ULI Netherlands: Greg Clark discusses technology, real estate and the innovation economy

On 2 July, ULI Netherlands hosted a presentation by ULI Europe Senior Fellow Greg Clark on technology, real estate and the innovation economy.  Clark’s research on these topics will be published in a forthcoming report by ULI and the Oslo Metropolitan Area.

In his research, Clark focuses on ten innovation clusters in different Western countries in an attempt to grasp what can stimulate technological innovation in the twenty-first century.

According to Clark, innovation is connected to cities because of the mix of people and businesses, the availability of a good digital infrastructure, a well educated work force and the presence of universities. Therefore, many innovative businesses already prefer urban locations.

But new trends have emerged: people move more freely around the world, transportation costs have dropped, technology has become more prominent, and commerce around the world has become easier. Moreover, the economy has become more flexible in other ways. The sharing economy is rising and big data has influenced the possibilities for innovation. All in all, this leads to several different ways of working, which has consequences for the real estate market.

In order to keep a city attractive for innovative businesses, real estate developers and owners as well as local governments should meet the new needs of these companies. For local governments, that means loosening their zoning restrictions and making sure the working area consists of a mix of people, shops, entertainment and green areas. For real estate developers, this means focusing on new, flexible buildings that make the creation of communities possible.

To illustrate the benefits of flexible buildings, Sjoerd Lycklama of OVG brought up The Factory in Berlin, a work environment that houses several start-ups and encourages cooperation between them. This “community of tech heroes” is a big success and there are plans to build new “factories” elsewhere in the world to meet the needs of the innovative entrepreneurs of today.

But not every innovator has the same needs. Felicien Duquesnoy of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam pointed out that while university researchers make important contributions to the innovation economy, many of them prefer the silence of their labs to a vibrant city environment.

For Clark, these different requirements for different kinds of innovators require a “big push for diversity”. Cities and real estate developers should be aware of the building needs of different types of people and businesses in order to provide the best accommodation possible. Clark also stressed the importance of developing buildings in which new, yet unknown, technological possibilities can be integrated: “If you want to attract and accommodate smart people you have to develop smart buildings to keep up with the need for fast changing technological amenities,” said Clark.

This post was written by Joost Zonneveld.