The Counselors of Real Estate and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors joined with Stanford University to reflect and project the Global City. International members of the counselors and London-based Surveyors and Stanford faculty were joined by international urbanists. This symposium was about your city and the future context in which you will approach solutions to challenges in your community. Several of the speakers were star quality and all were on point and persuasive. Below are a few of my reflections on the symposium.
The share economy is creating an extraordinary economic overlay to hard assets. Not that the built environment is declining in importance, the web entrepreneurs are just developing strategies and methods of making more without developing the real estate. Chip Conley head of global hospitality and strategy for Airbnb and advisor to the CEO in TED talk manner delivered a wonderful wake up at 8:15 am on the first day of the symposium on his experience in the share economy. Conley, a self-described disruptor, formerly a successful boutique hotel-developer, joined the CEO early in the founding of the largest worldwide landlord intermediary of share- a-beds, rooms, apartments, houses, now in over 190 countries. Airbnb today averages more international daily turns than three of the top hospitality companies in the world aggregated. And no real estate!
Conley reflected on the climb from a great idea with apparent hurdles to the common worldwide alternative to guesting in a special purpose property. While not infinite, the customers are almost limitless and so are the spinoffs. Similar to Uber and its competitors without taxi fleets, Airbnb has created a new accommodation and expanded the traveling population. Demand for hospitality and mobility is being siphoned from traditional supply sources. Services and products throughout the world can find customers without advertising or telephones. The central marketplace has been enhanced not replaced.
Terrorism, a rather new topic for urban futurism, was a dominant theme at the symposium. However, the safety and security umbrella included preparedness for epidemics, natural disasters and other catastrophic events. Although not new here for urban areas, the scale and scope and frequency of these events have resulted in extraordinary strategies and methodologies for surveillance and resilience. Former US secretary of homeland security Michael Chertoff demystified the efforts and enterprise already in place for monitoring the watch list for events requiring emergency response and recovery. On the job training with September 11th and Katrina, secretary Chertoff reflected on past vulnerabilities and preparedness. In his dinner keynote address, he related the evolving worldwide communication and cooperation for solutions to the threats of sudden, violent disruptions to communities, particularly densely developed urban areas. The outlook was comforting and surprisingly hopeful about our urbanizing society and the catastrophe, even without a forecast of the final solution. Just coping.
Founder and chairman of Equity Group Investments, Sam Zell at his 8 am conversation was empowered. As one of the largest and most experienced landlords and commercial property investors, he related changing demography and behavior of his tenants at the property level and confidently extended the trends forward. He commented on desires shaping demand, mobility shaping location, behaviors shaping the built environment. Concerned about infrastructure, safety and security, he called for stronger leadership to get going on these challenges that are shovel ready. The conversation was candid, thoughtful and complete and delivered with Zell’s unique style of humorous wisdom. Much information to sift and sort. The symposium prepared me to observe and listen more.
David Kirk, CRE, MAI, FRICS, is principal and founder of Kirk & Company, Real Estate Counselors, Boston, Mass.