19 November 2018

A debate on placemaking: 5 takeaways

On Thursday 15th November, White City Place was the venue for Cushman & Wakefield’s latest i-Suite event. A prestigious panel treated a large number of young professionals to a wide ranging and, at times, particularly thought provoking discussion on “Placemaking: Embracing Change in Tomorrow’s World”.

Over the course of 90 minutes, the panel, led by John Percy (Head of Development and Place at Cushman & Wakefield, and comprising Dominic Glanz (senior Development Manager, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield), Henry Williams (Director, Stanhope), Richard Howard (Head of London Leasing, Cushman & Wakefield) and Emma Cariaga (Head of Operations Canada Water, British Land), left the audience with plenty to debate. Here are five takeaway points of note:

  1. Meanwhile use is a key part of successful placemaking. The panel explained how meanwhile use can accelerate the creation of a “place”, citing examples such as the success of Pergola (previously White City, now Paddington and Olympia), Boxpark (Croydon, Shoreditch and Wembley) and live music at PrintWorks London at Canada Water. In particular, Emma explained how a wide range of meanwhile use activities (tours, raves, conferences, product launches, filming etc) bring people to a part of London that they might not otherwise visit, so allowing British Land to “tell the story” of Canada Water and create that all important “buzz”.
  2. High street retail needs creative thinking. There is little escape at the moment from the negative headlines around high street retail. The panel couldn’t dodge the question. How does Emma Cariaga envisage the Canada Water high street? For Emma and the team at British Land, it needs a little “blue-sky” thinking, with a change in industry mindset. For Emma, how about different tenants using the same space in any 24 hour period, so intensifying potential use. A coffee shop in the morning, a retail outlet during the day, and perhaps a leisure theme at night? Emma acknowledged the practical difficulties that a fit out may present, but clearly, it is innovative ideas such as this that the sector needs to prosper.
  3. Shopping centre = department store. The panel didn’t limit the discussion to the high street. Of course, there are plenty of headlines around shopping centres too. Flexible space is attracting lots of attention in the office sector, but for Dominic Glanz, what about retail too? Can retail landlords offer something different, perhaps flexibility on the basis of seasonality? Or is a wholesale change of thinking needed- will the shopping centres of the future effectively become single department stores, with no inter-tenancy partitions?
  4. Customers don’t want to know what they are going to get. For those on the panel, there is little to gain from creating identikit destinations. As Henry Williams put it, customers need a sense of “delight”. Innovative thinking, together with independent operators, are key to creation of “place”. For example, Emma Cariaga identified the changing face of Broadgate, with British Land’s effort to diversify the offering away from a single sector (financial services). The arrival of Eataly is a great example. What’s next?
  5. What is going on at ground floor level? For many a prospective occupier, this is now the key question, according to Richard Howard. Employees expect so much more not only from the working environment, but also the immediate surrounds. On this note, Henry Williams suggested that placemaking isn’t just about outside opportunities, but is also relevant to any building itself. Henry pointed to the entrance hall in the venue itself, where Stanhope have sacrificed potentially lettable space to accommodate a large common space and facilities (including the event space for the discussion). For him, Derwent (without the campus ownership of others) is very successful in this regard (e.g. White Collar Factory).

Edward is a senior associate in our Commercial Real Estate team.

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