How the public and private sectors can work together to improve cities and build more affordable housing and other innovative solutions to complex problems were the key themes of a panel on city leadership at the recent ULI Europe Conference 2017.

A panel comprising Jean-Louis Missika, deputy mayor of Paris; James Murray, deputy mayor of London; and Roger Mogert, vice mayor of Stockholm, outlined some of the structures that can be put in place to create the necessary public and private partnerships needed to achieve this, and argued for a new definition of the “commons”—the shared resources of a group of people.

Given that urbanization is putting ever-greater pressure on the finite resources of Europe’s capital cities, the need to create more affordable housing was a major part of the discussion.

Missika talked about Reinventing Paris, an innovative competition that offered bidders the chance to take over one of 22 publicly owned sites, ranging from brownfields to historic buildings, and transform them into sustainable mixed-use projects, while attempting to turn the usual public-sector procurement process on its head.

He said that the competition generated 815 letters of interest and 360 completed project ideas, from which it chose a shortlist of 75 bidders for the 22 sites. The winning bids included some of the biggest names in global property, including Norway’s sovereign wealth fund backing its first-ever development project, in a joint venture with BNP Paribas Real Estate.

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Jean-Louis Missika, deputy mayor of Paris, and James Murray, deputy mayor of London, speaking at the ULI Europe Conference 2017 in Paris.

“The project was based on a simple idea,” he said. “Usually, the idea when a city is selling land to a private investor is to get the best price. What we did was to say, what would happen if instead we sold it to the person with the best idea for the community, the best and most innovative project that can have a benefit over the long term, even if it is for a lower price? We challenged the private sector to come up with the best ideas for Paris. They had to be mixed-use schemes containing commercial and cultural space as well as private and public housing.

“We had some very ambitious ideas, and the consortiums [that] people put together were very multidisciplinary. The ideas are much more innovative than if we had just asked for housing or commercial space. It is an idea that is now being launched in other cities as well.”

Missika outlined that the bid for the 2024 Olympics would look to “make the city more livable for all people, not just the winners from globalization.” The Olympic village will be sited in an attempt to regenerate the area of Seine-Saint-Denis in the north of Paris.

Murray, London’s deputy mayor, argued that the 2012 Olympics had permanently put the area of Stratford in East London on the map—but also that the administration of new mayor Sadiq Khan, elected in 2016, would make sure that the final phases of housing being provided on former Olympic land would feature more affordable homes.

“There is now a huge consensus that London needs more affordable housing, a consensus that includes people living in the city, the public sector, and business,” he said.

“We’ve been very clear in outlining that there is no magic bullet or short-term fix, and that changing things will be a long process of ten years or more. We will make sure that the final stages coming through have the right level of affordable housing.” The first two phases of new homes being built on Olympic land comprised 29 percent and 31 percent affordable housing respectively, far below the 50:50 split promised in the run-up to the Games.

In general, Murray outlined how Khan’s administration had attempted to provide greater clarity on regulations surrounding affordable housing. “Previously, there was a complex planning system where how much affordable housing you provided was based on a measure of viability, and no one quite new what the rules were. Now, it is simple: if you offer 35 percent affordable housing, you don’t have to go through negotiations on viability, you will receive planning more quickly, giving the private sector certainty.” New planning rules for London also mean that the mayor’s office can now earmark funding for low-cost rental housing as well as affordable housing for purchase.

Mogert outlined how Stockholm might be a smaller city than London or Paris, but its needs were just as pressing.

“Stockholm is a city of 900,000 inhabitants, but it is the fastest-growing capital in Europe, and by 2030 we think the population is going to increase by a third.

“It is certainly a housing crisis, but in every crisis there is opportunity, and it is a great opportunity to bring investment into our city. We have a good level of cooperation with the private sector and have worked well together. We’ve put in place a structure where we’ve been building in areas where previously there was no market for housing. We approached about 50 private companies and said we are going to take a huge part of the risk, we shared the risk with them and now it is a huge joint venture building where previously there was no market and the private sector would not do it alone.”

Mogert closed the session with a call to revive and modernize the idea of the common or commons, which means both a piece of public land open to all but also the general benefit of all members of a society. “We need to create a new way of building a city and a new concept of the commons, with the public and private working together.”

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