Making Manchester - Placemaking beyond moneymaking

Last week saw HOME host the Making Manchester conference organised by law firm, Eversheds Sutherland. With fantastic speakers and three thought-provoking panel discussions, the event saw an strong turnout - despite the torrential rain!

The conference kicked off with the ‘Metamorphosis’ session – chaired by Financial Times Enterprise and Northern Editor, Andy Bounds, the panelists included Nathan Cornish of Urban Splash, Dave Moutrey, CEO of HOME, Dr Joe Ravetz, Co-Director of the Centre for Urban Resilience & Energy, and Jacob Loftus, CEO of General Projects.

The social agenda and supporting displaced artists

Top of the agenda – and a point that stood out throughout the conference – was, as put by Dr Ravetz, the need to unlock a key model for placemaking rather than moneymaking. Taking placemaking beyond financial reward alone, all the panelists agreed on the importance of considering social value. The displacement of artists as a result of development revealed strong opinions – particularly from Jacob Loftus, who spoke passionately of the need for sustainable gentrification and the need to embrace and work with artists. The example provided by General Projects in giving back to artists in London sets the standard for developers in Manchester.

Manchester as a destination

All the panelists were united in their agreement on the strength of Manchester as a destination; as pointed out by Nathan Cornish, the city has seen a net influx of graduates for the first time, with more people arriving than leaving. Yet, while testament to the strength of the city as a place to live, work and visit, it creates fresh challenges for the public transport network.

Investment in public transport

While more investment is needed in providing alternative modes of transport to cars, the city hasn’t yet found a solution beyond bikes which, as discussed at length, is unlikely to tempt most of Manchester’s commuters out of their vehicles. Jacob pointed out his experience of the daily commute in New York, where someone may visit the gym before making their way to the office in the morning, acknowledging the fact that many commutes aren’t linear, so a bike isn't always an appropriate method of transport.

New developments and ground-floor interaction

Moving away from public transport, the discussion moved onto architecture and ground-level interactions, with Jacob questioning the level of thought invested in placemaking at street-level for new developments, pointing out the fact that the buildings that have really flourished in terms of creating a destination and a sense of place are reinvented, reinvigorated; older properties that were built with great care and attention. With countless developments underway throughout the city, it’s undoubtedly an issue that will see further discussion and debate in the coming months.

The changing workplace

The second session ‘Headspace’ focused on the changing workplace, chaired by Alison Ross, Operations Director at AutoTrader Group and Chair of Manchester Digital – the panelists were Stephen Wild, MD of MediaCityUK, Tom Redmayne, Director of Business Development UK & Ireland at WiredScore, Mark Goldfinger, Director of Expansion at WeWork, and James Francis, Workspace Strategist at Gensler.

The session began by asking what Manchester should be doing in terms of the changing workplace, the consensus being that technological advancement needs a driver and glue to make it stick, a more solid understanding of devolution and how the city can use it to better effect, along with a unified digital strategy. A smart city should be a place that should enable users to have the experience they want, with the most frictionless user experience.

The new occupier dynamic

The conversation quickly came back around to occupiers – Mark highlighted Amazon and its proactive approach as an example of the need for the property industry to really listen to the requirements of occupiers. There is a new dynamic in terms of what occupiers are looking for. As pointed out by James, this creates a need to redefine what a mixed-use building does. James also pointed out the need for behavioural change in occupiers, acknowledging the evolution in the way people work and the expectation to be able to work flexibly anywhere.

Creating places where people want to work

Occupiers are waking up to the need to create environments where people want to work. However, James pointed out that efforts shouldn’t be about infantilising the workplace – it must be led by HR teams, IT and management teams, a holistic, company-wide effort that will yield tangible results. Real, bottom-line benefits. James advised completing Workplace Utilisation Strategies that allow businesses to create spaces that improve performance.

Yet, while things are moving in the right direction with businesses waking up to the benefits of co-working, collaboration, flexible working and wellness in the workplace, there is still some way to go – Mark explained that conversations must start happening now if the industry is to get to where it needs to be in 10-15 years’ time.

Commercial bravery

The panel also touched on the subject of making sure workspaces can evolve over time, with Stephen highlighting the need for an element of commercial bravery, for the property industry to mature in terms of the way a given development works commercially.

The second discussion finished on the need to have a local strategy, recognising that a one-size-fits all approach doesn’t apply to buildings and it doesn’t apply to workspace. James outlined his views on the fact that the existence of many Global Workplace Strategies is outdated, with Mark explaining that a local plan is created for every WeWork location, taking into account local needs and expectations.

In summary, the conference provided an open forum for important, thought-provoking discussions around the importance of creating places and spaces where people want to spend time and where they can thrive, while ensuring that social considerations don’t fall by the wayside.