Hustle & Bustle
We explore how urbanization is reshaping and redefining the places most of us call home
If you’re looking for a snapshot of the city of tomorrow, you might just find it in Copenhagen. It’s easy to visualize. Just try Instagram.
The social media giant features nearly nine million tagged images of Denmark’s capital city — with many of them showing bicycles, as the Danes have a long history of embracing cycling culture. Nine out of 10 people in Denmark own a bike, according to the Denmark Ministry of Culture, and the city has developed cycle superhighways to prioritize commuters on bikes over cars.
The motivation is simple enough — avoid air pollution, fight climate change and create an emphasis on active living.
Continue to explore #Copenhagen — past the bicycles, architecture and canal photos — and you’re bound to stumble upon Superkilen, a public park which opened in 2012. There you’ll find an influencer’s playground, perfectly designed for a casual selfie or an introspective stroll through one of the world’s most unique urban improvement plans.
Superkilen was designed to be an inspiration, featuring objects from 60 different nationalities — which match the ethnically diverse population that surrounds the neighborhood. Imagine an antique store merged with a greenhouse that unfolds into a city park.
Sprinkled around the 320,000 square feet of greenspace and bike lanes are Chinese palm trees, a Moroccan fountain, benches imported from Brazil, Armenian picnic tables and even manhole covers from Zanzibar.
While bicycling and culturally diverse urban developments may be key to the city of the future, the real lesson from Copenhagen’s model, according to JLL Global Research Director Jeremy Kelly, is the focus on livability.
“I think Copenhagen is leading the way in what a 21st century city may look like in terms of what its priorities are,”
“It is leading the world in terms of quality of life, and it’s prioritized the whole concept of livability.”
That’s a key lesson for the world’s other major cities, as many of them are quickly gaining more and more residents. According to population data by the United Nations, 55% of the world’s populations now live in cities, and that number is expected to grow to 68% by 2050.
With that wave of urbanization comes challenges to many global markets, including affordability, aging infrastructure, sustainability and an increasingly competitive labor market.
Kelly’s role is to watch those trends, and he’s been doing so for 15 years. We sat down with him to assess how urbanization is reshaping our cities.
Cities expert Jeremy Kelly explains how urbanization is reshaping real estate in our global markets
Q: How do you define real estate’s role in urbanization?
A: Our mantra is that real estate is a driver of city success, not a consequence of it. A successful city needs to have space that encourages creativity, collaboration and entrepreneurship. It needs to be able to help ensure a high quality of life for the people that live there. So real estate is the real heartbeat of a city economy. Bold urban transformation projects can dramatically change a city, creating new districts that act as a catalyst for growth and expansion — or creating sustainable buildings. Real estate touches every single area of a city, so it’s pivotal to a city’s success.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge for cities right now as they adjust to increased urbanization?
A: There’s a big challenge for our cities in providing high quality, affordable residential space. I think that’s across the globe. I can’t think of any city that has cracked it. There may be a city like Vienna that seems to be relatively successful in accommodating their population, but if you go to San Francisco or Vancouver or Tokyo, it’s the same issue with the lack of affordable housing for “Joe Public,” the working population, who are increasingly getting pushed out of the cities.
Q: What is your advice to companies trying to understand how cities can impact their business strategy?
A: Many corporate occupiers and investors need to be able to understand how cities are run. They need to get underneath how cities are managed because that relationship is changing. There needs to be a much more collaborative relationship between both sides because of the shared impact on the success of those cities. Many cities are very efficient in how they manage and plan, and there are lessons there for both corporate occupiers and investors.
Q: What is a market that has your attention right now?
A: I would call out Shenzhen, which has just seen massive growth over the last few decades, as have many other Chinese cities. But what Shenzhen is doing is successfully moving up the value chain. It’s becoming a hotbed for innovation. The city is attracting the bright young minds from across China, so it is the place to go if you want to launch your next product. It has the largest proportion of what we call “engine room population” — 20- to 40-year-olds — of any city in the world.
Q: How does the United States compare globally when looking at drivers of a successful city?
A: The United States remains a real hotbed of innovation. It has, in effect, the world’s best universities, but many U.S. cities are at risk without improvements to their infrastructure. When you compare the United States to what is being built in China and what is happening in places like Paris with its Grand Paris metro project, there is a gap in one of the key pieces to support urbanization and city success.
Q: What has surprised you in your 15 years of leading this research?
A: I think what is surprising is the strength and resilience of many of our top tier cities. We think with technology there’s an expectation that the importance of location would deteriorate, and that people would be working from the Rocky Mountains, so everything would be diluted and dispersed. But we’re finding quite the opposite. The well-connected, vibrant locations — London, New York, Tokyo, Paris, Singapore, Hong Kong and Seoul — are continuing to outperform and excel from the rest of the pack. You’re getting a polarization I think, so the prime, gateway cities seem to be riding the wave of the current process of urbanization.
Q: As those top-tier cities have dealt with urbanization, what has been the impact on other markets?
A: These (top-tier) cities have gotten to the point where there's a big issue with affordability. The infrastructure is being strained, and so we are starting to see midsize cities that are attracting talent and investment. You can think of places like Nashville, Melbourne or Auckland. These midsize cities are now starting to get global reach through the quality of life and dynamic business ecosystems that are evolving there.
Q: How are the drivers for what makes a city successful changing?
A: The key one is that we’re now talking about biodiversity. That wasn’t something we would consider just a few years ago, but we’ve had to widen the attributes because cities are continuing to evolve and the priorities for what makes them a success need to change as well. With biodiversity, it’s about culture, inclusiveness, diversity and, ultimately, livability.
Q: Is that something you think Copenhagen could teach other markets?
A: It’s one of the few cities that is bringing in tourists without any sort of big-ticket visitor attraction. So, a focus on livability has worked there and should continue to work. If there is a lesson, it’s that we have to remember the importance of quality of life, and the more our urban populations increase, the more we’ll need creative solutions to make sure the natural world blends with the urban environment. That’s an opportunity for real estate as urbanization continues to rise.