An aerial view of the Songdo IBD in South Korea. (Gale International)

An aerial view of the Songdo IBD in South Korea. (Gale International)

Technological innovations are affecting nearly every facet of how societies function, but it is the corresponding evolution of human behavior—not the technology itself—that is driving how the next generation of cities around the globe is being built. That was the general feeling of a panel of large-scale developers—veritable city builders—assembled at the World Real Estate Forum by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Real Estate for the module, “City 3.0: The Role of Development in Our Urban Futures.” The title of the panel discussion refers to the term coined by Charles Landry, one of the world’s leading urban researchers and the author of The Creative City, who postulates that the City 3.0 will be “based on harnessing the collective imagination and intelligence of citizens in making, shaping, and co-creating their city.”

Moderator Rosemary Feenan, director of global research programs and the Cities Research Center for JLL London and a ULI Trustee, said that modern real estate development “is about health and happiness, accessibility and affordability, resilience, imagination, invention, and strangely—in a good way—about citizen engagement,” she said, adding that the city 3.0 concept is already underway, “and in my view it’s not technologically based . . . because none of the fundamental questions of how you create successful real estate are particularly new, but it’s been crowded with a whole load of new stuff on behavior and digital technology.”

From left to right:

From left to right: Jonathan Thorpe, senior executive vice president/chief investment officer, Gale International; Tim Blackburn, general manager, development and valuations, Swire Properties; Anita Arjundas, managing direcor & CEO, Mahindra Lifespace Developers; Roger Madelin, head of Canada Water Development, British Land; and moderator Rosemary Feenan, global research programs and cities research center, JLL, speaking at MIT’s World Real Estate Forum.

Anita Arjundas, president of the real estate sector of the Mahindra Group, Mahindra Lifespaces, has overseen the development of the Mahindra World Cities, India’s first integrated business cities in public/private partnerships in Chennai and Jaipur, for nearly 15 years. “The core of our philosophy has been sustainability, and sustainability for us is not just about green buildings, but about the entire approach to these developments—right from the land acquisition, and how you bring in the local community to connect with whole development,” said Arjundas.

These developments span more than 4,500 acres (1,800 ha), housing over 130 companies, and provide nearby affordable housing for the workforce and their families, as well as additional infrastructure such as schools and hospitals. “For a company like ours, what was important was for us to figure out how urbanization could be done more sustainably, how to actually create new economic nerve centers, coupled with quality housing, with access to all the amenities that people desire, and yet be in close proximity to their workplaces,” said Arjundas of the developments.

A pneumatic waste receptacle in Songdo IBD, South Korea. (Gale International)

A receptacle that whisks trash away underground through an automated system that sorts it into matter to be recycled, or burned as fuel in Songdo IBD, South Korea. (Gale International)

Jonathan Thorpe, principal and chief investment officer at Gale International, enumerated a list of development principles that he believes are critical to city-scale development in the 21st century: global interconnectivity, mixed-use development (the creation of a live/work/play environment), high quality of design and construction; the early incorporation of cultural, educational, and governmental anchors; environmental sustainability; the development of smart and connected buildings and community; and the grounding of the project in economic and market realities.

Gale is the primary stakeholder in the ongoing (since 2005, now 70 percent complete) development of the Songdo International Business District in South Korea, the $40 billion “smart city” built from scratch on 1,500 acres (600 ha) of reclaimed land along Incheon’s waterfront. “Part of the deal was to develop a business plan that allowed us to construct some of the softer, quality-of-life things that don’t generate a near-term return, such as schools, museums, and parks, that are essential to building a community, and to creating an identity and a place where people want to live and work,” said Thorpe. “Ultimately, it really does take a village to build a city.”

Thorpe also emphasized the importance of keeping up with the lightning pace of technological change from a development standpoint, referring to the information communication technology network as “the fourth utility,” along with water, gas, and electricity. In order to do so, Gale has partnered with IT firms Cisco Systems and LG CNS to help them “to navigate that mind-set.”

Roger Madelin, managing partner of Argent Group and head of Canada Water Development at the British Land Company, also addressed the influence that technology will have on the future of city development. Madelin, who is also a member of the Independent Transport Commission (ITC), the United Kingdom’s independent research nonprofit on transport, land use, and planning, told the gathering that the ITC had recently assembled a panel of car manufacturers, urban planners, and sociologists to study the impact that autonomous vehicles will have on city building, “and the real answer is that no one knows. I think the most exciting thing about technology is how it can get more out of what we’ve got at the moment—our public transport system, energy systems, and the infrastructure, because [development] really isn’t going to change that much over the next decade [or longer].” He also predicts that the greatest impact that technology will have in the near term will be to “get people out meeting and socially connecting with people.”

Panelists agreed that investors are beginning to recognize the inherent value created by sustainable practices. Tim Blackburn, general manager for Swire Properties (which has large-scale investments in Mainland China, the United States, and Singapore), said that investors “are much more interested in our sustainable development strategy. They want to understand what’s behind it, and they want us to be able to articulate the value that it creates. And we believe that it does add value that can be measured over the long term, and ultimately investors are the beneficiaries of that value.”

In closing, Feenan gave her impression of the panel discussion. “What came across to me—really strongly—was that the technology can move as fast as it likes, but the fundamentals and politics of site development, construction, public participation, and people and place [don’t] change.”

Additional Urban Land coverage: Smarter Cities Promise a New Way of Living