‘Future-proofing’ the City

Wednesday 4 November 2015

The City of London can ‘future proof’ itself by continuing its push to become less of a financial services monoculture and more of a heterogeneous, ‘soft’ environment with a mix of businesses, retail and improved public realm. But it will be helped in that journey by politicians making quick and clear decisions over Europe, Visas, regulation, and airport capacity.

Those were some of the main points to emerge from an NLA On Location event held at the Guildhall yesterday, kicked off by the City of London Corporation chairman of the policy and resources committee Mark Boleat.

Boleat said there were big issues affecting the UK, London and the City that included a decision to leave Europe in two years’ time, with uncertainty on that already affecting businesses in their decisions to relocate, grow or extend their leases. Another impact is from regulation. ‘There is no point having the safest financial regulation in the world if we don’t have any financial institutions’, said Boleat. And London was losing out to other parts of the world on the too-restrictive visa situation, said Boleat. But of massive importance was the need for Government’s to be held to its promise of making a decision on airport capacity by the end of the year.

For Harry Badham, UK Head of Development at AXA Real Estates, buildings can be future-proofed by making them adaptable to the fast-changing business world, and by recognizing that people are at the heart of them. But the City must become a world exemplar on transport, said Badham, and technology allows us to consolidate deliveries in a way we couldn’t 10 years ago. ‘The City has space – it’s just a lot of it is called pavement.’ It also needs to capitalize on its uniquely ‘joined up’ local authority, and embrace diversity in its environment. ‘I think we have reached peak Pret’, he said.

Future proofing the City will also be aided by infrastructure moves such as Crossrail, a Bank station upgrade – both inside and shortly with the road junction outside – and attending to an electricity requirement that is equivalent to a ‘small town’, said the City of London’s policy and performance director Paul Beckett. And improving IT, connectivity and adapting the street network to cater for more walking and cycling will also be important to improve the public realm.

Culture, meanwhile, is a key part of the City of tomorrow, said Barbican Centre managing director Sir Nicholas Kenyon, citing the Museum of London’s proposed move to Smithfield.

But London’s success as a ‘magnet’ in a business sense is down to its freedom to succeed, said Pringle Brandon Perkins + Will managing director Jack Pringle. This is putting pressure on the City, but companies are recognizing that in a fierce fight for talent, recreation is now part of working life, as a quid pro quo for checking their emails first thing in the morning and work extending throughout the day. ‘So companies are changing their environments to chase the talents’, he said. ‘Apologies to Derwent but the City of London is London’s white collar factory.’

Transforming Workplace’s Despina Katsikakis said that where organizations 30 years ago looked on themselves as ‘corporate islands’ now they are much more ‘open networks’, with a need to changed the old model of power and control to newer models around culture and community. ‘But a really important word in that is authentic’, said Katsikakis.

For Rohan Silva, co-founder of Second Home, this authenticity means ditching the foosball tables, bean bags and table tennis tables in the office and instead, as Google is doing, bringing nature into the building. This is particularly important in active design, said Katsikakis, with the big game changer set to be Well Buildings Certification, concentrating on people rather than buildings. ‘We’re going to see that as a behavioural change driver’, said Katsikakis. ‘I think it’s coming from all different directions.’

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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