Placemaking edition

Around the globe, mixed use development has emerged as the new development paradigm in today’s cities.

Getting it right requires new ways of thinking around how the different users of mixed use space interact, how the design of public and private space is mediated, and the role of ‘precinct amenity’ in creating successful urban places.

In October last year, I had the privilege of participating in a study tour of the United States, which encompassed mixed use projects in Washington, Boston and New York.

In October last year, I had the privilege of participating in a study tour of the United States, which encompassed mixed use projects in Washington, Boston and New York.

While many of the projects mentioned were not necessarily ground-breaking in their design approach or execution, it is fascinating to explore the underlying drivers for these projects – the key social trends, shifting cultural preferences, and new ways of working and connecting that have clearly begun to drive the shape of US cities in fundamentally different ways.

 

In reality, the vast majority of projects we are seeing developed in the Melbourne CBD are not genuinely mixed use...

According to the Harvard School of Design, mixed use is defined as three uses in one building, where no component makes up more than 60 per cent of the overall space. For instance, combinations of residential, hotels, office space, retail and open space.

It is a struggle to name projects in the Melbourne CBD, Southbank or Docklands precincts that contain at least three of these component uses, which is a far cry from the 24/7, thriving mixed use precincts observed in the US. In reality, the vast majority of projects we are seeing developed in the Melbourne CBD are not genuinely mixed use – they are residential or office projects, with varying degrees of ground level retail activation.

 

We are facing the "biggest development opportunity in the history of the planet" for the global real estate industry.

Rob Speyer, Global CEO of Tishman Speyer, which manages a $68 billion property portfolio across the globe, has said that the mega trends in global real estate boil down to five things:

  • We are facing the “biggest development opportunity in the history of the planet” for the global real estate industry. The mass migration of 2.5 billion people from suburbs, towns, and villages to the world’s cities represents an opportunity that eclipses all other phases of city building in our history. Much of this is in Asia, South America and Africa, so the need to understand cultural nuances and value sets is paramount.
  • We can’t just be focused on bricks and mortar. We have to be more than architects or engineers. Speyer says, “We need to be sociologists, [since] people are using our buildings in a fundamentally different way.”
  • One of the biggest sociological trends is that despite predictions to the contrary, the internet has actually deepened a desire for face-to-face interaction and connectivity. Commercial and residential projects where people can meet either intentionally or by chance and build community through common spaces will succeed.
  • Office workers want to work near each other in open spaces that foster collaboration; demand for office space with discrete areas like cubicles or individual offices, is in decline.
  • The technology sector will continue to be the economic driver in cities around the globe. Younger tech workers want to live and work in cities and have no desire for what earlier generations aspired to—a single-family home in the suburbs, a car, and a commute.

 

Amenity is the new value differentiator. Developers are competing to win tenants/investors into their buildings by offering gold star amenity packages, the likes of which include:

  • Dog parks, dog washing stations, doggy lounges – around 60 per cent of apartment dwellers have dogs, and it is often the dog facilities, rather than the apartment product, that wins over the owner to buy or rent in a particular project.
  • High-end, hotel-style facilities – the amenity offer outside the apartment is becoming more important and more sophisticated. Common area spaces, where small business owners can work from or meet clients, saves on renting office space.
  • Sophisticated food and beverage offerings – not just in the latest signature chef restaurant, but in the quality of supermarket offer – supermarkets of 13,000m2, with gourmet-to-go packaged food, is becoming an increasingly large part of the supermarket offer. Apartments have kitchens, but few cook. Sophisticated retail leasing is critical to success.
  • Precinct programming – it’s not just about green space, it’s what you do within it to engage, connect and entertain the community. Cinemas, markets, local exhibitions, food vans, are just some of the engagement platforms available.

 

 

People are now trading off for smaller, private living space, provided it is accessible to shared space and public amenities. This has a particular appeal for millennials (those who were born between the years spanning 1980 to 2000), who value social interaction and are creating the “sharing economy”.

 

...the office brief supplied by Google required any new space to be 100 per cent pet friendly, so employees could bring dogs, cats and other pets to work.

Millennials make up 40 per cent of US total population. They have fundamentally different drivers around living, working and connecting compared to previous generations.

Inner cities are now undergoing a renaissance, as technology companies abandon suburbia to meet urban aspirations of millennials. New workplaces are now being designed to foster collaboration, and spontaneous interaction; more like a Starbucks than an office. For example, the office brief supplied by Google required any new space to be 100 per cent pet friendly, so employees could bring dogs, cats and other pets to work.

 

Boston Seaport

The Innovation District

Fifteen years ago, the precinct was a run-down, ageing docks area, separated from downtown by a major freeway. The Big Dig buried the freeway and connected the docks back to the city. Now it’s emerging as a thriving tech hub, that is giving fierce competition to nearby Kendall Square, located next to Cambridge and MIT, which was historically the area where the best of the best in the tech sector would cluster.

The rise of the millennials has seen these companies moving out of the traditional tech hubs, in search of more appealing urban locations that enable them to attract the best talent. The Innovation District is the fastest growing start-up area in the greater Boston metroplex, and maybe the fastest growing anywhere in the nation.

What makes it appealing? It’s a combination of excellent food, great transport access, and urban amenity.

Via Verde, New York – affordable housing reimagined

Via Verde is easily the most inspiring of affordable housing projects. The concept evolved from a competition run by Shaun Donovan, then commissioner of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, now President Obama’s secretary of housing and urban development.

The idea was to spur developers to team with architects to combine the latest green concepts with high-quality architecture for a public-housing project, a “beacon,” that would “re-engage design with the issue of affordable housing.” They enlisted two architectural firms, the glamorous, high-profile London-based Grimshaw Architects, for whom this was an unusual project, and Dattner Architects, from New York.

 

 

They started by asking people in the neighbourhood what kind of building they wanted. The answer: they wanted a healthy place to live. The result is a building that goes out of its way to be healthy. Asthma rates are high in the South Bronx, obesity commonplace, access to fruits and vegetables limited because supermarkets are, as always in poor neighbourhoods, scarce. For Via Verde, the question was what a housing development on its own could do to shape and change behaviour.

The developers and architects came up with some simple answers including a medical clinic to occupy retail space, a fitness centre, the narrowing of building footprints to allow apartments to wrap around a central courtyard for improved cross ventilation and ceiling fans, maximising natural light through design, staircases near lifts to encourage more people to walk, and the signature feature: a 40,000-square-foot terraced roof garden, with communal plots and fruit trees. Healthy design comes down to fundamentals in this case: air, light, places to walk and things to look at.

 

 

 

The complex, with 71 co-ops and 151 rental apartments, is harder to get into than some of the toughest colleges. Some 800 families have applied for the co-ops alone, bringing together renters and owners, poor and middle-class residents who, by virtue of the pride and pleasure they share in Via Verde, will want to take care of the building and contribute to the long-term welfare of the neighbourhood.

 

Getting the fundamentals right is the key to successful mixed use projects. Amenity is the new differentiator, and precinct programming needs to be taken into account alongside a building’s architecture. Developers must learn to work with designers and urban planners to bring together affordable, healthy, green, smart design in order to transform social outcomes. This means that today’s developers need to be sociologists, as people are now using space in fundamentally different ways.

This article derived from a presentation originally given at the 2015 Planning Institute of Australia Congress in Melbourne, on 14 May 2015.

Please click here to download the original presentation