Tim Johnson

Tim Johnson

Partner, NBBJ
Tim is an internationally renowned expert in high-rise design as a business strategy. A former chairman of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), his insights into urban transformations in the United States and Asia have appeared in business and design media around the world.

Want to Reduce Your Company’s Carbon Footprint? Start with Your Headquarters

April 28, 2022

Partner, NBBJ

This post, which is part of a series on how to reduce carbon in the built environment, was co-authored by Tim Johnson and Peter Alspach. The first post in the series served as an introduction, and the second focused on embodied carbon reduction.


The nature of work is changing in a myriad of ways, with more talent relocating to areas outside of cities and the seemingly permanent shift to hybrid schedules. As a result, corporations are rethinking their headquarters, designing them for a different set of uses and an evolving workforce. These same companies are also increasingly concerned with social responsibility, including their offices’ carbon footprint.

Recently, our firm was tasked with designing a net-zero building for a corporate client on the East Coast. While the adaptive reuse of part of the current headquarters served as a jumping-off point, the organization’s suburban location required an addition to the existing building as well as increased focus and diligence in managing elements such as embodied and transportation carbon—two main areas of concern in a net-zero energy facility. The client also specified that carbon neutrality be achieved through the construction and operation of the building itself rather than supplemental means such as the purchase of carbon offsets.

How can an organization reconcile the need to expand their presence with their obligation to decrease carbon emissions? Below, we explore strategies and solutions for companies to do so through the planning, design and construction of their buildings.

Innovate through Materials and Building Techniques

For our East Coast corporate client, the use of sustainable materials and building practices factored in greatly when planning and designing the addition to the existing headquarters. One environmentally friendly, cost effective and beautiful alternative to traditional building materials like concrete and steel is mass timber. Substituting wood instead of conventional building materials can reduce emissions by 69%, and using mass timber in half of expected new urban construction could provide as much as 9% of global emissions reduction needed to meet 2030 targets.

In addition to curbing greenhouse gas emissions, mass timber’s benefits extend to the building and construction process. It is well suited to offsite manufacturing and prefabrication—another highly sustainable building method that can reduce construction waste by 40% and carbon emissions by 35%—since much of the labor (cutting and assembly) is done in factories. It is estimated that because they are prefabricated, use of mass timber panels can bring significant cost savings for construction projects and reduce construction time by up to 25%.

Employ Alternative Energy Sources

While embodied carbon is of greater concern in the long run, operational carbon—a building’s everyday energy use—accounts for 28% of the built environment’s carbon footprint. Alternative energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal can significantly reduce a building’s reliance on fossil fuels. For example, the Thermal Energy Center at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, WA, employs a geothermal system comprised of hundreds of wells drilled 550 feet underground that serves as the heating and cooling source for the campus, eliminating fossil fuel usage.

Cities are also beginning to require the use of alternative energy sources in both new construction and adaptive reuse projects to meet their carbon reduction goals. For example, Boston’s BERDO 2.0 ordinance mandates that buildings of a certain size must report their carbon emissions to the city on an annual basis and pay a fee on any overages, and in the past 18 months Washington, DC, New York City, Denver, Seattle and St. Louis (among others) have all enacted building performance standards.


Microsoft’s Thermal Energy Center in Redmond, WA, taps clean energy deep underground for the organization’s new campus.


Curb Transportation Carbon with Amenities that Attract Talent and Benefit the Community

Transportation carbon is a concern when dealing with a suburban workforce that mostly commutes using cars. According to a Pew Research study from 2016, 21% of urban dwellers use public transit on a regular basis compared to only 6% of suburban residents. The movement toward hybrid work means fewer people commuting each day has positive implications for transportation carbon, especially when coupled with amenities that benefit the community and attract talent.

In addition, due to public and private investment making suburbs more dense, walkable, bike-friendly and less dependent on cars, as well as the competition to attract bright young talent who want to live and work in lively places, many companies are imbuing their suburban campuses with shops, restaurants, hotels, residences, affordable housing, community services and public parks. When going to work also includes a stop at the gym, a quick trip to the grocery store and a dinner out, the transportation carbon associated with making separate trips is reduced significantly—not to mention providing an experience that draws talent to the office.

Lastly, there is an increased trend in electric vehicle infrastructure required of commercial office projects. The electrification of the transportation sector is a key part of global carbon emissions reduction plans, and the build-out of the supporting infrastructure is vital to its success.


At Amazon’s HQ in Arlington, VA, the “helix”—a walkable ramp wrapping the building with trees and greenery planted to resemble a mountain hike—is open to the public on weekends, providing a green amenity for employees and the community alike.


Reuse, Renew, Reposition

According to JLL research, two-thirds of the national office inventory is more than 30 years old and likely to become obsolete, while 91% of net occupancy growth for the past decade is new and repositioned supply. An increased emphasis on energy reduction in buildings coupled with the fact that many aging commercial properties are transforming from assets to liabilities means that adaptive reuse, renewal and repositioning are viable strategies to help reduce the embodied carbon impact of the built environment, enhance a building’s value and decrease energy use and costs.

Implementing upgrades that increase sustainability and energy efficiency—such as replacing aging infrastructure, proactively adapting to regulatory changes and designing for resiliency—as part of a larger repositioning of the property creates a compelling product in the marketplace that appeals to both developers and tenants.

In Conclusion

Balancing the energy savings of sustainable building practices and renewable energy sources with a building’s embodied, operational and transportation carbon footprint is a complicated equation. However, large corporations have an obligation to address carbon emissions due to their outsized role in driving global climate change. By making informed decisions about materials, building techniques, energy and transportation, organizations can significantly decrease the carbon footprint of their buildings while also setting an example for how to create sustainable, responsible buildings and campuses.

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From Fortress to Front Door: How High-Rises Can Attract Tech Tenants in a Highly Competitive Market

December 8, 2021

Partner, NBBJ

A version of this post initially appeared in CTBUH’s 2021 Journal, Issue IV.


By the end of 2021, the tech industry’s global revenue will reach US$5 trillion. Given this growth, the urgent need for tech companies to attract and retain talent amidst a highly competitive market is more critical than ever. One way is through investments in high-rise workplaces. Yet tech companies have different needs compared to the typical tall office building tenants: a unique culture of continual innovation, activity-driven work, non-corporate dynamics, generational preferences and agile-fueled project management, among others. So, how can tall office buildings better align with the needs of the tech sector?

First, an amenity-focused shift is transforming the tech high-rise. A decade ago, the traditional office building included anywhere from 85 to 98 percent workspaces and 15 to 2 percent amenities. Today, this percentage is steadily balancing out to a more even split, edging toward 50 percent workspaces and 50 percent mixed-use amenities. Strategies that engage the perimeter of a high-rise or commercial building can drive community connections between tech companies and the neighborhood. To be a more proactive part of the neighborhood, tall buildings and commercial developments can devote these exterior-facing areas to amenities.

This can include ground-floor spaces for non-profit, art and educational organizations to develop cultural partnerships and provide resources. Welcoming plazas and courtyards can host farmer’s markets to enhance food access and nutrition, while mobile pop-ups, such as galleries, gift shops and co-working spaces, can revitalize underutilized street fronts and alleys. In addition, changes to municipal codes, so that active street-front usage is encouraged or even required, could help incentivize these changes and even make them more profitable. For example, a building’s width could increase if programmed with street-fronting space for community organizations.

Another strategy to address tech company needs is to develop zones at the “front door” of a high-rise that encourage new connections and uses for a transformed public-private threshold. The entrance of a high-rise commercial development has the power to set the stage, and simple changes can help invite and welcome building inhabitants. A seamless drop-off and arrival experience that accommodates everything from concierge and child-care services to multi-modal accessibility and diverse delivery modes is key. With more online-to office and office-to-home deliveries—and in the future, food and package deliveries by drone—it can be helpful to provide designated areas for these services separate from car, pedestrian, scooter and bike access.

Furthermore, these elements can work in tandem with an integrated building-security approach to protect people and ideas. A high-rise should be secure, but approachable. Ditch the ground-floor “fortress” mentality and instead provide check-in points one level up. For instance, this can open up the first floor for public use, which can serve as a welcoming lounge for collaboration, discussions, and events, not just for building tenants, but locals and visitors as well.

The interiors of tall commercial buildings offer a multitude of opportunities to rethink space for tech tenants’ needs, from wellness to connection. First and foremost, buildings must breathe. Fifty-seven percent of sick leave can be attributed to poor ventilation.

One way to boost health and cognition is to provide access to fresh air through features such as operable windows. A mixed approach can offer flexibility in areas where pollution or wildfires are common, by blending operable windows with floor-by floor mechanicals that filter outside air if needed. Additionally, access to outdoor workspaces at multiple levels can support greater wellness, health and agency. Interspersed terraces, rooftop gardens and publicly-accessible ribbon parks can provide restorative moments for office workers and visitors alike. Taking the diverse needs of tech companies into consideration, tall building designs can offer both more uplifting work environments and more welcoming, engaging communities that give back to their neighborhoods, providing differentiation in the market for the developer and ensuring that buildings are more attractive to the growing tech sector.

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Rethinking Commercial Lobbies During the Pandemic

Five Design Considerations to Make Office Lobbies Safer and More Welcoming

May 1, 2020

Partner, NBBJ

Editor’s Note: This post was co-authored by Tim Johnson, Stuart Fox and Paula Buick.


With states gradually seeking to lift shelter-in-place laws, developers are instituting phased strategies for reopening their buildings in a safe and hygienic manner. While many states moving quickly to reopen have issued mandatory guidelines for workplace safety, anxiety about workplace infection remains high – a recent informal survey found that 81% of employees do not feel safe about returning to the office. Given this context, workplaces need to not only adhere to infection control protocols but also instill a palpable sense of safety and assurance in the people using the space.

Commercial office lobbies are a crucial element in establishing a safer, more uplifting work environment, as they are the primary means for entering a building. They are a logical space for deploying and highlighting new hygienic measures and protocols, as well as creating an atmosphere that reassures and informs tenants. To add to the complexity, these measures are more challenging to implement in multi-tenant buildings, where numerous policies on guests, package drop-off and lobby use have to be coordinated across multiple companies.

Given the potential complexities of this task, here are five design considerations building owners and operators should take into account as they rethink lobby areas.


Visible Safety Measures

There are a number of safety measures and protocols which can be deployed in lobby spaces to control the spread of infection. These include obvious but effective protocols like regular cleanings and the provision of hand sanitizer, gloves and masks. But there are also more advanced solutions that are also beneficial beyond Covid-19, including lobbies that use proximity badges to maintain healthy density levels, screening kiosks, improved air handling including filtration and air exchange, and touchless technology on doors and elevators, potentially using facial recognition, to reduce the risk of contact infection. Buildings could even implement an express lane for pre-screened individuals using a QR code or use entry/exit sensors to detect occupancy levels in the elevators and office floors.

It is important from a psychosocial perspective that these safety and health measures are visible to building tenants in order to reinforce the sense that the building is a safe, well managed environment. In the current context, conspicuous measures like health screenings in lobbies, time lapse videos showing cleanings, and even digital visualizations monitoring air quality in the building may help put tenants’ minds at ease.


Signage and Wayfinding

Signage and wayfinding play a critical role in getting tenants where they need to go and keeping them informed of new building safety and hygiene protocols. Lobbies will likely be the primary access point for building tenants, but other means will have to remain open for evacuation and fire safety purposes. Signage should clearly inform tenants which entrances and exits are to be used, and which are strictly for emergencies, so that everyone accessing the building goes through the necessary security and screening points.

Signage should be clear, concise and uniformly deployed in the lobby as well as throughout the building. Uncommon colors like pink may help important messages stand out, along with simple language and intuitive icons. In addition to wayfinding, signage can reinforce important protocols, informing tenants about handwashing, social distancing and other important infection control elements.  It can be playful, catchy or fun, reinforcing positive messages like “we can do this,” which can serve to assuage anxieties and make important information more memorable. It is also important to strike the right balance in terms of the amount of signage used—too little signage is ambiguous, while too much is confusing and can conversely create the subjective impression that a space is unsafe.


Digital Media and Messaging

The projected increase in queueing in the lobby due to potential health screenings or elevator bottlenecks may represent an opportunity to incorporate monitors and digital signage for entertainment and real-time information purposes. Digital displays can provide important facility information such as shared and tenant-specific building policies as well as recent changes, which may be particularly useful in multi-tenant buildings, or provide information on queuing times.

Displays can also serve a broader role as forums for sharing news about the immediate neighborhood, such as information on public transit or which restaurants have re-opened or are delivering. They can additionally be used to field and answer questions from building occupants, sharing relevant information with tenants as they queue and reinforcing the sense that the building’s management is aware of and responding to concerns. This can play a critical role in helping people feel more comfortable in their environment. Digital signage could also provide elements of inspiration, distraction or connection, like turning the color blue when other landmarks in the city do so to honor healthcare workers.


Elevators and Stairs

Getting to the office may be a major bottleneck in commercial office buildings, given the need to adhere to social distancing measures. A standard passenger elevator is 6’ x 6,’ which could theoretically accommodate four individuals at each corner while barely maintaining minimum social distancing guidelines. Though office buildings will likely, at least initially, have significantly lower occupancy as a large portion of people continue to work from home, there will still be a need for queueing at 6’ intervals or other measures to relieve social density as people wait for elevators.

For tenants on lower floors, stairs are alternate option. If this becomes a major traffic area, rules can be established about passing, entering and exiting so that social distancing can be maintained. Another consideration is that people may be reluctant to use the handrail for hygienic purposes, which could increase the possibility of falls.


Staging Arrivals and Exits

Given the trend towards increasing office densification, a high-rise office building might have several thousand occupants arriving and departing the building during peak commute periods. Queuing for elevators during these peak periods while maintaining social distancing protocols could quickly become impractical due to space limitations.

In order to lessen social density in the lobby during high traffic periods, it may be necessary to stage arrivals and exits. This may need to be developed in coordination with mass transit, which will likely need to use staggered arrivals and departures. For single tenant buildings an employer can develop a company policy, but for multi-tenant buildings this can potentially be done via a phone app, which provides companies or individuals with scheduled arrival and departure slots to minimize the number of people using the lobby at any given time. Such functionality could be built onto existing smart building apps frequently used to manage building security, services, comfort levels and other facility-related issues.

As people gradually return to the office, building owners and managers will face a number of challenges in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of their tenants. Lobbies are an important space in this regard, as highly trafficked, highly visible places that transition people from the surrounding neighborhood to their workplace. While the logistical issues of maintaining security and safety during the pandemic are apparent, there are also notable opportunities in lobbies for creating more welcoming, responsive environments that more deeply connect people with the buildings they use.


How are you and your organization dealing with the coronavirus? We’d like to hear from you. Drop us a line at socialmedia@nbbj.com.

Banner image courtesy Sean Airhart.

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How Designers Can Help Lead the Conversation about Science

Reflections on the March for Science in Washington, DC

May 30, 2017

Partner, NBBJ

“Energizing” is the word I would use to describe the March for Science in Washington, DC, last month on Saturday, April 22. Along with the People’s Climate March a week later, and with ongoing drama over the Paris climate accord, it’s obvious that people are feeling the need to get out and speak up on the issues surrounding our planet.

At the march I attended, it was wonderful to see such a wide diversity of age, race, geography, religion and profession uniting around the significance of science.

In particular the unanimous support for the reality of climate change is a call to action to reverse this human-instigated circumstance which could make many species — including our own — extinct in the next century.

The “science” of designing, building and operating the physical environment contributes significantly to adding carbon to the atmosphere — the leading cause of climate change — so our role as architects should be pivotal in reversing this. Designers can shape the dialogue in three ways:

1. Get Involved
I spoke to dozens of people along the March for Science and most were scientists and academics: although it’s possible I missed a few individuals, nowhere did I see the American Institute of Architects (AIA) or U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) participating. I would argue our profession is at least half science, and therefore our input is paramount. Climate change is certainly discussed in architecture circles; however, it would be great if more people trained in design and architecture were in the political realm. Policy is the root of change and getting in at the ground level is key.

2. Implement Best Practices
There are a number of things the design industry can do that are simply best practices taken seriously, yet even today, 13 years away from the deadline of the 2030 Challenge, we are not taking the basics to heart. Design begins with one’s relationship to the environment, so appropriate responses to climate and solar and wind orientation are the most fundamental. Simple energy modeling that allows us to make big or even incremental moves can save megawatts of energy over decades. There are many passive design opportunities, from building orientation, to enclosure design, to building materials, to sun shading and louvers that we can take advantage of more frequently. We have a really big tool chest to work from!

3. Innovate
Then there’s the real science and innovation side, from things like photovoltaics, to making lighter buildings with less material, to sustainable materials like timber. There is no reason why the surface area of buildings can’t also be generators of energy or surfaces for agriculture. Even things like modular construction can significantly help reduce waste, in addition to creating better safety on-site and increasing construction quality. A whole range of potential innovations can be put into practice by the design and construction industry.

This will require help from our partners — clients, engineers, contractors — but the design professions can play a leading role. As the holders of the design vision, we have the platform and the point of view to orchestrate the conversation, to describe the issues and challenges. Initiatives like the USGBC and the AIA’s 2030 Challenge are a great start, but we in our profession we need to ramp it up.


Tens of thousands of people marching down Constitution Avenue and at over 600 similar events around the world send a clear signal to our elected leaders to take this matter seriously — science is the foundation of our future health, prosperity, even our very lives!

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

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From the Growth of Tech to Economic Uncertainty, Four Takeaways from ULI’s Spring Meeting

Look to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest for a Preview of the Changes Coming to Real Estate

May 18, 2017

Partner, NBBJ

Thousands of leaders in real estate converged on Seattle earlier this month for the annual Urban Land Institute (ULI) spring meeting. Clouds parted in the notoriously drizzly Pacific Northwest town to show off its finest hour as a city engaged in building one of the most “user-friendly” cities in the United States.

As the largest urban area in the Pacific Northwest and a tech cousin to San Francisco, this 700,000-person city — with a regional population of approximately 3.8 million people — enjoys tremendous growth in the technology sector, with companies like Amazon consuming massive amounts of real estate. To counter the growing pains of San Francisco, Seattle is trying to develop its urban core to take advantage of the city infrastructure and to diversify its community. Here are four key takeaways from the conversation about these issues at ULI, and a few provocations for the future.

1) Neighborhood as Catalyst
With a strong interest in the South Lake Union neighborhood, many events and tours at the ULI event showed the tremendous impact of revitalizing this once parking-lot-filled area of Seattle into a vibrant mixed-use neighborhood. Home to a variety of organizations, South Lake Union integrates working, living and playing in a medium-density format. The area is rich with architectural character — blending the past and present with the energy of youth and optimism fueled by the millennial ethos. While not perfect, South Lake Union presents a great case study on how public and private partnerships can come together to spur development — from parks and retail, to corporate headquarters and new forms of transportation.

2) A Strong, but Uncertain, Economy
Another topic of interest was defining where we are in the economic cycle. Entering the seventh year of sustained growth after the “great recession,” there are varied opinions on the topic. Terms like “extra innings” and “double-header” were used as a familiar analogy to describe the sentiment. Are we close to a walk-off home run with two outs and a 3-2 count? Or are we in the 3rd inning of the evening game of the double-header?

One statement made by Tom Hennessy from Equity International caught my attention and I think is a more accurate assessment. Tom described the current situation as “land priced to perfection.” Unpacking his statement, Tom says the costs to continue this cycle of economic vitality are at a premium with zero margin for error. This will likely tighten the market significantly. However, the United States is and should continue to be a safe haven for international capital, which is beginning to flow into cities where vacancy rates are declining.

3) The Trump Effect
What conversation doesn’t include some discussion about politics? The market enthusiasm for bank deregulation, corporate tax cuts and support for small and medium business has everyone optimistic. However, many also expressed concern about the lack of traction and inability to move policy forward in Washington. This gridlock will likely not bode well for the markets, which could overshadow aforementioned positivity.

4) A Time for Tech
Seattle, with its tremendous development boom and 60+ construction cranes, had many people asking, “How much gas is still in the tank?” On one hand, it seems all economies are cyclical, even Seattle’s. But on the other hand, the growth of the tech industry seems to create anomalies that aren’t just based on traditional metrics. During the ULI meeting, Amazon’s vice president of global real estate, John Schoettler, announced that the company will hire 100,000 employees over the next 18 months. While that number represents employees around the world, it still equates to over 5,000 people per month — the size of a small Eastern Washington town. These figures underscore the dramatic shift that is happening in this “second machine age” fueled by extraordinary advances in computing technology. Developers and cities would be wise to continue to invest in this industry for years to come.

Regardless of these trends and what else is to come, it’s safe to say that we are just at the tip of the iceberg of the unimaginable changes that will take place in society. Over the next 10 years, disruptions such as driverless cars, more mobile ways of living and working, artificial intelligence and extraordinary breakthroughs in bio-science will transform cities and human life in profound ways. My friends and colleagues at ULI are perfectly positioned to lead and drive this discussion. Economy, ROI and politics aside — the future is bright and will be looking for innovation at all levels. It’s going to be quite a journey, so buckle up and enjoy the ride!

Image courtesy of Kevin Scott/NBBJ.

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Stop Fighting the Urban Redevelopment Battles We’ve Already Won

Now It’s Time to Invest in Inclusivity: A Conversation with John Alschuler

March 14, 2016

Partner, NBBJ

I recently invited John Alschuler, chairman of HR&A Advisors, to deliver some remarks to my firm, NBBJ, about the history of urbanism in America — and what our priorities should be for the next stage of urban redevelopment. Following is a condensed version of his talk.


What is it that we value about cities? They are places of culture, places of economic vitality, places of opportunity. But dynamic, humane urbanism is in danger, which requires a fundamental rethinking of how we practice urban redevelopment. This danger is present today in our STEM centers, such as Boston, Seattle and San Francisco, and is of growing concern elsewhere.

Our mindset today is a prisoner of an obsolete paradigm. After the Second World War, cities were losing tens of thousands of jobs each year and millions of people. A pro-growth coalition of labor, business and politics came together to rejuvenate the American city: first, to restore safety, and second — at the cost of billions of dollars — to bring private investment back. They incentivized companies to return and subsidized construction. They bought a new economy.

Then the paradigm shifted. Instead of pursuing private companies to induce economic growth, cities sought to create environments that attracted talent. Successful cities invested in physical beauty, in art, culture, beautiful parks, in making themselves exciting places to live, in the belief that workers would come and companies would follow.

And it worked, thankfully. The population trends fundamentally reversed. But now it’s time we declared victory in that struggle, in many of our leading cities . We did many things well, but If we keep doing urban redevelopment in the way have for the past 30 years, we will be fighting a battle we have already won. Worse, we will transform the American city into the province of the wealthiest people on the planet, and shove the poor to the periphery.

As a result of our success, a suburban attitude toward development has taken hold. We now have an unspoken, unarticulated alliance between “quality of life liberals” who love the urban form of the city and don’t want it to change, and the communities of color that have been the victims, over and over again, of displacement and gentrification. This anti-development constituency has fundamentally undermined the ability of cities like San Francisco to build. You don’t have to be an economist to understand that, if you build only a fraction of the housing you need to meet demand, housing prices will go through the roof. And this crisis is threatening many cities all over the United States. Battles are won while the war is lost.

The question is, what do we do about it? In the 1970s we assembled billions of dollars to deal with the dystopian threat to cities, but now we face a new challenge. If our values remain a humane urbanism, here is what we need to do:

We’ve spent a long time thinking about downtowns, but increasingly we need a multi-nodal urbanism. A place where multiple nodes — where people can live, work and play, all in the same place — are distributed and connected, and not just through the center. If we want a more inclusive, more open city, we need a city with multiple centers, all of which we nurture and care about.

We have to rethink transit. Virtually all cities’ transit systems are radial, designed to bring a suburban workforce downtown. But that’s not where all the jobs are anymore. And it leaves out neighborhoods and communities of color.

Our long-neglected, long-stigmatized reservoir of public housing has to be invested in and preserved while we build new affordable units. Thanks to a very powerful inclusionary housing ordinance, every apartment building in New York City going forward will have a minimum of 30% of its units devoted to low- and moderate-income people.

We have to think about parks in new ways. In Brooklyn Bridge Park, we dedicated a piece of land for housing in which 30% is designed for affordable families, so that the act of park-building becomes a home for diversity and affordability.

We have to work with the unions. I believe in unions and their right to negotiate and protect their workforce, but in some cities union labor adds 30% to the cost of building — and it has nothing to do with salaries. It’s all work rules, the requirements that add unnecessary costs. We need the unions to build affordable housing at fair wages, but with reasonable work rules.

We need to allow micro-units, to bring the size and cost of housing down.

We need to figure out how to take the distributive effects of an Internet manufacturing world and bring it back to cities. Working with some very visionary developers, we’re transforming 6 million square feet of office space at Industry City in New York into a form of inclusive manufacturing for companies like Makerbot, the largest producer of 3D printers in the United States. Many workers here are high-school graduates, who receive more than a living wage.

We need to rebuild community through culture. This is in many ways how we rebuilt our downtowns, with places like Lincoln Center, but we need to do it in other neighborhoods too. Theaster Gates’s most imaginative creations in Chicago were built within the African-American community in the South Side, including an “arts bank” that, as the library of Jet magazine, contains the history of America’s African-American communities since the Second World War.

We need to deal with climate change. New York recently built its first-ever zero-emissions school, and we need to do more of that.

We know how to spend money on the future of cities, but we shouldn’tto spend the money solely on the next High Line or Millennium Park or Copley Square. We need to spend it on affordable housing, on inclusive neighborhoods, on diversity. We can’t simply allow average incomes to rise, absent an inclusionary agenda.

We have to do this for two reasons. One, these are the values that stand behind our credo of humane urbanism. Two, if we don’t, the entire political coalition of growth will collapse on our heads, and our cities must keep growing if they are to be inclusive. We want to keep building, but we need to do so with a new agenda for a new century.

Image courtesy of Charlie Nguyen/Flickr.

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Where People Go (Back to Cities), Development Follows

Dispatches from an Optimistic MIPIM 2015

March 16, 2015

Partner, NBBJ

The mood of this year’s MIPIM — the international real estate conference hosted each year in Cannes, France — was solidly positive, with global real estate strong in many major sectors around the globe: the United States, United Kingdom and Asia in particular. It was also apparent from Norway to Normandy that many European countries and cities are starting to trend upward from the bottom of the 2008 global recession. The UK, in fact, sent some 5,000 attendees, the largest contingent from any country, and showed that London is truly leading Europe on the road to recovery.

France — the host country — was exuberant, with aspirations of large-scale remaking of its key cities. Paris in particular, with its popular “Reinventing Paris” ideas competition, sent the strongest signal of what European cities need to do to stay relevant in the post-industrialized world.

Other countries such as Turkey and Poland portrayed their aggressive stance to attract investment in thriving locations.

Noticeably absent were the once opulent and grand schemes coming out of Russia. The Middle East too was minimally present; however, their products seemed appropriate to a more modest market reality, as world oil prices are still down. As well, it was disappointing to not see more representation from Sub-Saharan Africa, as activity is just starting to increase in this last global development frontier.

The 20,000-plus attendees also seemed to embrace the idea of urban regeneration and the effect of the Millennial generation on the marketplace. Ideas for urban, mixed-use schemes that bring living, working and playing into the same space seem destined to be the way of the future.

With a worn-out larynx and a few microns less leather on my shoes, I again found MIPIM an amazing event for bringing together people who are passionate about not just making a little money in real estate, but about making the world a better, more habitable place.

Image courtesy of Simon & His Camera/Flickr.


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