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Entrepreneurial Neighbourhoods

Digital Sizzle: Challenging Neighbourhood Perceptions. Image © Gensler

They say, “Charity begins at home,” not so much in the much hackneyed context of financial contributions for justifiable causes but in the cultivation of benevolent values for communities. The challenge for London’s new housing is that existing neighbourhood frameworks may not necessarily provide for the socio-economic or quality of life aspirations of its residents. Londoners are increasingly having to commute longer distances. They must travel to seek opportunities for work, live, learn and play. This places overwhelming strain on London’s already creaking transport infrastructure. The introduction of the Localism Act 2011 attempted to devolve decision making at the local level, but not the fiscal autonomy to deliver initiatives. Coupled with the need to reduce the United Kingdom’s budget deficit, local authorities are facing long term challenges of providing the amenities and services that previous generations of residents have taken for granted.

There is no time-honoured panacea for these challenges, but perhaps a number of themes could be addressed to reinforce self-reliance and socio-entrepreneurship for the neighbourhood residents. Doing so would help deliver the ever shrinking “public good” and mould the neighbourhood’s character according to their culture, aspirations and values.

So, who are these neighbourhood residents? According to the latest Acorn-Caci geo-demographic structure, there are six categories (62 sub-types) ranging from Affluent Achievers to those experiencing Urban Adversity. Regardless of the combination of resident types, thriving neighbourhoods are the ones that foster equitable communities. Thus, social mobility and talent development are crucial to inspiring a future generation of entrepreneurs. Gensler’s research in 2014 on the evolving nature of work, titled “Work in the City 2025”, anticipates that boundaries between work, learning, enterprise and other lifestyle activities are increasingly blurred. As new housing gets introduced into neighbourhoods; education and cultural facilities, training and mentoring initiatives should be reinforced to foster an emerging generation of resident socio-economic participants. Competition amongst neighbourhoods will also lead to greater diversity and quality of local services, amenities and cultural richness. The recent Urban Land Institute report on “Business Friendly and Investment Ready Cities” has identified the importance of clustering strategies to improve productivity, expertise, culture of participation and the fostering of high value-added worker communities.

With reports valuing the smart cities industry at more than $400 billion globally by 2020 and the UK expected to gain a 10% share ($40 billion), technology, big data and the “internet of things” are already being promoted at a strategic level by “Smart Cities” proponents. Whilst critics argue about the viability and the democratic provenance of the “top down” approach, technology can be harnessed at the grassroots to facilitate provision of services and amenities for residents. “Smart” neighbourhood apps and socio-enterprise networks can break down the barriers to entry and provide scalable economies that help neighbourhood businesses to compete and grow. Thus, forging links between education, training and businesses in the local resident communities will help create the entrepreneurial culture needed for a resilient socio-economic future. Gensler’s involvement with the tech/media/finance communities in Level 39 and Tech Hub has demonstrated that local resident stakeholders are embracing changes on how they employ real estate uses.

Technology has also opened up alternative financing opportunities to deliver neighbourhood change, such as Peer to Peer and Crowdsourcing initiatives. As International equity and institutional investors move away from the mainstream, neighbourhoods may see new mixed-use housing solutions that embrace the Private Rented Sector, Retirement Homes, Student Accommodation, Shared Ownership and Work-live units. The public realm also has a role to play in supporting enterprise in neighbourhoods. Gensler is currently collaborating with Nesta/Groundworks to explore how local communities can derive better socio-economic and health benefits from public parks and open spaces.

The above themes are only the tip of the iceberg in addressing complex neighbourhood challenges. Ultimately, residents should be empowered with the tools and skills to define their livelihood, quality of life and take ownership of the neighbourhoods they choose to call home.

Teen Tech: Talent Development. Image © Gensler

Voon is a Regional Leader for Planning and Urban Design with significant experience across a variety of design disciplines including master planning, architecture, landscape design and interiors. He understands the strategic issues needed for a city to grow sustainably and develops clients’ initial ideas into effective robust solutions to successfully achieve their vision and to foster successful communities. He can be reached at voon_fui_lai@gensler.com

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