Liveability A Key Focus Of Future Urban Development: ULI


The liveability of a community and the health of its residents will be two of the main factors driving urban development around the globe in the future, according to global non-profit thought leadership organisation, the Urban Land Institute (ULI).

With more than 35,000 members worldwide, including more than 1850 in Asia, ULI's aim is "to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide".

The Urban Developer spoke with ULI Chief Executive, Asia Pacific, John Fitzgerald; and ULI Australia Chairman and Urbis Director Peter Holland on their thoughts on the major issues and challenges facing urban planning and development today, including climate change, health, technology, density and more.

What is the biggest global talking point in property at the moment from the Urban Land Institute's (ULI) point of view?

John Fitzgerald, Chief Executive, Asia Pacific, Urban Land Institute:There are many important issues facing our industry and cities today. Over the past two years ULI has focused on the intersection of health and the built environment with our global Building Healthy Places initiative. Urban planning and development can have a profound impact on the health of people and communities. This will remain a core focus of ULI moving forward but an emerging topic is around the adaptability of the built environment, our industry, and cities in response to the major forms of disruption we are facing - technology, urbanisation, climate change and ageing demographics. These are all major challenges but are also opportunities for those who are better positioned to adapt and adjust.

John Fitzgerald, Chief Executive, Asia Pacific, Urban Land Institute[/caption]The ULI is renowned as a global thought-leader in the urban development industry. Can you share with us some recent examples of thought leadership in the context of developing cities of the future?

John Fitzgerald, Chief Executive, Asia Pacific, Urban Land Institute:Many cities today are struggling to find their identity or niche in a world that is changing rapidly because of factors like urbanisation, technology, demographics and climate change. Through ULI's advisory services program we are able offer ULI as a resource to cities as they develop new strategies. In Asia, ULI has recently worked with cities such as Hong Kong, Sanya, Manila and Foshan in this way. Through these initiatives ULI can impact real changes that help communities thrive. This is what really differentiates ULI.

Living in Hong Kong, you are well aware of the challenges and opportunities of increasing density. What do you think cities like Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane can learn from the experiences of the major Asian cities?

John Fitzgerald, Chief Executive, Asia Pacific, Urban Land Institute:Urbanisation and the density required to accommodate it can be a real opportunity for cities to attract talent, drive innovation, and enhance competitiveness. At the same time it can bring challenges. The key is to balance the density with liveability, and this has been a major focus of ULI initiatives in Asia. Hong Kong has one of the best and most efficient multi-model public transit systems in the world. This has allowed Hong Kong to deliver a vibrant mix of high-density development that works.

Think about it, you can have six meetings in a day in Hong Kong with no problem.

In many other sprawling cities in Asia (or elsewhere) you'd be lucky to have two to three meetings in a day given sprawl, traffic, etc. but that density needs to be relieved with accessible public open space. Hong Kong has more of this than you'd think - but not enough in the central core of the city. So, Australian cities can learn from the compact development of mixed-use density around transit nodes to get people out of cars, into public transit, and better yet, walking and biking.

What do you think are some of the greatest achievements of Australia's major cities?

Peter Holland, ULI Australia Chairman and Urbis Director:
1. We have been able to accommodate change and growth in a reasonably balanced way such that in relative term, our major cities are still considered to be highly liveable. Our cities continue to rank highly in terms of their liveability with Melbourne currently ranked No. 1 in the annual EIU Cities Liveability Ranking. Importantly, four out of the top 10 most liveable cities according to the EIU, are Australian cities with Sydney, Adelaide and Perth also currently in the top 10.

2. Our cities are relatively young and the original planning of these cities some 100-200 years ago was basically sound with a sensible road and rail networks and a generous allocation of public open space and parkland. These initial city plans have placed the cities in a good position which has enabled them to adapt and change over time to accommodate growth and different land use requirements.

3. Over the past two decades our major cities have become much more interesting and diverse in relation to their culture, housing choice and economic base. This in part, has been influenced by our ongoing immigration program with its strong focus on Asia and with most of the immigrants choosing to reside in one of the major cities. This factor together with our increasing economic reliance on Asian countries as Australia's principal trading partners, has meant that Australia, and particularly our major cities, are increasingly becoming more Asian.

4. Despite the significant amount of development and growth that has occurred in our suburbs, the CBDs of our major cities have held up well and have continued to prosper in relation to employment generation. Importantly they also remain the principle focus in the metro area for education, health, entertainment, shopping, culture and sporting events.

5. The recent embracement of many of our city residents, of inner city living with apartment living and densification being increasingly accepted as the preferred alternative to the suburban sprawl. The net result of this trend is that there is a strong resurgence in inner city living with the inner city residential population growing significantly and with the resulting outcome being that our cities are becoming more 24/7 cities.

Peter Holland, ULI Australia Chairman and Urbis Director[/caption]And what do you think are some of the major challenges confronting Australia's major cities?

Peter Holland, ULI Australia Chairman and Urbis Director:1. Providing the appropriate physical and social infrastructure to accommodate future growth on an ongoing basis2. Ageing infrastructure3. Accommodating technological change4. Housing affordability5. Income inequality6. Planning for and accommodating climate change7. Fostering innovation and creating job growth8. Accommodation and funding for our growing health and education requirements

Discussions about density naturally lead into sustainability. Can you share with us some recent examples of projects which are setting a benchmark for sustainability in the industry?

John Fitzgerald, Chief Executive, Asia Pacific, Urban Land Institute:Australia has many examples of projects that are setting benchmarks for sustainability. A favourite of mine is the ‘Darling Quarter and Commonwealth Bank Place’ which won a ULI Global Award for Excellence in 2012 and which incorporates world leading precinct-wide environmental and social sustainable initiatives.

Darling Quarter is a major 1.5 hectare place-making project that has transformed the public domain of Darling Harbour, one of Australia’s most visited destinations. The A$ 500 million precinct integrates Commonwealth Bank Place, two large campus-styled 6 Star Green Star (world leadership) commercial buildings, within a public domain that comprises new pedestrian connections a retail terrace with new cafes, restaurants and bars, generous grassed community areas, a 300 seat children’s theatre and an innovative playground as its centrepiece.

Sydney and Melbourne have made it onto the top investor list for Asian investors, what do you think cities like Brisbane and the Gold Coast need to do to make themselves more attractive to cashed-up investors from that part of the world? Do you have any advice for the leaders of those cities?

Peter Holland, ULI Australia Chairman and Urbis Director:1. Market and promote their cities – get the good news out there so that the city becomes more well- known on the world stage. Brisbane needs to be seen and viewed as a world city not just another Australian capital city.

2. Place more emphasis on secondary and tertiary education to make the city more competitive with Sydney and Melbourne as an alternative global city of choice for education.

What kind of change is the digital environment bringing to the areas of urban development and real estate?

John Fitzgerald, Chief Executive, Asia Pacific, Urban Land Institute:Real estate needs to revolutionise its modus operandi if it is to effectively service and profit from the digital economy. The real estate industry can no longer rely just on bricks and mortar; these changing patterns add up to a fundamental change to the business model for real estate. The digital economy is real estate’s new reality. It is here to stay. How well and how quickly investors, owners, designers, and developers adapt will become either a competitive advantage or disadvantage, both for themselves and for digital systems in the world’s cities in which they operate.

According to a recent ULI report, Technology, Real Estate and the Innovation Economy, the real estate industry must adapt to these new standards of the innovation economy in four key ways:1. Adopt a ‘service provider’ mind set. Real estate must become a service industry rather than an asset industry.  Real estate operators must offer services such as funding, coaching, networking and supplies, or they will risk losing out to their competitors.

2. Be prepared for continuous adaptation, feedback and complexity. Real estate providers must develop new business models that allow for tailor-made solutions related to access, location, workplace, building layout and rental terms.

3. Align interests and build transparency between owners and occupiers. Landlords should become collaborating partners with tenants. To achieve this, real estate providers could work with tenants to build a compelling story around a development or even become a venture capital partner with a direct stake in the success of occupiers’ businesses.

4. Provide hands-on stewardship to address the broader framework of innovation. The real estate industry should manage the balance between big companies and start-ups and explore opportunities to provide accommodation or social infrastructure. The industry must also engage with the innovation eco-system to address gaps such as skills, capital, affordability or density.

What is the ULI’s plans for Australia and how can the industry become involved?

Peter Holland, ULI Australia Chairman and Urbis Director:ULI Australia is not an advocacy group and as such does not aim to compete with other Australian property industry groups such as the PCA or the UDIA. It does however aim to complement and to work closely with such groups when appropriate, by sharing best practice and the experience of relevant experts and projects from across the globe.

ULI currently has 300 members in Australia and is growing rapidly with the recent appointment of our first Executive Director, Jane Lloyd, Director, Third Shift Enterprises. There are currently a number of initiatives underway including several events and competitions and there is a very strong Young Leaders Group (YLG) in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne as well as a recently formed Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) group specifically aimed at women in property and planning.

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