Changing Cities

The world is shrinking, sharply defining where people will live, work and play: Those were the opening remarks at the ULI Fall Meeting in Chicago yesterday.

The world is shrinking, sharply defining where people will live, work and play.

“We are at an inflection point,” said Dan Pelino, general manager of the global public sector for IBM, opening the ULI Fall Meeting in Chicago yesterday.

City growth was a major theme, with a number of first-day sessions addressing how cities will be shifting and developing.

Looking to the future, Pelino predicted that by 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population and 91 percent of the global economy will be in 200 cities, 16 percent of the population will be 65 and over, and the poverty level will have dropped from 14 percent down to 3 percent. On the retail front, cities are starting to look more and more the same as retailers expand around the world, and the growing e-commerce market are redefining how people shop.

Overall, Pelino painted a positive picture for the world’s population and for the real estate investor striving to play in the global markets, although he offered a set of guidelines for the investor, in the form of five questions necessary to success in any city:

Do you understand the political climate?
Do you understand the capital flow?
Do you understand how to work with the local players?
What kind of skilled resourced do you have on the ground?
Can you scale it?

“If you can’t answer those five questions, then you can’t be in the global markets,” he added.

Pelino offered advice for cities outside of the top 200, as well. Since the Millennial generation is picking where they want to live first, rather than going where the jobs are, as their parents have done, smaller cities will have to reinvent themselves to make themselves attractive. He pointed to Rochester, N.Y., as an example of success. With its traditional businesses declining, Rochester instead focused on healthcare and education and has consequently created 25,000 jobs more than it had in the heyday of Kodak and its other one-time major employers.

A panel on repositioning the suburban corridors moderated by ULI senior resident fellow Edward McMahon presented successful reinventions by three other areas of the country: the Columbia Pike in Arlington, Va.; the Livernois Corridor outside Detroit; and Carmel, Ind. Based on their experiences, the planning leaders involved in those transformations offered some further advice to developers and city planners:

Walkability and complete streets are a priority, according to Takis Karantonis, executive director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization. Furthermore, high-capacity transportation is a prerequisite and place-making is a key driver of the economy. And while the reverse happened there, transportation should really come before development, not afterward.

Added Mike Hollibaugh, director of community services planning and zoning for Carmel, details matter (such as door locations, clear windows, inclusion of sidewalks and landscaping), parking is key (including structured and on-street parking, location of both, and city investment), and it is important to have an overall plan, not just zoning.

During a press conference presenting the new ULI Building Healthy Places Initiative, LaSalle Investment Management and ULI chair Lynn Thurber; Raymond Chow, executive director of Hongkong Land Ltd. and chair of ULI Asia Pacific; and Roger Orf, partner and head of real estate in Europe for Apollo Management and chair of ULI Europe warned about a need for greater focus on healthy living in development around the world in the face of growing problems such as childhood and adult obesity, diabetes, pollution and other issues contributing to increasing healthcare costs. Pointing to some successful city transformations around the world, the panel recommended that developers and city planners should consider the following:

Put people first in their design, emphasizing ease for pedestrians and bikers over cars;
Energize space to encourage social interactions;
Make healthy alternatives easy (through the use of pedestrian walkways, for instance);
Provide access to healthy food;
Incorporate plenty of open space within the city.

“We need to show that building healthy communities makes good business sense,” Thurber said, while Chow noted that success relies on the ability of buildings to improve the environment.