Last month, I joined 27,000 economic development professionals, real estate investors, developers, architects, and politicians from around the world in Cannes, France for the 30th anniversary edition of MIPIM, one of the largest of such gatherings in the world.
On the way to Cannes from the Nice airport, I shared a cab with a Finnish real estate investor and a French executive of a furniture conglomerate. As we slowly made our way in traffic alongside the famous Promenade de la Croisette in Cannes, the concentration of wealth at MIPIM began to reveal itself.
MIPIM 2019 was more than two kilometers of exhibits and sold-out luxury hotels, hundreds of packed big-ticket restaurants, the Palais des Festivals convention center (also home to the Cannes Film Festival), and directly behind the Palais, scores of super yachts where all manner of real estate deals go down.
On the surface, there seems little common ground with sharing. However, there are signs that sharing may become a key trend just like green building did in the early ’90s (exemplified by the LEED standard). This could have a much bigger influence on future of sharing than you’d expect.
Let me explain.
The essence of MIPIM is that it’s a real estate market matching buyers and sellers. The main sellers are economic development agencies and related real estate projects, which take up most of the exhibit space. Their job is to entice real estate investors, developers, or corporations looking for office space to buy into specific projects or areas that are under development in their region. The exhibitors promote the advantages of their area, and no expense is spared.
For instance, the exhibit for United Grand Paris, 18 agencies in the greater Paris metro area, was the size of a small warehouse. It featured maps, scale models of projects, videos, interactive displays, literally tons of publications, a bar and café, a brilliant planning game made of Legos from LaVilleE+, and much more. While United Grand Paris was among the larger exhibitors, it was fairly typical.
Build in sharing from the ground up
It was there that I got my first glimpse of how the real estate industry is thinking about sharing. Gaudion of LaVilleE+ led me through a round of his Lego planning game. It gave me insight into the complexity of real estate development, the growing requirements developers must manage, the need for new decision-making tools, and the potential of sharing. Multi-stakeholder groups use the game to increase the quality and speed of decision-making in the planning phase of development.
Much pre-planning is required to set up the game — including creating a data model that helps participants understand the tradeoffs between the many choices they face. For instance, we explored the social, environmental, and financial impact of increasing the number of bike paths and bikesharing in the prototype community we gamed. This was just one example of how sharing is starting to be considered from the very beginning of projects.
Sharing is being considered because it’s good for people, planet, and profit. The more people share, the less space you need per person, especially if people can live without cars. That means you can house more people per unit of land plus create more shared space and amenities. This saves resources, better connects people, and potentially is better financially for everyone, including residents. This is the logic of the groundbreaking Sege Park project, a 2,000 person mixed-use neighborhood in Malmö, Sweden being developed as a sharing community from the ground up as part of the Sharing Cities Sweden initiative.
And here’s the thing — for better or worse, this industry will be building a massive number of our future communities, including more than two billion new homes by 2100. How we live, consume, and interact with each other will be shaped by those who shape our communities. While the viewpoint of wealthy developers may not be the same as those of us working at the grassroots level, influencing that perspective can create a huge opportunity for positive impact.
This is why I was invited to speak at MIPIM by Fabien Supizet and Ferielle Deriche. They see the opportunity sharing represents, asked me to talk about it, and wanted me to see the world of real estate and economic development first hand to set the stage for future collaboration. They couldn’t have done a better job of doing the latter. It also was a fitting mission given MIPIM’s 30th anniversary theme — Engaging the Future.
Spreading the sharing cities vision
Among the highlights were the two speaking gigs Fabien and Ferielle set up for me at MIPIM. The first was a panel on Sharing Cities the afternoon of March 13 at FIABCI’s stand in the Palais. FIABCI is the International Real Estate Federation, made up of more than 1.5 million members from 60 countries. FIABCI advances the interests of its members, shares best practices, and recognizes outstanding real estate projects through its Prix d’Excellence Award.
The panel was hosted by Leo Attias, President of FIABCI France, and moderated by Céline Jullien of InnoEnergy. Céline spoke passionately about the human dimension of urban life — that the best cities are of, by, and for people. Panelist Ivan Itzkovitch, an executive with Métropole du Grand Paris, made a persuasive case that sharing in general and cooperation between the 131 municipalities in his metropolitan area will be key to their success. I learned during the reception afterwards that panelist Marc Payan’s civic crowdfunding company Collecticity have a copy of our Sharing Cities book and think of it as a menu of project ideas that their municipal clients could take up.
Early the next morning, I participated in the Mayors’ Think Tank hosted by MIPIM’s Maud Chavelier, moderated by Greg Clark of The Business of Cities, and attended by about 50 mayors. The think tank was organized in three rounds of peer conversations, each kicked off by a short keynote by one of the three speakers. This was a lively format and stirred some juicy conversations.
Christopher Williams of UN Habitat kicked things off with equal parts sobering and inspiring view of global cooperation on urban issues. In the conversation that followed, I asked him if nations are individually or collectively planning for the mass migration that climate-change induced sea-level rise will spark. He said no. He added that if we keep to a two degree centigrade increase in global temperatures, the sea will claim a quarter mile of land on all coasts by 2100 and that 70% of major cities are coastal. If we exceed two degrees, it could be up to a half mile. While deeply concerning, this also is an opportunity for leaders to get a jump on sea level rise by building sharing communities in climate change advantaged areas inland. This is a strategy I call retreat and transition.
Steve Zeeman of Greystar, the global leader in rental housing, kicked off the second round of conversation with a keynote arguing how important the sharing economy will be to housing. He talked about co-living (a story Shareable broke in 2012), changes in consumer behavior that will drive more sharing, why this will be good for the real estate business, and how his company will capitalize on these trends.
To kick off the last round, I laid out our vision for sharing cities, which argued for sharing from a social impact perspective emphasizing how sharing builds civic capacity, the foundation upon which solutions to all other challenges are built. If people can’t work together, they won’t be able to constructively engage the future. I argued that investing in people was the most important move mayors could make, and that sharing is a good way to build up people.
In general, the sharing message was well received. For instance, Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, ordered our book on Sharing Cities during my keynote. However, a Brazilian official pointed out the stark wealth inequality in her country, that one needs to have material wealth first in order to share it, and that poor Brazilians probably would like to get to that point first. Similarly, Mayor Rees thought the benefits of sharing might go mostly to those who need it the least. Their comments rightly pointed out that it’s difficult to create a fair sharing economy on a foundation of profound inequality.
I share this view, though there was some confusion between the Silicon Valley version of sharing and Shareable’s. I addressed the skepticism by saying that Shareable defines sharing broadly to include the sharing of power and wealth and that the cases and policies in our book work toward those ends. It might just have been me, but I felt a collective sigh of relief. I think the mayors want to believe in sharing, but Airbnb and Uber may have tainted the idea. Hopefully, the surge in downloads of our book following the meeting will help undo some of the damage and inspire progress toward a real sharing economy.
How important is real estate as an opportunity for sharing?
Overall, MIPIM was an eye-opening event. I went into it thinking that real estate might be one of the most important opportunities for sharing. I had wondered, what if sharing became standard in real estate like green building? I thought sharing could be the next step. The tremendous growth of coworking and coliving already hinted at this possible future. MIPIM supported my thesis much more than I imagined, though the evidence came with reservations. While this industry shapes the communities that shape us, it’s keenly profit driven. Profit seeking will likely trump social impact like it did in the sharing economy, at least in the short run. However, insurgencies in the corporate sharing economy have emerged that put people over profit — like the Sharing Cities, Platform Cooperative, and Fairbnb movements.
Luckily, many of my MIPIM contacts want to keep sharing real in real estate. They, Sege Park, and other projects show many ways forward including this: Get city officials and/or developers to set aside a zone or specific project to be developed with sharing in mind from the ground up. Learn from how that goes and expand from there.
Thank you Fabien Supizet, Ferielle Deriche, Leo Attias, Maud Chevalier, Céline Jullien, Isabelle Labarthe, Monika Bednarek, Sophie Cerisier, Christophe Dumans, Joris Gaudion, and Marc Payan for an incredible learning journey, your superb hospitality, and most of all, your friendship. I look forward to more work together on the sharing insurgency in real estate!
From left to right: Ferielle Deriche, Leo Attias, Isabelle Labarthe, Neal Gorenflo, and Fabien Supizet.
All images provided by Neal Gorenflo