CBRE, the world's leading real estate advisor has released Our Cities, Knowledge for the future, a thought-provoking project on how British cities might look and feel in twenty years’ time. The research casts new light on the kaleidoscopic complexity of the future city. Southampton has a vision which will bring £3bn of investment, create thousands of new jobs and deliver some 5,000 new homes to the city over the next 20 years.

The project examines what will make a successful city through a collection of over 80 separate articles with insights on areas such as diversity, culture and sport, the economy, sustainability, governance, health, transport and placemaking. In doing so it identifies innovation, culture, and governance as being crucial to the success of British cities.

Innovation – cities are usually at the centre of innovation and technological advancement. They do this partly for their own survival; inventing ways to adapt to the sheer size and complexity of the city as an urban form. Cities also need to have the critical mass to support the highest quality educational offering, which has two effects.

Firstly, it creates specialists and secondly, it creates cross-fertilisation of ideas. For businesses to remain competitive it is important to understand where innovation is thriving and how to go about identifying it. Southampton is no exception to this with its top-class universities and a skilled workforce graduates. According to the UK Powerhouse Report, Southampton’s year on year employment growth in H1 2018 was 1.9%, 2nd behind Leeds. In the six years to 2016 high-tech employee numbers grew 25%.

Culture – through its art, music, performance, food, architecture, identity and customs. City culture is a generator of success because it provides a higher quality of life and richer exchange of ideas. It offers both a challenge to, and a reassurance about, the identity of the city. Businesses need to understand how the cultural offer of a city might evolve, how a city can stay edgy and relevant in cultural terms, and how investors can spot where the momentum is.

The new Cultural Quarter has become a destination in itself following the major regeneration of Guildhall Square which completed earlier this year with the opening of £15m arts complex ‘Studio 144’, made up of the John Hansard Gallery and Nuffield Southampton Theatres.

Governance – cities are getting larger, at least in population terms if not in spatial extent, and they’re getting more complex. Cities can often face a dilemma about how to evolve – as can be seen in debates about ‘social cleansing’ of housing estates, and an unease about gentrification. The British city also often faces challenges over its physical size, with Green Belt sometimes viewed as an obstacle to expansion. The successful city will be one which has the necessary power to make, coordinate and fund decisions about such issues. Businesses need to be able to identify the quality of city governance and understand how to engage with it; and the quality of that governance is connected to its skill in being able to engage effectively with the private sector.

James Brounger - Regional Managing Director, CBRE South Central
“Our research shows that the future of our cities will be influenced by an immense range of factors, and the inherent uncertainty of forecasting means that it’s not yet known what the future city entails. This research therefore attempts to present the evidence on a variety of plausible cases.

The long term vision for the city has seen dramatic changes already, with the extension of West Quay’s shopping and eating outlets, the new 5* Harbour Hotel in Ocean Village and the refurbished Mayflower Theatre. But these are just the beginning of what it to come for the city which is now seen as a destination in its own right.

The cities that do best will be the ones that focus on vibrant innovation, a rich culture and strong governance.
James Brounger - Regional Managing Director, CBRE South Central