MIPIM 2019: ‘Engaging the Future’ Conductor’s Round-Up

Conductor Founder Charlotte Steedman attended this year’s MIPIM, hosting a breakfast with SAY Property and attending keynotes and break-out sessions across this fascinating, insight-rich event.

The theme of this year’s MIPIM – ‘Engaging the Future’ – didn’t so much set the tone as engage with the current industry zeitgeist. As the event progressed it became clear that the industry isn’t just ready for change, it’s already changing.

That sense of change percolated throughout the event, from the demographics and attitudes of attendees (more representatives from smaller and more agile companies, more engaged, more dynamic) to the threads and themes that ran through many of the talks.

The future starts now. Read Charlotte’s five key insights and round-up below.

1.     Ban Ki-Moon’s Keynote

The former UN Secretary-General opened MIPIM with a talk that was part wake-up call, part call to arms for the industry.

Ban Ki-moon noted that, as the “world is going through pronounced changes resulting in elevated uncertainties and new risks”, it was the responsibility of developers and the broader industry to create sustainable, resilient cities.

One of those changes is rapidly increasing urbanisation – the UN reports that over 100 million people globally are moving into cities every year, and by 2050 68% of the global population will live in urban areas. In this context, Ban said, as we create new spaces and places “It is not enough for cities to be ‘smart’ if they only cater to affluent professionals. […] Future cities must be underpinned by inclusivity for all”.

Key insight: We must build resilient cities

Ban Ki-moon teed up conversations across MIPIM about how the industry can build resilience into cities in the face of unprecedented political, economic, ecological and technological change.

The talk also resonated with a growing mindset, to paraphrase David Martinez of Barcelona’s 22@innovation district,about smart cities as an ability, not a thing – something that exists between the physical context and the society that lives in it, a way of utilising technology to create smart citizens.

2.    What Makes a Great Place?

This was the third year that we’ve hosted an informal, conversational breakfast for key industry players. This year we asked attendees ‘What makes a great place?’. The 74 answers we received fell into 13 categories.

Feelings or Emotions associated with a place scored most highly (12%). This was followed by People and Safety (both 11%), then Community, Nature & Environment, Interaction and Buildings & Design (all 10%) and Lifestyle & Diversity (both 8%). Surprisingly the lowest scoring categories were Accessibility (3%) and Technology (just 1%).

Key insight: People and place are of equal importance

50% of answers given were people-centred words and 50% place-centred. How people experience and classify space as individuals and communities is just as important as the quality and composition of the built environment.

The lack of answers regarding accessibility and technology is interesting – perhaps a reflection purely of attendee demographics and interests, or perhaps indicative of accessibility and integrated tech being seen less as added extras or siloed considerations, and increasingly as standard expectations in the current/future-facing market.

3.   Is the Future Bright?

Swan Housing CEO Geoff Pearce hosted a light-hearted but insight-rich talk entitled ‘Is the Future Bright?’. A four-person industry panel projected 25 years into the future discussed the industry’s key opportunities and challenges over the intervening years, and proposed innovative, thought-provoking solutions to those challenges.

Key insight: The need for thriving societies

The coming decades will bring unprecedented changes to the way we live and work, and the industry must be committed to creating human-centric spaces and places that will allow societies to continue to evolve and thrive.

4.   Cities Leading the Way
It seemed on the ground that some of Ban Ki-moon’s suggestions are already in play in cities worldwide, with many actively singing out their placemaking roles, responsibilities and achievements.

The City of London delivered a talk based on its influential 2018 report “The City as a Place for People”, arguing that while it is undeniably positive that 89% of global investors think London has the best pool of talent for financial businesses in Europe, and 58% think London is the best European city for businesses, to attract and retain new businesses by appealing to the workforce London needs to change workers’ perceptions of the City “from a business space to an emotional space”.

Nordic cities also showed themselves to be at the forefront of progressive regeneration, with Oslo, Copenhagen and Gothenburg held up as excellent examples of placemaking.

Key insight: Engage early and broadly

In recent development work, the City of Gothenburg says that it “Listened to the citizens of Gothenburg from the very start of the regeneration process”.The result is clear in exceptionally designed spaces with a genuine human focus. It can be no coincidence that Norway, Denmark and Sweden polled at numbers 2, 3 and 9 respectively in the most recent UN World Happiness Report.

The conversation would be all the richer for broader representation from cities globally at MIPIM, particularly when talking about genuinely transformational placemaking. To look at just a few examples:

Indian cities and developers’ drive towards greener public realm and efficient buildings played a huge role in the nation’s recently announced 20% reduction in emissions intensity (a significant milestone toward a 33% reduction by 2030 target), and there are some genuine landmark projects in planning and development across the country.

In Eastern Europe, placemaking continues to play an essential role in reclaiming and democratising public space, encouraging grassroots projects and a vital sense of ownership and belonging in countries with a history of top-down decision making.

Africa also continues to grab attention. Notable projects in South Africa include Johannesburg’s Maboneng Precinct, a buzzing, creative epicentre driving local and international tourism, and Zendai Property’s Modderfontein New City, a visionary financial centre being touted as ‘the future capital of Africa’. Elsewhere, Morocco’s 15,000-acre Bourgreg Valley Development will include an arts and culture centre, the protection of cultivated land, and the second tallest tower in Africa, and Kenya is investing almost $15bn in its vast ‘silicon savannah’ Konza Technology City development.

5.   Prioritising human-led insights

i)               Participant Profiling
In conversations around MIPIM, people from across disciplines (architects, developers, investors) were interested to hear about Conductor’s Participant Profiling tool. This system takes qualitative and quantitative data points to develop insight, beyond plain research, to create profiles of the people who will use, engage with or live in a development. This allows developers who engage early (at product development or pre-planning stage, for example) to ensure they are creating spaces and places that there is demand for, and gives all involved confidence to build resilient schemes based on real human requirements.

ii)              Cross Data Analysis
Meaningful insights vs Data was another great conversation point. Everyone now has the ability to collate huge amounts of granular data. As the Fourth Industrial Revolution progresses, this will only increase exponentially. But meaningful insight – and how that barrage of numbers is turned into human-led, quantifiably effective strategy – is something else. Depth of understanding and context are required to transform data into affective strategy. We’ve been involved in over 100 developments collectively, and are collating our learnings and analysis around this for publication later in the year.

The Round-Up

MIPIM felt different this year. There was a strong common sense of purpose and energy, an awareness of the challenges and responsibilities that the industry has to address in the coming decades, and the opportunities that the changing market will present.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution – the confluence of advanced, accessible technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical and digital worlds – will undoubtedly have a huge impact on how developers conceptualise, build and sell property in the nearfuture. This will offer huge opportunities to create better, more beautiful and more human-centric spaces and places.

There was also a genuine sense that, in a world increasingly characterised by both urbanisation and political, economic and ecological entropy, places, spaces and cities can be both dynamic and resilient enough to provide anchoring and space for thriving societies to develop.

The future starts now, and we are the ones lucky enough to have a hand in building it.