Creating safe cities of the future

Safety is what is so important to all city residents after the attacks in Paris or Nice. Once we feel safe, then we can concentrate on other needs. At the last MIPIM conference in Cannes, we saw cities like Helsinki promoting the safety of its city as a reason to locate there. Helsinki is free from natural disasters, such as Florida hurricanes or California fires, but its violence is more comparable to Kyoto than Chicago. In the 2016 MIPIM panel on “Your Smart City Vision Realised – Improve Urban Development Returns & Enhance Your Reputation,” we learned other cities had similar concerns. Europe’s population want to feel safe and any respectable larger scale new development is going to design to promote safe cities with good lighting with open, porous view corridors.

Experts from around the globe met at MIPIM and described the attributes for a safe, healthy and efficient environment. For example, MIPIM panel speakers, Keiji Kamiyama and Brendan Reilly, discussed strategies for collaboration on Urban Policy & Housing: Collaborating For Liveable Cities. The common elements of great cities are always the same no matter where you reside. In order to provide efficient transportation, we must have density, and in order to minimize excess travel time, we must have mixed use where we can work, shop, live and play nearby.  More density requires that we merge and share open spaces and parking.  Lastly, good land use planning will always provide great gathering places for arts, culture and entertainment. This requires enlightened land use planners and a tolerant public that will not oppose density and mixed use—a departure from historical practices. The future is always out of character with history even though most residents will say they want to preserve character.  Often what they really mean is that they don’t like change.

Enlightened cities are already planning for autonomous cars and more Uber-like services. Cities such as Singapore, Hamberg, and Pittsburgh are all experimenting with driverless cars. As we learned from speakers such as David Ellis and Morgan Juliette in their discussion on “How Close Are We To Creating The Ultimate Future City,” when this becomes a reality those cities that planned ahead will have better land use patterns, more affordable housing and higher rents in the central urban locations.

Other goals of great future cities are lower greenhouse gases and less pollution, which will be achieved by lowering the use of fossil fuels via good public transport and increased density.  Technology and mobility have allowed new market mechanisms (aka “the sharing economy”) to more efficiently use the embedded capital in each manufactured items people use.  Think of communities with shared tools, shared cars and shared gardens.  Ownership is not a goal among many millennials, and even though the cultures in the UK and US suggest ownership as a historical goal, this is changing.  Living space is now part of the shared economy and convenience trumps ownership.  These ideas extend to students who now travel the globe and study internationally.  Student housing, another MIPIM topic, in most demand is convenient with telephone service, internet, furniture and study rooms all part of the turnkey package that appeal to Chinese studying abroad and French students alike.

Of course no city is really great without art and great architecture, including museums, ballet and symphonies, which will always have a few generations head start on newer cities.  In this regard, no city can call itself great if it does not last 100 years or more and have some great icons and institutions that become, over time, irreplaceable.

Lastly, the safe cities of the future do well by first serving their established residents. Tourists naturally follow. Lately, we’ve seen citizens of cities where the tourist population is overwhelmingly high, defend their neighborhood and launch movements to “win their city back.” This has occurred in places like Barcelona. Cities should not worry about attracting conventions since the jobs created are low skilled and low pay.  They should worry about making the city a great place for an educated and diverse population.  This requires good schools and here we find that many cities have performed poorly, especially those in the US.  Education is a public good that gets pushed aside by short term politicians who won’t stand up to teachers unions and poorly managed budgets.

Well managed cities will thrive, along with those with natural beauty and great weather.  In fact, cities with poor weather will need to be much better managed than average in order to attract business.  Among the great cities, we think of Hong Kong for public transport, Vancouver or London for great parks and open spaces, Kyoto or Tokyo for safety, Denver for good management, San Diego for perfect weather, Paris for great culture and art, and Barcelona for attracting unicorns and start-up firms.  Every city wants to be the parent of start-up unicorns, but this requires diversity, good schools, great universities and a business welcoming climate, not unlike many of the exhibitors at MIPIM.

See you at MIPIM 2017.


Image source: Getty Images

About Author

Norm Miller

Norm Miller, PhD is the Hahn Chair of Real Estate Finance in the University of San Diego School of Business and is affiliated with the university’s Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate. Miller is also a faculty and board member at the Homer Hoyt Institute. Miller has driven a TESLA since 2012 and currently has a model with autopilot features. He has not moved further from work and does not intend to do so. His website is and he can be reached at

Comments are closed.