Global Cities in an Era of Change – 2016
Stanford Symposium Recap
Against a backdrop of resonating data and conclusions, speakers and panels at the Symposium on Global Cities in an Era of Change described a transforming urban environment with challenges and hope for the not-so-distant future. Tomorrow is today. Global decline in birth rates are expected to continue established downward trends. Dramatic decline in automobile ownership and driver licensure in the U.S. is occurring and will continue. Home ownership is dropping in the U.S. and will continue approaching the lower normal levels outside of the U.S. Dramatic shifting in age cohorts resulting from increasing age expectancies and declining birth rates, are creating a variety of different patterns worldwide and are changing household formations, labor forces, and housing demand. Urban populations will increase upwards to 70 percent of the world population. Terrorism, hostilities, disease and natural and man-made catastrophes have created extraordinary demand for surveillance and resilience almost worldwide.
Demographic and behavioral changes make technological advances easier for adaptation. Share economy is transforming the urban and suburban landscape. Mobility has new, ever-evolving meaning and means. Only terrorism and catastrophes cloud the positive outlook for changing social and cultural patterns. High tech surveillance, communication and skilled cadres of personnel will continue to make the living environment safer and less private, more resilient and less vulnerable. Real property investment, risk and returns will persistently follow the economic cycles and the global politics. Stronger leadership at all levels in both the private and public will be required to achieve global goals of sustainability, prosperity and well-being.
The tours, the panels and the speakers made the Symposium at Stanford University a whirlwind romp around the world and into the future. More elliptical than linear, the program and schedule moved topically through wide ranging subject matter with a consistent rigor and density in speakers and discussion. Questions and commentary from the audience and sidebars with participants added further vitality to an open-ended conversation about the global cities in an era of change. Takeaway was as varied as the topics. Each attendee could pick and choose from macro and micro observations and prognostications from the podium and the panels and inject his or her personal vision into hometowns across the globe. Of course smart growth does look different from place to place.
Not that the built environment is declining in importance, the web entrepreneurs are just developing strategies and methods of making more without developing the real estate. Chip Conley, Head of Global Hospitality and Strategy for Airbnb and advisor to the CEO, in TED talk manner, delivered a wonderful wake up at 8:15 am on the first day of the symposium on his experience in the share economy. Conley, a self-described disruptor, formerly a successful boutique hotel-developer, joined the CEO early in the founding of the largest worldwide landlord intermediary of share-a-beds, rooms, apartments, houses, now in over 190 countries. Airbnb today averages more international daily turns than three of the top hospitality companies in the world aggregated. And no real estate! Conley reflected on the climb from a great idea with apparent hurdles to the common worldwide alternative to guesting in a special purpose property. While not infinite, the customers are almost limitless, and so are the spinoffs. Similar to Uber and its competitors without taxi fleets, Airbnb has created a new accommodation and expanded the traveling population. Conley purposefully and playfully shared the potholes—not so many—and the seemingly unique relationship he has with his clients—both the innkeeper and the guest. Q and A was wonderful.
Over 50 percent of the attendees were regular clients of Airbnb. Demand for hospitality and mobility is being siphoned from traditional supply sources. Services and products throughout the world can find customers without advertising or telephones. The central marketplace has been enhanced not replaced.
Predictably the session on Defining the Smart City of the Near Future was a moving target. Vishaan Chakrabarti, Founder of Architecture and Urbanism, was a workshop in moving forward with whatever resources the community has in hand and making the most of them and having fun, a very serious business! Being smart is, accordingly, very different from place to place. Creative and gritty, Chakrabarti was profound and practical all at once, with surprising examples of what works where. Indeed, smart and sustainable urban and suburban environments are not necessarily too expensive or out of reach.
Terrorism, a rather new topic for urban futurism, was a dominant theme at the symposium. However, the safety and security umbrella included preparedness for epidemics, natural disasters and other catastrophic events. Although not new here for urban areas, the scale and scope and frequency of these events have resulted in extraordinary strategies and methodologies for surveillance and resilience. Former US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff demystified the efforts and enterprise already in place for monitoring the watch list for events requiring emergency response and recovery. On the job training with September 11th and Katrina, Secretary Chertoff reflected on past vulnerabilities and preparedness. In his dinner keynote address, he related the evolving worldwide communication and cooperation for solutions to the threats of sudden, violent disruptions to communities, particularly densely developed urban areas. The outlook was comforting and surprisingly hopeful about our urbanizing society and the catastrophe, even without a forecast of the final solution. Just coping.
The event and the response were fleshed out further by author Graeme Wood of The Atlantic Magazine and Heather Roiter Damiano, Director of Hazzard Mitigation for the city of New York. Wood was imbedded in Syria, exposed to variety of military and civilian factions and authored an acclaimed recounting of his experiences. He was clear and spoke broadly of the ongoing threats and disruption from the Middle East and the migrating diaspora. Damiano detailed the teams of systems and networks of connectivity that have been expanded, enhanced and continue to be updated and refined. Both were lively and comprehensive in their remarks and credible in their outlooks. We are working on it!
Panels on Urban Infrastructure and Sustainability, Small Cities Leveraging Technology, Sustainable Cities for the Future, Reinvention of Cities, Steering Capital to Build Sustainable Cities of the Future and Autonomous Vehicles all added to the themes of enterprise, transformation and disruption, inspiring and empowering those who dare to prognosticate on the global cities in an era of change. Founder and Chairman of Equity Group Investments, Sam Zell at his 8 am conversation was empowered. As one of the largest and most experienced landlords and commercial property investors, he related changing demography and behavior of his tenants at the property level and confidently extended the trends forward. He commented on desires shaping demand, mobility shaping location, behaviors shaping the built environment. Concerned about infrastructure, safety and security, he called for stronger leadership to get going on these challenges that are shovel ready. The conversation was candid, thoughtful and complete and delivered with Zell’s unique style of humorous wisdom.
Share economy, Airbnb, Uber and other share delights have solid trends in usage and vast markets in future. Mobility is paramount. More time to experience. Autonomous vehicles are ready to compound the impact of the share economy. The automotive industry is planning for fewer owners and higher usage of shared mobility. Get there faster with less traffic. Better living.
Security and safety are of major concern. Looking deeper into recent trends in natural disasters, terrorism and global hostility reveals growing and consuming demand for vigilance and resilience systems and programs and cooperation globally.
Services and infrastructure and open spaces are all changing, and so also is commercial property and the built environment. Everybody wrapped up the symposium in their own way. Much to think about and extend during this era of change for the global city.
David S. Kirk, CRE
Kirk & Co