Understanding the drivers of a city's success

Urban living is becoming a more important way of life for most of the world’s population, half of whom now live in cities.

In London, as is the case with most Old World pre-20th-century cities, there has been a rediscovery of the city. Since the 1990s, the depopulation dating from various points in the 20th century has been reversed and new businesses of many types have once again created revenues which have, in turn, stemmed urban decline and decay. Together with New York, London dominates the world city scene and remains heavily invested by institutions, funds, private companies and individuals.

The importance of human contact has given cities a new currency: there is value in the physical forum and marketplaces that cities provide. With growing tech sectors, cities like London would appear to have assured futures – but only if they can continue to attract young, creative and entrepreneurial workforces and residents.

Therefore, real estate developers and investors need to understand the drivers of city success if their location decisions are to be profitable. The type of real estate they provide has to add to the city’s success rather than detract from it if the predominance of London as a World City is to be maintained and enhanced.

After five millennia of cities organised around people and animals, the last half of the 20th century gave us the first ‘automobile cities’ zoned and organised around the movement of traffic. While this threatened the older and industrial-age cities for a few decades, it is no accident that the late 20th century introduced ‘regeneration’ and ‘gentrification’ to the lexicon of real estate as people started to rediscover urban life and repopulate, reuse and reinvigorate previously run-down inner-city areas.

Closer examination of development and building within world cities reveals a rich mixture of urban forms and a great many districts with different characters and a vast mix of commercial, retail, visitor and other uses. All human life is there and the best cities are noticeable for having a wide variety of districts, all catering for an equally wide range of occupants.

London is one of the best global examples of this mixed and varied urban form but it faces significant barriers to growth, particularly in the development of new, authentic, urban quarters that have the same mix, density and complexity of the best-performing neighbourhoods in London.

London’s growth issues are closely reflected in many other world cities. So in a year when the capital's population has exceeded its former 1936 peak for the first time, it is appropriate to look at how other world metropolises are not only accommodating population expansion, but encouraging it. 

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