Cities need to become attractive again for working people and middle classes
By Méka Brunel, CEO of Gecina
By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities. To take on board the scale of this phenomenon, we need to think and take action to ensure that the largest cities become accessible and welcoming again, particularly for the middle classes, who are central to robust economic development. To reestablish confidence and trust, the challenge is also to successfully accomplish urban densification to become more fluid and inclusive.
Life is all about movement. We are in the mobility age, professional mobility, through different companies and statuses, as well as personal mobility, with diverse paths for our lives. Student life, couple and family life, separation, reconfiguration, life together after children leave home, this flexibility is part of the fundamentals of our existence. However, it is increasingly difficult to maintain, especially in cities. There are many different barriers: people hesitate to accept an interesting job offer because it is too far from home, or people are reluctant to leave a home with reasonable rent to move closer to their workplace, because its neighborhood is too expensive.
Tuning into urban tensions
Is gentrification making the heart of our cities less fluid? Are we moving towards cities that will now have only two social categories: the very wealthy, on a private real estate market that has become inaccessible for employees, or low earners, eligible for social housing? While everyone is talking about metropolitanization, i.e. the expected increase in the urban population in the near future, this question needs to be clearly set out. This is particularly relevant since, virtually everywhere in the northern hemisphere, protest movements can be seen in cities: from the crisis challenging the major housing operators in Berlin to the yellow vest movement in France and protests against the plans of Google in Toronto or Amazon in New York. The working classes, as well as the middle classes, are voicing their discontent and calling on policymakers to move beyond the old oppositions between rural areas, peripheral sectors and urban centers.
How will densification take shape?
With Carlo Ratti, MIT professor and architect, and Jean Jouzel, climatologist and former vice-president of the IPCC, we have compared our approaches. You will be able to discover and listen to our exchanges on theurban.gecina.fr, in the latest episode of our podcast “The Urban”.
As we know, after decades of urban sprawl, we are now moving towards dense cities, with new citizens, set up around efficient transport and service hubs. This is a welcome development because, with a dense city, we can take action to tackle the carbon footprint for mobility and combat global warming.
But tomorrow’s cities need to continue to appeal or become attractive again for the middle classes. In certain regions, such as Silicon Valley, we can already see that young urbanites are preferring to live in less expensive cities, where they will be able to find decent accommodation. To create a good-quality and reasonably-priced offering for accommodation in these most central sectors, it is vital to support the development of the model based on institutional investors, alongside social housing, for acquisitions and the rental market managed by individuals. These can make a positive contribution to ensure that tomorrow’s cities are more inclusive, more welcoming for this middle class, a key driver for robust urban economic development. This is a prerequisite in order to reestablish confidence and trust.
Otherwise, cities will see their core sectors empty. They will become soulless shells, “Potemkin villages” aimed at tourists, and the feelings of exclusion will grow. We will have failed to respond to the climate and social emergency. A future that nobody wants and that, I firmly believe, we can avoid together.
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