated way makes them understand you cannot have everything you want, there are tensions, challenges, and decisions to be made.,” she said. “Children are open to understanding that and helping them to advocate more clearly what their priorities are.”
Design for a circular economy
“Climate is always top”, says Healey-Brown.
With future generations so aware of the climate crisis, this reinforces the need for ambitious, green, innovative developments. Which includes retrofitting and repurposing pre-existing buildings.
This means we need to always be looking at reducing our use of resources and providing a sustainable approach to construction. The benefits of this include zero (or fewer) demolition costs and reducing the wait times for commercial returns. For example, getting families into much-needed homes quicker.
Recognising that buildings can have value after their initial purpose has faded allows them to remain within our communities as physical and emotional touchpoints for people’s lives.
“The journey for making sure that buildings are designed as part of the circular economy and making sure they are designed efficiently so they can be repurposed in the future, is a journey that we are on”, says Barry Roberts, Managing Director at Morgan Sindall Construction in the North West of England.
“We are almost embryonic with these kinds of ideas but it all forms part of sustainability, in my view. That when a building does need repurposing that it can be repurposed in an efficient way with the minimum amount of carbon.”
Through conversations, it seems one of the biggest barriers to sustainable growth is bravery.
Roberts continues “People know what type of buildings produce the least carbon and are most efficient, but that might have the biggest capital cost. Designers, for example, know that timber frame buildings emit less carbon than steel and concrete, as long as it’s from a sustainable source.
“Steel and concrete are a massive issue for the industry, but it’s a tried and tested method that people have been using for decades. Being brave in terms of the capital cost on budgets, making the right choices now, is our biggest challenge.”
Innovate and be brave
Bravery and innovation go hand in hand, with one not working without the other.
If cities are truly committed to developing sustainably, we need to show a collective interest in new approaches and ideas.
“Innovation is what we need to drive the journey from where we’ve been for the last century to where we are now. It is how we turn the assets of the built and infrastructure assets into a kit of parts that allow us to satisfy a net carbon position,” says Mike Harrison, COO at National Engineering Research & Development (NERD). They are currently producing a graphene-enhanced admixture for concrete that has demonstrated the ability to reduce CO2 emissions by around 30%.
“It’s marginal gains, in every area of projects, that will get us to the end game. There’s no silver bullet, but it’s about innovation, and being open to new ideas and embracing those new ideas.”
Developed in partnership with the University of Manchester’s Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC), Concretene is a prime example of academia, private, and public sectors collaborating to innovate and achieve a common goal.
Collaborate and give young people a voice
Collaboration is another consistent theme in future-proofing cities.
On one level it is about the industry finding ways to keep bringing together investors, innovators, civic leaders, developers, contractors and consultants to work on meeting the challenge.
On another level, it’s about making sure the occupiers of the future understand the challenges and have a voice in the business of creating resilient, flexible cities.
If you want to hear more about what our experts had to say at MIPIM 2023, watch the video below.