ULI conference: Rewriting the story of urban density

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The positive effects of urban density need to be better understood and communicated, real estate professionals heard at an event in London on Tuesday.

The Urban Land Institute used its Real Estate Trends Conference to focus on ‘densification’, a global phenomenon that has implications for real estate investors.

The wider theme of urbanisation has become a hot topic for real estate investors in recent months (IP Real Estate’s annual conference tackled the subject in May), and ULI has launched a research programme on the densification of cities.

Greg Clark, ULI Europe senior fellow, presented the findings of the first of three density reports being produced, arguing that cities should embrace “good density”.

Certain cities across the world are experiencing an influx of people, as demographic and social trends converge to support a resurgence in urban living. For cities in developed economies, accommodating significant population growth can be very challenging, especially in terms of housing and transport infrastructure.

The report, Density: Drivers, Dividends and Debates, co-authored by Clark and Emily Moir, director of The Business Cities, suggests that dense cities minimise energy consumption and environment impact while supporting productivity, innovation and liveability.

Clark and Moir have sought to clarify what constitutes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ density, looking at land use, infrastructure, overarching strategic visions and attention to social and economic needs.

Clark told delegates in London that more education and public debate was needed to help change the negative perceptions often associated with urban density, such as poverty and crime.

Isabel Dedring, deputy mayor for transport at the Greater London Authority, said the real estate industry needed to help “rewrite the narrative”, admitting that ‘density’ was not a popular political word. Dedring said the public and private sectors needed to share the responsibility of telling a new story.

Judith Mayhew, conference moderator and senior adviser to Tishman Speyer, said ULI was “extremely well placed” to “provide this narrative”.

A number of real estate investment managers have begun to integrate urbanisation into their investment strategies. Alice Breheny, global co-head of research at TH Real Estate, said the company had been moving away from targeting national markets in favour of identifying urban areas across the world that would perform well over the long term.

Lisette van Doorn, who was appointed CEO of ULI Europe in November last year, told IP Real Estate that she was interested in exploring whether investing in denser, better connected cities leads to better investment performance.

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