Over at U.K. construction magazine Building, urban renewal specialist Jackie Sadek comments on the impact of the recession on the industry and makes the point that
Developers who can respond, not just on ability to deliver but on a range of social objectives, stand to become "partners of choice"....We urgently need a new paradigm.
There's a clue to that paradigm in the familiar but esoterically called world of 'multi-sided platforms'.
These aren't the sort of platforms that enable one to move from A to B as in a caper by Super Mario:
But the world of Facebook:
The example of Rappongi Hills is not convincing but the idea of multi-sided platforms (or MSPs) and their links with the process of designing and delivering urban renewal is tantalizing.
In their paper for HBS, Kevin J. Boudreau and Andrei Haigu define MSPs as
platforms which enable interactions between multiple groups of surrounding consumers and "complementors".
Platforms are defined as products, services or technologies which serve as foundations upon which other parties can build complementary products, services or technologies.
A multi-sided platform is both a platform and a market intermediary: a place in which distinct groups of consumers and "complementors" interact through MSPs.
So what has this got to do with urban renewal and real estate development?
A lot. And it's way more than simple ideas of networks and network theory.
To the bottom right of the above picture is a site known as Roath Basin in the docklands of Cardiff, Wales in the U.K.
The site is being brough forward for development as a new mixed-use neighbourhood by a development company called Igloo Regeneration and joint-venture partners the Welsh Assembly Government.
As part of the development strategy for the site, Igloo has commissioned me and associates to work with public, private, voluntary and community groups in adjacent neighborhoods to ensure that the site is developed in such a way as to connect with the social, economic and cultural past, present and future of the area and that the area and Igloo can leverage mutual opportunity from the £150m ($225m) or so new investment in the area.
We are working with local organizations and Igloo on designing a sequence of all sorts of tangible and intangible, real, digital and layered 'interventions' to help make this happen.
This image is of a new bridge in Castleford, Yorkshire that me and an army of others helped make happen between 2002 and 2007.
The bridge was designed by designers and built by engineers: but it was actually realized by a co-ordinated confederacy of local interests - both institutional and communal - linked through a single initiative.
The initiative became a vehicle for transformational change not just because of the coherent, co-ordinated efforts of all but also the fact that connected to the main 'capital' programme was a series of social, economic and cultural initiatives and opportunities for people to organize their own projects and activities and co-opt or link them in to the main programme of work.
In the project, people grew food in vacant public places across the town, took cookery classes in neighbourhood centres and then, come the final harvest, cooked a 'town meal', in an event attended by over 8000 people and curated by artist Bob and Roberta Smith.
The important point about this project is that over 1000 people in over 80 organizations across the town elected to grow food at diverse, dispersed locations: in school yards, public parks, the backs of community centers and front doorsteps.
Here's a picture of Margaret from Gresham Neighbourhood Centre taking it easy in an empty growing container:
The sponsoring bodies of all three initiatives were/are an amalgam of public and private investors, non-departmental public bodies, charities, NGOs, arts organizations and individuals willing to grant time and effort.
But the unifying element of all three initiatives is that they see/saw physical development sites as an opportunity to create or support new ecosystems of economic, social and cultural activity.
And a process was designed around those opportunities that enabled people and institutions to self-organize and innovate.
None of this is new. It's going on all over the place. Except that more often that not, business models are unable to admit or compute the added value that these processes can bring to the original land asset.
And people often get land-locked in the mechanics and confines of the physical world.
In a recent event at Harvard Business School, James Breyer, an early investor in Facebook and a director of Wal-Mart Stores, commented on the difficulties of understanding and codifying the vast amount of new daily information generated on the Web.
To date, there is no company that allows one to take quickly all of this information 'in the cloud' and integrate it with the vast arrays of information in the physical world.
And Susan Decker of Yahoo! went some distance to start to profile the sort of outfit who might offer a solution:
Companies that will do pretty well will create a dashboard of simplicity that is very open to the whole Internet, not just the company it may be associated with, and will elevate social connections in a way that drives dollars.
Jackie Sadek is right. We urgently need a new paradigm in urban renewal.
And as Jackie writes, it is about reducing risk by using public sector assets.
But it's also about widening and changing our view of what is and isn't an asset.
It's about creating real, live, hydra-headed, multi-sided, open platforms to do the work.
And it's about finding new ways of valuing social connections: perhaps using new currencies, such as energy, food or the joint productive power of the Web.
The obvious challenge is to find ways to win a critical mass of adoption and demonstrate how the value extracted can be maximized. (And this is where the skill *really* comes in.)
But the sponsors of all of the above projects intuitively understand the opportunities of working a new paradigm.
The less obvious challenge is not to try to clone initiative but to push public and private sector organizations and individuals in your area or domain to get with that paradigm.
They need to become sustainably-minded social entrepreneurs.