How may COVID-19 change the way we invest and measure value from urban regeneration?

The current health impacts on our urban environment, society and wider economy has highlighted the importance of value creation, and raises questions around how investment in urban regeneration can support social, economic and environmental resilience in the post-pandemic world? In this interactive digital roundtable, invited guests explored how asset investment and value metrics across the urban regeneration fields are being tested, and how COVID-19 may influence long-term outcomes that support greater urban resilience.

Roundtable Recap: How can we create greater urban resilience

The ULI UK Infrastructure and Regeneration Council was delighted to host a round table exploring the question ‘How can we create greater urban resilience’. The event featured keynote speakers Dr. Gemma John (Founder & Director, Human City) and Basil Demeroutis (Managing Partner, FORE Partnerships). Alongside moderator Dr. Eime Tobari, they led an intimate discussion touching on social value, local contexts, and the importance of long-term evaluation of a scheme’s potential impact.

A topic on everyone’s minds thanks to Covid-19 has been about the resilience of the built environment and its impact on communities. A key question that this round table explored was about how Covid-19 could change the way we invest and measure value from urban regeneration. How can investment in urban regeneration and the built environment support social, economic, and environmental resilience in the post-pandemic world, and will we see a dramatic shift in how we measure the benefits.

The event was an intimate round table-style event, digitally hosting 20 attendees on Zoom alongside keynote speakers Dr. Gemma John and Basil Demeroutis. Gemma is Founder & Director of Human City, and Basil Demeroutis is Managing Partner with FORE Partnerships.

The session was moderated by Dr. Eime Tobari, COCREATIF Social Value Strategist and Co-Chair of the Council.

To begin, Gemma touched on the importance of a two-tiered approach to understanding resilience in the built environment. Using her anthropological lens, she highlighted how both systems and context should be used to build strong and resilient communities. Systems, Gemma noted, give us the ability to see people, places, and things as part of a wider system with interconnecting parts – it becomes challenging to create resilient solutions if an approach only looks at one aspect of an interconnected picture. However, the context and varying values of each group or user will be an important tool to create resilient places that best meet the needs of users.

Basil defined resilience as an elasticity of the system, and the ability to absorb shock and adapt, in particular during times of transition. He noted that resilience adds value to investors, and therefore building in resilience is an important way of maintaining strong communities and strong industry, even in times of crisis. Currently, value is measured through monetised metrics, which means that certain value-adding elements are not being included in our business cases. However, this is changing; anecdotal evidence is starting to shape business decisions, and Basil notes that companies are now seeing that value gained forward-thinking spaces.

Another key topic raised was around measuring social value, and how currently it remains difficult to build value into a business case given the intangibility of them. Basil noted that each developer has their own way of measuring social value, which can lead to a standardised list rather than a bespoke and contextualised approach for each development. This can lead to developers missing the mark and trying to find a quick answer to a deeper issue. Gemma agrees, and reiterated the importance of context in shaping how social value is measured. Attaching different KPIs to different partnerships may be a more effective way of implementing social value than using a blanket approach which misses the context of their local audience. And finally, Gemma encouraged the use of both quantitative and qualitative metrics to measure social value.

Following the keynote speakers, the round table sparked lively debate with a range of topics. These included a resounding agreement that the case for resilient developments can’t be valued solely based on short-term financial viability, but also on the long-term value added by a scheme. The impact of Covid-19 on the built form of cities was also widely discussed; while some believe that it is too early to tell, others maintained that it is the human connection in offices that will drive us to return to them, and ultimately offices with more of a focus on healthy, productive spaces will become the norm in a post-Covid world.

Going forward, the round table was in agreement that social value should be at the heart of resilient developments. To sum up the discussion, it was aptly put that people are the true origin of value, and that we should be shaping our developments around the context of the people who will be using and engaging with them. While this may take time to gather the hard data to support this, we are seeing a shift in the focus of developers and investors, and as land use professionals we can continue to shepherd and shape this value system to ensure that our cities and communities remain strong and resilient.

Find out more about the ULI UK Infrastructure & Regeneration Council here: ULI UK Infrastructure & Regeneration Council

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