Changing lifestyles are reshaping our cities. We spoke with Bryan J. Koop, executive vice president of Boston Region, Boston Properties, to learn about current trends in mixed-use development, the changing look of retail, and mobility’s impact on real estate decisions:
Gensler: What’s happening in our cities that’s heightening the interest in mixed-use development?
Bryan Koop: Peter Drucker predicted 40 years ago that how we work is going to change society more than any other thing. We think there’s a lot of wisdom in that, and we’re now seeing the ramifications of those changes. It really didn’t escalate until we were able to disconnect ourselves from the desk and become untethered.
So, we think what’s driving mixed use is the fact that people are untethered from their desks. Once that happens, their expectations for surrounding amenities just go through the roof. If you’re tethered to a desk in the suburbs, do you really expect to have a food hall downstairs or a hotel next door? Probably not. But if you’re untethered in the city, you can go to those places and work.
Gensler: What role does transit play in this changing work dynamic?
BK: Transit is absolutely key. In Boston, at The Hub on Causeway, the top priority was the fact that the potential development was above a train station. And that train station is connected to 64% of the communities in Greater Boston, which meant it was incredibly important for access to talented prospects. No transportation — no talent. In knowledge-based cities with vibrant economies, the focus on transportation becomes even more acute and focused.
Gensler: What impact do scooters or autonomous vehicles have?
BK: We’ve spent a lot of time on the real estate impact of scooters and the future of autonomous vehicles. People in real estate are poo-pooing the scooter thing, but I’ve got to tell you, it’s having a tremendous impact. And look at how transportation has changed with ride-sharing services. Prior to Lyft and Uber, you had many locations that were not good for restaurants. South Boston, for example, was very challenging as a place for restaurants. You could get there with a cab, but getting a cab out was impossible. Now that you have Uber, suddenly there’s predictable access in and out. It has captured several hundred thousand square feet of new restaurant space.
Gensler: How can architects and developers create a sense of place in new developments?
BK: Placemaking is very much in vogue, but there’s almost a voodoo perspective on how it actually comes together. What we strive for is a tangible formula for creating great spaces and places. We believe you must have a long-term strategy for what you’re trying to achieve. At 100 Federal Street in Boston, we’ve created new public space within the Financial District. However, we’re thoughtful about our programming schedule, as foot traffic in this neighborhood peaks during the week. You’ve got to set your expectations from the start and decide what your goals are in terms of placemaking.
Gensler: So, what are the elements that will create the kind of place people will be drawn to?
BK: At The Hub on Causeway — because of the transit hub, the density of the surrounding neighborhoods, and the TD Garden arena — we felt like we had a chance to be relevant 24 hours a day. What’s been so successful there was we decided to go almost exclusively with destinations. The mix of the center is all what historically have been called anchor destinations. We have a grocery store and a theater. We have a live entertainment venue and the largest sports bar venue in Boston. Small shops and fashion? Not going to do them.
Gensler: How are changing consumer expectations influencing these developments — especially in terms of experience?
BK: It used to be you went to the regional mall because it was the most efficient way to distribute goods. Now, with online buying and distribution by Amazon, people are going to retail stores for different reasons. That’s when you get into this zone of experience. We’re focusing on things like: Is the space pleasant? Do you like hanging out in it? Are we connecting with consumers, either through online services or through the people who greet them? We’re focused on happiness. Can you make memories here? That’s a big part of what we’re trying to do under the category of experience.