Forbes: How The Real Estate Industry Can Help Shape Cities Of The Future

11 May 2022

Global COO and Americas CEO, Denis Hickey, shares what he believes is necessary to build cities of the future that are transformative, sustainable, and enduring – also highlighting the key players involved in making this dream a reality.

Imagine, if you will, what a future city could look like: elegant, intelligently designed buildings surrounded by public spaces that serve a dynamic mix of uses. Everything's built sustainably using advanced carbon reduction and climate resilience technology. Structures rise up like artwork into the skyline, one community at a time.

Now, imagine what it will take to deliver such places: a committed and collaborative effort by politicians, the investment community and businesses across industries, including real estate.

Is this a utopian fantasy? Maybe not. I believe that, through collaboration, “What’s in it for me?” and “What’s in it for us?” can coexist. Companies around the world that specialize in construction, development and investment management play a large role in community development. My company's services span all three of these categories, and from my perspective, businesses that provide the aforementioned solutions—and the broader real estate industry in general—are in a position to literally and figuratively lay the foundation for cities of the future.

Developing these cities is achieved one building at a time and requires a more holistic view—one in which individual buildings, whether residential, commercial or mixed-use, form a next-generation ecosystem designed to anticipate how we will live and work decades into the future.

Global experience is required.

Ambitious, forward-looking project experience is hard to come by. So, it helps when a company can apply its learnings from one region of the world to another.

For example, my company is responsible for a portion of Barangaroo South in Sydney, Australia, a district of the city that’s often recognized for its sustainability initiatives, technology applications, mix of residential and commercial uses, and accessible public spaces along the waterfront. We started on our part of the project, which involved developing housing and workspaces, in 2009, and we are now embarking on the final stages of development.

Our experience moving such a complicated, multi-dimensional project forward in Australia was influential in developing our U.S. partnership with a large company in Silicon Valley that wants our team to turn its landholdings into mixed-use communities that align with the brand's mission. Each development presents its own set of challenges, and one by one, we’ve looked for innovative solutions that can be brought forward to other projects, regardless of geographic location.

The goal for leaders should be to develop blueprints for building solutions that could address global challenges while keeping in mind that these solutions may evolve at the community level, as this is what will create places that are sustainable, transformative and enduring.

Only the committed need apply.

Corporate America has a big role to play and stands to gain from steering stakeholders, particularly investors and local governments, in the right direction, especially when it comes to the built environment. But, they need to think big, and they need to think long-term. Their sustainability-minded employees and residents are paying attention.

I recommend the following considerations for companies that want to be part of this movement:

  1. Think in terms of developing places, not buildings. Aim to create meaningful, vibrant and enduring places to live. This requires a combination of global competence with authentic local engagement and having the skill to not only define the best of all possibilities but also the discipline to deliver that vision sustainably and in partnership with the community.
  2. Use environmental, social and governance factors to base decisions. Stakeholders in our future have a responsibility to act sustainably in all its forms, including economically, socially and environmentally.
  3. Create value. Sustainable design and operations are worth the upfront investment. They can create long-term value for assets by supporting the broader health of the communities in which they are located. Investors can reap financial benefits by prioritizing investments in people and places.
Reimagine your company's role in building the future.

When my company made a pledge to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2040, some said it was too aggressive, costly and would marginalize us as a business. I disagree. I firmly believe there’s a market for green capital drawn to green businesses whose green operations satisfy the needs, wants and, in some cases, requirements of stakeholders ranging from elected officials to end-users.

Anything can be imagined when the incentives are set up correctly. Real estate companies are uniquely positioned to help shape cities for the future.