It’s time to evolve. How can cities attract green-thinking corporates?

Rafael Powley, Director of Strategic Consulting at JLL takes the lead in voicing his opinion in our series of One Voice articles.

August 23, 2022

Europe’s heatwave this year made the benefits of green areas feel especially clear. Green spaces help reduce temperatures, making summer months and hot climates more comfortable, which raises wellbeing and productivity at work. Urban greenery cleans the city air and contributes to a more sustainable built environment, which is critical for the road to net zero we’re all on.

So it’s no wonder that as companies focus on achieving their environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals – and attracting new generations of talent – their first stop is increasingly those cleaner, greener cities where regeneration initiatives are creating more pleasant, sustainable places.

Following where people go

Many redeveloped urban areas with access to greenery or a waterfront have succeeded in attracting corporates.

Porta Nuova in Milan, a redeveloped central district with new buildings, includes a huge public park and several hectares of gardens, some of which even grow vertically, as can be seen on the residential towers of the iconic “Bosco Verticale”. In Barcelona, El Poblenou, a former industrial zone, has been transformed into a technology hub through an urban renewal strategy that created more leisure and residential space, while in the UK, regeneration in Birmingham has improved sustainable mobility through permanent cycle lanes and wider pedestrianization.

These kinds of mixed-use developments were far from common a few decades ago, when business districts were just dedicated to, you guessed it, business. More attention than ever is now being paid to multiple elements of regeneration and redevelopment efforts.

It’s particularly the case in Europe, especially as hybrid work creates fresh demand for clean, sustainable places where people can switch easily between working from home, getting to the office when they need to, and enjoying an overall improved work-life balance.

Take London’s 53-acre Canada Water, now being redeveloped with retail, residential and office space. Throughout Europe, neighbourhoods around green space tend to be the most sought-after – and for companies, these are local communities from which they can then attract and retain talent.

Startups and technology companies that draw most of their talent from younger generations – who often prioritize flexibility and sustainability – have been the first to move to revitalized areas, yet as more traditional businesses transition to digital ways of working, they’re often competing for the same talent, further increasing the appeal of these districts.

Resilience for the long term

Green, mixed-use developments that offer employees better quality of life, access to nature, cleaner air and a shorter commute support the ESG agenda – and those cities that take ESG seriously as they regenerate are best-placed to attract corporates. Tackling ESG criteria is increasingly important for corporates to not only attract talent but also meet the expectations of customers and business partners.

Green space also improves resilience against climate change impacts like rising temperatures and extreme weather events – a key consideration not only for businesses but for investors, who will value those cities offering a clear strategic vision to attract capital and ensure long-term sustainability.

While private investment generally follows where corporates go, cities also need attractive building stock to draw corporates. That relies on public as well as private investment, underscoring the need for cities to commit to green regeneration.

Agile urban strategies needed

However, it seems many cities still lack a clear plan to cater for changing needs and aren’t offering a competitive edge. Larger cities need to be more agile in their approach. The challenge is that many are restricted by outdated planning regulations.

Planning policies need to be clearly guided, flexible and a bit more creative, rethinking boundaries between different asset classes so that places can emerge where people can work, live, learn and play. Connecting different districts with cycle or walking routes can create an accessible, green network that transforms a city and helps it attract diverse businesses to stay competitive.

If more green regeneration is to take place, it will take multidisciplinary teams across public and private sectors, including specialists to consult on mitigating climate impacts.

The world is changing – and cities must evolve along with it.

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