The Future of Downtowns and Central Business Districts Around the World

Joining CUI’s Mary W. Rowe on “The Future of Downtowns and Central Business Districts Around the World” are Alicia John-Baptiste, President & CEO, SPUR; Greg Clark, Global Head of Future Cities and New Industries, HSBC Group; Gabriella Gomez-Mont, Founder and Principal, Experimentalista; and Abha Joshi-Ghani, Senior Adviser, Public Private Partnerships, The World Bank.

5 Key

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. The pandemic is an agent of change, with impacts differing by city and sector.

Covid-19 has changed consumption, mobility, leisure, and work patterns. The regional context is key to understanding what has changed and what lies ahead. Locales including Dubai, Shanghai and Hong Kong have put in place incentives to attract local residents back to city centres. City centres of the future may shift to emphasize habitat and health, innovation, and experience. Downtowns that are diversified will have the greatest number of options going forward.

2. The pandemic has impacted cities of the global south. Good local governance and trust is indispensable for recovery.

Many migrant workers have left cities of the global south and the informal economy has suffered. The flight to the suburbs often cited in other contexts is not a reality for cities in developing countries. Credit cards to access e-commerce are inaccessible to many. Working from home is not viable when residential spaces are already cramped. Instead, some cities are doing more with less within existing office buildings via strategies including shift work. The pandemic may result in greater prominence for secondary cities. Local government will play an important role in the recovery, and countries with strong local governments will do better.

 3. Diversify the inputs of a city in order to diversify the outputs.

The pandemic presents an opportunity to rethink and reimagine cities. A deep shift in organizational mindset is needed, from economic efficiency to public values and civics. City centres are not only economic hubs but also historic, political, and cultural hearts. Public and civic spaces are needed now more than ever. Social imagination and lived experience can play an important role alongside objective data. Social interactions, weak ties, and hyper-local approaches can be powerful levers for communities to overcome challenges.

 4. Let social entrepreneurs lead the way to repair the strain on social cohesion wrought by the pandemic.

The pandemic is both a mirror and a microscope. San Francisco’s population has decreased, reflecting a “tale of two pandemics”: some residents left voluntarily thanks to the ability to embrace flexible work arrangements, while others relocated when affordability challenges made remaining simply untenable. Three Bay Area cities have recovery taskforces which identified equitable economic recovery as their number one priority. One tactic to spur equitable economic recovery is to bolster small business by finding new ways to facilitate access to capital.

5. Prioritizing investments in key areas can help drive a robust and equitable recovery.

Digital infrastructure and net zero strategies will be important to prioritize for investment, along with climate resilience, land banking for housing, and public transportation. A new organizing idea to build up civic collaboration can help re-equip cities financially for long-term investment.