The Developer’s View
Chairman and co-founder of Rocket Properties Tom Appleton describes how building more public realm can be good for business
Public realm has been in the conscience of developers, if not the actual public that it is intended to please, for a number of years now. The rather cynical view of, ‘well if you want to get a decent planning consent you might need to squeeze a bit of public realm in there’ has been prevalent for years. Indeed, the wider public are more likely to be unaware that the brand new micro park across from their workplace, or the benches and box hedging outside all 300,000 square feet of glass and steel making up the office next door, was actually put there for them.
Thankfully this attitude – among developer and the public – has matured in recent years. As has the concept of public realm. The term now covers parts of a building, the crossover spaces – often the ground floor, sometimes the rooftop, but in stairwells and other communal areas too – where office workers and residential dwellers can mix, in some cases with the passing public.
In urban-scaled developments such spaces can come in the form of gardens (with eye-pleasing topiary) but more commonly and more usefully (in terms of pure business and forging a social culture) these spaces are increasingly taken up as softer commercial offerings with food courts and pop-up retail.
You can see this at Thomas More Square (near St. Katherine’s Dock) where the fairly bland gaps (not even old school public realm!) come alive at lunchtime to offer food from all four corners of the world. This brings people together not just from the same office, but also other blocks creating one supersized lunchtime co-working space.
But how the property sector can make a genuine contribution to the social life of a city is of course tied up with economics. Going forward, public realm – or social spaces as perhaps we should re-name this aspect of our cities – has to offer an amenity for people in the buildings alongside, as well as people passing by. And while this will increase the attractiveness of the development to incoming tenants, in most cases it will allow the landlord to charge a premium too.
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