Opinion

THE URBAN AGENDA – A CALL TO ACTION

The physical store no longer holds a virtual monopoly on retail transactions. Consumers can now shop anytime, anywhere, and are not bound by opening hours or physical proximity.

BY JORIS DE VAN DER SCHUEREN

Modern retail is omnipresent with a (digital) channel always at our disposal. As a result, what retailers need from physical retail is changing. Modern consumers have higher expectations and need to be given a compelling reason to visit a store. The ability to complete a transaction is not enough. The question is no longer about which channel will win, but rather how channels can best complement each other.

Progressive retailers are redefining the function of the store. This evolution is having an impact on our high streets and shopping centers, but also more fundamentally on the structure of our cities. Having lived in Paris, Amsterdam, Montreal, Shanghai, and New Delhi, I can attest to the changes in the urban dynamic across the globe. I also recognize the ever increasing pace of change and worry that we are not moving quickly enough in Europe to keep up.

To remain a vibrant and prosperous continent, Europe must do more to accommodate the changes in how we live, work, shop, and play. In the retail sector, many real estate owners are ready, able, and willing to support this transformation. Unfortunately, we often face ancient, rigid planning systems and other restrictions bent on protecting the interests of a minority, rather than focusing on the needs of the modern consumer. Consumers have moved beyond seeing retail as a functional amenity. It is time that our public authorities follow suit.

My conviction is that we, as retail real estate owners, need to engage more actively in a dialogue with (local) governments about the future of the city. We share a common interest in keeping cities vibrant, attractive, and accessible. By sharing our experience and market insight, we can help shape an urban agenda that encourages investment and addresses the needs of the future. In the Redevco portfolio, some of our most successful properties came to fruition by first defining a shared vision with other stakeholders. Our ALEA101 mixed-use development in Berlin helped to bring life back to a corner of Alexanderplatz that had been forgotten for too long. Our Promenade Sainte-Catherine in Bordeaux will bring a new impulse to the heart of the city, thereby ensuring its relevance for decades to come.

Only by collaborating can we create the modern retail destinations that global consumers now demand. During the upcoming ICSC European Conference (April 20 – 21, 2015) we will explore precisely what it is that these consumers are looking for. We will also celebrate some of the world’s best retail destinations and learn from the people and companies that helped to create them. As chair of the conference, I cordially invite you to join us in London, a perfect example of a dynamic retail destination that is more than the sum of its parts.

We can no longer deny that the retail world is changing. The real estate industry must play an active role to accommodate that change. We must lead from the front and engage with mayors, business chambers, and other stakeholders to ensure that consumers have an attractive retail offer. At a European level, the ICSC is an active advocate on these issues, but each of us must also play a role locally. Get involved. Address the urgency to act and ensure that the cities where you have vested interests don’t get left behind.

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