With the challenges of technology, mobility, sustainability, and social inclusion, the public and private sectors are working together successfully to build thriving places. Reinventing underused urban spaces to prioritize people is the way. A panel at ULI Europe’s 2020 conference in Amsterdam moderated by Marilyn Jordan Taylor, professor of architecture and urban design at the University of Pennsylvania and a former ULI global chair, explored four successful projects around the globe:
COIMA: Porta Nuova, Milan
“It’s not easy to develop cities. It’s much more difficult than it was in the past,” said Manfredi Catella, founder and CEO of COIMA. So his Milan, Italy–based company has to work more inclusively.
Catella pointed specifically to the expansive Porta Nuova project in Milan, one of the largest urban regeneration projects in Europe at 3.3 million square feet (300,000 sq m). The former railway yard just south of Milan Centrale had languished for decades amid failed development projects. From 2006 to 2012, the $2 billion regeneration project has turned brownfields into Milan’s biggest business district.
The mixed-use development is now home to 20,000 inhabitants and 35,000 workers and sees 10 million visitors a year, Catella said. The pedestrian areas account for 1.7 million square feet (160,000 sq m), including the third-largest park in Milan, the Biblioteca degli Alberi. Knowing how important local engagement is, COIMA now has a team of 10 that just focuses on programming in parks. The Porta Nuova development counts 20 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold buildings, including the Unicredit Tower and Bosca Verticale.
Now COIMA is planning to extend the Porta Nuova redevelopment with another $2 billion in projects. A highlight of the extension will be the Milano Green Line, an elevated pedestrian walkway reminiscent of the High Line in New York City, Catella said. But where the High Line is 1.4 miles (2.3 km) long, the Green Line will be nearly six miles (9.5 km) when complete, connecting Porta Nuova to the central station and northwest to the Milano Innovation District.
Pickard Chilton: Global Gateway Shinagawa, Tokyo
Despite the fact that Shinagawa Station is one of the busiest train stations in Tokyo, the area around the train yards was a rare patch of undeveloped land in Japan’s capital. Now, the new Takanawa Gateway station, opening in March, is the first benchmark in a sweeping $5 billion redevelopment plan.
Construction will begin on the Global Gateway Shinagawa project after the Olympics this summer, and first stages are expected to be complete by 2024. Seven buildings comprising 13.6 million square feet (1.26 million sq m) will form an archipelago of sorts. In the development’s design code and master plan, architecture studio Pickard Chilton focused on the relationships between the station and new buildings and the public plazas.
“The promenade is the most important part of the project,” said William Chilton, principal at the architecture firm. The mile-long (1.6 km) elevated pathway will run the whole length of the development, connecting public spaces, cultural facilities, and residential areas.
Pickard Chilton itself is designing two 30-story mixed-use towers in the development, including a five-star hotel, connected by a seven-story podium. International business will be drawn to the area, which is close to the Haneda airport and will be connected via high-speed maglev train to Nagoya’s airport as soon as 2027. The Japanese government also designated the area a Special Zone for Asian Headquarters, offering incentives to foreign businesses. “It will establish Shinagawa as the preeminent district in Tokyo, maybe even in Japan,” Chilton said.
Tishman Speyer: Mission Rock, San Francisco
A lot of things have changed in San Francisco over the past 30 years, with the housing shortage an urgent concern for the city and its residents. A new 28-acre (11 ha) development called Mission Rock will add 1,500 new rental homes, with 40 percent of them at affordable rates, and eight acres (3.2 ha) of new public space in an area formerly used as parking lots for the Giants’ Oracle Stadium.
The city had a project to use as an example: Mission Bay, which turned 303 acres (123 ha) of former railyards into 6,400 units of housing, plus a hotel, retail, and University of California–San Francisco research and medical centers starting in 1998 and reaching completion this year. Mission Rock will be right next to that development, where Mission Creek meets San Francisco Bay, an area just south of the city’s business district. The China Basin Park on McCovey Cove is connected to the 500-mile (800 km) Bay Trail.
The first phase of construction starts this year, with a goal of occupancy by 2025. “The design focuses on pedestrian access to public space,” said Michael Spies, who was senior managing director at Tishman Speyer before founding Fuse Strategies earlier this year.
Pascal Smet: Brussels for People
Brussels is boring. That is what Pascal Smet always hears, but he heartily disagrees with the judgment. “We have 25,000 cultural activities a year,” the secretary of state for the Brussels Capital Region said. You need to give yourself time to fall in love with Brussels. “It’s not love at first sight, but love at the first sight never lasts.”
Brussels, like so many European cities, became very car-oriented after WWII, Smet said. Making the city people-focused once again is a difficult transition but essential for achieving quality of life. “You can have beautiful landmark buildings, but if they’re not integrated with your public space, people won’t like it,” he said. “What we have to do is make the interaction between buildings, people, and public space essential.”
Smet is a tireless proponent for his urban vision, with an Instagram account and hashtag dedicated to the cause: BrusselsForPeople. Boulevard Anspach, which was a constantly congested four-lane road bisecting the capital, was turned into a two-lane road, and now has been turned into a pedestrian zone in the central part of the city, which drew backlash at first but now is embraced by residents. “Politicians should dare to make people happy against their will,” he says.