I spoke at Expo Real in Munich last Monday. This was the first time I had attended this huge European property conference, which is, as its website says “A three-day get-together of decision-makers and experts from the entire sector—from all around the world” – or put more simply ‘MIPIM without the yachts’. The conference was impressively well organised, and is truly vast – it took me 15 minutes to walk from the main entrance to the location of my panel, even with the aid of several travelators. Getting to my hotel the previous afternoon was also easy – it was less than 10 minutes from disembarking the plane at Munich airport to standing in front of the S-bahn ticket machine offering instructions in several languages re purchasing the correct ticket. This was in contrast to the first part of my journey from Cambridge to Stansted Airport where the hourly train which was already in the platform and humming to itself in that bus-like way that cross-country diesel trains do, was cancelled (with no notice) due to ‘staff shortages’. Although, Cross-Country trains have a twitter account, and indeed tweet relatively frequently, they make it clear that they do not respond to tweets or replies, which seems to miss the point of what social media is all about. Interestingly, Cross-Country is owned by Arriva which is owned by – err – Deutsche Bahn.
I spoke on two panels which formed part of a very interesting series on cities and urban development convened by international cities expert (and member of the London Enterprise Panel) Greg Clark together with Expo Real Exhibition Director Claudia Boymanns. You can see my slides on the previous post. My fellow panelists were from Amsterdam, Zurich, Edinburgh, Helsinki, Glasgow and Munich. Some observations (in no particular order) :
- The future is probably hyphenated: It is customary on these occasions to remark on the similarities between the various cities in terms of the issues faced. In this instance, it was undoubtedly true. I was struck for example by the fact that all of us in the first session spoke about the need to diversify the economic base in each city – we shared an analysis that looked to a varied economic base as the most likely route to economic prosperity rather than trying to pick winners in terms of sectors. I think this is a welcome change from what would have been accepted wisdom a few years ago, and perhaps reflects the gradual diffusion of ideas of agglomeration economies and spillover effects from the academic into the policy sphere. Certainly in the case of London, we see cross-over sectors – fintech, creative-tech, screen-based convergence technologies etc as important sites for innovation and growth; the growth sectors of say 2030 or 2050 may not have been invented or hyphenated yet.
- New ideas in old buildings: Jane Jacobs’s mantra is alive and well. While the conversion of former industrial and manufacturing spaces into small workspaces for creative, tech and digital firms is now well-known and almost conventional, we are now seeing the conversion of former commercial office development into such spaces. This presents challenges for the property development industry – the new occupiers are not looking for conventional office space but something more cutting-edge, creative and consistent with their work practices and brand values.
- Cities *heart* banks: That is putting it too strongly, but for cities like London, Zurich, Edinburgh, financial services remains an important – although probably less dominant – part of their economic futures. I was fascinated to hear that in Edinburgh, since the crisis, the level of FDI has increased rather than decreased. Previously, rapid internal growth and full employment had restricted opportunities for inward investment, but with the easing of the labour market, conditions had changed.
- Competition and co-operation across cities: Nothing new here, but it is clear that while in general the economic growth of other European cities can only help London and other UK cities – their imports are our exports and the reverse; the growth of the market brings integration, innovation and efficiency gains – there are also other aspects where winner-takes-all. So, to take one example, there is unlikely to be more than one European city that will be a player in the rapidly growing offshore Renminbi market.