Prominent London shopping districts are banding together to compete against online competition and retail lethargy with cutting-edge technology, unique experiences and the age-old appeal of gathering. Stakeholders from national and local government, business and nonprofits, the design community and the arts are collaborating on once-in-a lifetime projects that represent placemaking at its most collaborative.
The first inkling that something different was happening came when a 10-second countdown appeared, without explanation, on the Piccadilly Lights, Europe’s largest advertising display. As the countdown ended at 5:45 pm on November 12, 2021, more than a million LEDs lit up simultaneously across the streets that form the heart of London’s West End: a constellation of stars appeared above Oxford Street, while Regent Street, Oxford Circus, St. James’s Street and Waterloo Place were suddenly bedecked in 300,000 LED lights handcrafted to form 45 angel-shaped canopies. Bond Street found itself bedazzled in its traditional peacock feathers while South Molton Street, Mayfair, Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square were also illuminated as part of the display.
The event made international headlines as the world’s largest Christmas light switch-on, but what was more telling was the unprecedented level of coordination behind the spectacle—each of the streets would normally have been lit according to its own timetable—and the need for such a headline-grabbing gesture in the first place.
COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on bricks-and-mortar retail the world over, but especially on high streets in larger cities such as London, where restrictions associated with the pandemic have succeeded in emptying city centers at an alarming rate. As Covid took hold, international tourists stayed away, workers stayed at home and an increasing number of consumers preferred to shop online, hastening the demise of several department stores, the traditional anchor tenants of the UK’s high streets.
According to the data company Springboard, which measures footfall on high streets, shopping centers and retail parks every week all over the UK—footfall in Central London fell to 80 percent below 2019 levels during the depths of the pandemic, but in the week after the switch-on of the Christmas illuminations, footfall in Central London rose to just 16 per cent below 2019 levels, an improvement of seven per cent on the previous week. Released before the announcement of further Covid-related restrictions, a survey from the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry concluded that pandemic-related remote working would keep thousands of commuters out of the West End and City in the weeks before Christmas, while central London retailers forecast that festive spending would hit £1.2 billion, a more than 30 per cent increase on 2020 levels, but still only half of the pre-pandemic expenditure that was recorded in 2019.
Death Of The High Street?
As in so many sectors, Covid has merely served to highlight and accelerate trends that were already well established, and the hollowing-out of UK town centers is no exception. The recent crisis, which has been popularly described as “the death of the high street,” actually reflects the longer-term collapse of a retail-centric model of urban development, function and financing that has held sway in Britain since the 1940s.
According to the British retail expert Bill Grimsey, author of a recent eponymous review into how independent retail, hospitality and services businesses have survived Covid, the fate of much of the UK’s more traditional retailing was sealed before the rise of online shopping by a process of asset-stripping by private equity companies that got underway in the 1990s.
“Everything becomes about making money for private equity investors and nothing to do with improving the proposition from a customer’s point-of-view,” Grimsey explains on his website, Vanishing High Street. “From a pure retail perspective, there was no engineering of an enhanced retail proposition to create value from a trading and pure customer relationship perspective.”
The fate of British town centers has been a matter for public discussion and debate for more than two decades. Thanks to the rise of out-of-town shopping centers, property speculation and escalating rents that forced independent retailers off UK high streets, a form of retailing developed in the early 2000s that left many UK town centers feeling repetitive and lacking in identity.
Civic Pride And Community Connection
Over the past decade, the UK Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has commissioned a succession of reviews and reports, leading to the appointment of a Minister for High Streets, a 2018 Plan for the High Street, and, most recently, to the Future High Streets Fund, recently expanded from £675 million to £1 billion by the current Prime Minister Boris Johnson. In 2020, the UK government also created a £95-million fund to revive historic high streets across England. The scheme, which is being run by the public body that looks after England’s historic environment, Historic England, identified 68 high streets that would be revitalized by the cash injection, but focused only on conservation areas.
The need to rethink the “proposition” offered by UK town centers to increase footfall and to provide incentives to visit in ways that move far beyond retail has long informed the thinking of Mary Portas, the businesswoman who was appointed by the UK government in 2011 to spearhead a review into what high streets should look like and the services they should provide.
It’s now a decade since she published her eponymous review and the UK government set up the Portas Towns Project in which twelve UK high streets were awarded Portas Town Status, a £100,000 grant to spend on regeneration and support from the retail guru, who believes that positive steps have been made in the intervening decade. “The pandemic has done away with the identikit shops and chain stores that dominated where and how we shopped in the early 2000s and we’re now starting to create high streets in towns that have a civic pride at the heart of them—that are being recreated by all different stakeholders working together,” Portas told the BBC on the tenth anniversary of her appointment. “So many towns are starting to regenerate because we’ve realized that high streets aren’t just about selling stuff, they’re places where we want to connect, create communities, and have that social infrastructure of security which has been heightened even more during Covid.”
Ironically, nowhere are those lessons being deployed more effectively than where they are most needed, in London’s West End, where stakeholders from national and local government, business and nonprofits, the design community, and the arts are coming together to collaborate on a series of once-in-a-lifetime projects that represent placemaking at its most collaborative.
“If we get it right, if we take this learning on board and we really think creatively about the future, I think we’ve got a huge opportunity to support the journey out of the pandemic,” said Debbie Jackson, Executive Director of Growth, Planning and Housing at Westminster City Council, speaking at the Tomorrow’s West End session, part of the London Real Estate Forum. “This will not take us back to where we were before, but takes us on to an even more creative, innovative and world-beating West End.”
Held in September 2021, the event coincided with New West End Company’s (NWEC’s) announcement of an unprecedented £5 billion of collective capital investment in the West End International Centre over the next five years, spread across 22 existing and new West End developments, 76 percent of which will be mixed use, while more than £220 million is being dedicated to open public space. This investment accompanies Westminster City Council’s £150-million plans for the transformation of the Oxford Street District, and the much-anticipated £18-billion Elizabeth Line, which is due to open in the first half of 2022.
“We are repurposing the center of London. The great challenge is to give Londoners a reason to come back into the center and that means a mix of different uses beyond retail that includes entertainment and leisure,” says NWEC’s CEO Jace Tyrrell. “London’s West End has long held a place as one of the globe’s leading commercial hubs, but this unprecedented level of billions in capital investment will cement our spot as the most iconic and diverse consumer district in the world.”
Some of this transformation is already underway and can be seen in a new generation of projects that are emphasizing experiential retail and leisure in a bid to attract footfall and bring people into the city. Foremost among these is the £1-billion Outernet London, the first of a
global network of the world’s most advanced immersive media, entertainment and culture districts, which opened in November 2021 at the eastern end of Oxford Street, on a block between Tottenham Court Road and Denmark Street, which is known as London’s Tin Pan Alley.
Alongside a 2,000-seat concert venue and a recording studio, the centerpiece of the new West End venue is The Now Building, which Outernet London describes as the “world’s most technically advanced building.” This features an immense digital canvas standing four stories high across 2,100 square meters of floor-to-ceiling, 360-degree, 16K screens. The huge LED display space is also flooded with audio to produce a sense of immersion for spectators and visitors. The mixed-use development also includes multiple restaurants, bars and a boutique hotel on the site that contains the apartment where the Sex Pistols lived, complete with graffiti they left on the walls. “This is about entertainment in the broadest sense. It’s a new, immersive platform for communicating around the world,” says Outernet Global’s President and CEO Philip O’Ferrall. A mobile and television veteran and pioneer of digital media with firms such as Viacom International and MTV on his CV, O’Ferrall sees Outernet London as the first site in a global network of entertainment districts that will include near-future sites in New York, Los Angeles and Dubai.
“Ultimately, we want to create amazing districts that bring people in, deliver amazing experiences that are worth sharing, and then create an ecosystem that allows these spaces to prosper,” he continues. “We have to keep innovating and finding new ways to animate the space, whether that’s through entertainment or through food.”
In many ways, Outernet London is the ultimate high-tech, loose-fit entertainment facility, a blank canvas or an empty vessel that has been designed to be able to attract people, brands and businesses for special events, concerts, brand-building exercises, pop-up shops and product launches or to program in any way they can imagine. Advertising, and the delivery of footfall to advertisers, may be an integral part of the development’s business model, but O’Ferrall insists that the area’s cultural history is also a part of Outernet London’s lifeblood and “emotional DNA.”
“You can feel the energy of Adele, Elton John, the Rolling Stones… David Bowie lived on Denmark Street for a while in his van,” he says. “We also have 80-90 percent of Denmark Street, which we lease to local businesses with long-term, preferential leases as they can only ever contain a music-related business.”
In many ways, O’Ferrall is absolutely right, but not just about Outernet London’s relationship with Denmark Street but the whole of the West End. Oxford Street and the surrounding areas have always relied on the appeal of experience, from the early bazaars that sold their wares there in the early 1800s to the great 19th-century department stores, which created female-friendly environments described as “Adamless Edens,” the area has always dealt in experiences—and this realization continues to inform its very newest developments.
A month before the West-End’s coordinated Christmas light switch-on, a small group of dignitaries gathered at the recently revamped rear entrance of the Royal Academy of Arts to celebrate a very different form of illumination featuring S.O.S, a site-specific light installation mounted in three telephone kiosks by Max Boyla, a Royal Academy Schools student.
Envisaged as a new, traffic-calmed civic space that is shared by pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike, Burlington Gardens also now acts as a more welcoming and legible east-west pedestrian connection, linking Mayfair to Regent Street and Soho via Bond Street. It is the work of traffic and transport specialists Norman Rourke Pryme (NRP) and Publica Associates, a Central London-based urban design and public realm practice that has produced a whole suite of master plans, place-shaping strategies, public realm proposals and enhancements across East Mayfair, Oxford Street, Marble Arch, Bond Street an Hanover Square.
A distinct urban quarter between Bond Street and Regent Street, the identity of the area now known as East Mayfair has been determined for centuries by the presence of Savile Row, the historic home of British men’s bespoke tailoring, Cork Street, the epicenter of London’s contemporary art market, and Burlington Arcade and Bond Street, which have been synonymous with luxury retail since the early 19th century.
The revitalization of one of London’s most iconic shopping streets followed a nine-month-long audit and analysis of both the street and the wider neighborhood, which considered existing street uses, routes, character, connections, material, architectural and spatial conditions and display windows, lighting and public art. “We looked at each corner and the shop’s amazing corner entrances and how to celebrate those and the wider views and existing trees,” explains Anna Mansfield, a director with Publica Associates’ who has overseen many of the practice’s projects in the West End. “We found that Bond Street is essentially a series of outdoor rooms, each with its own distinct character, but that’s something you only understand through really close observation.”
Publica Associates’ work in the West End began with its re-imagination of one of the West End’s most significant public spaces, Hanover Square, a project that was commissioned by Westminster City Council. The process began in 2010 with an initial public realm study, and a small ceremony was held in September 2021 to mark the reopening of the square’s new central garden to the public. The scheme will only be fully operational, however, when the eastern ticket hall of the new Elizabeth Line Bond Street Station opens in 2022.
More than any other single factor, the construction of the Elizabeth Line, formerly known as Crossrail, has provided the impetus for many of the development and urban changes that are currently occurring across Central London. Running from Reading and London Heathrow in the west, through 42km of new tunnels under Central London to Essex and North Kent in the east, the Elizabeth Line is predicted to carry more than 200 million passengers annually. Increasing rail capacity in Central London by an estimated 10 per cent, the line will deliver an extra 1.5 million people into Central London while halving the journey time between London Heathrow and the West End, effectively turning spaces such as Hanover Square, Bond Street and Oxford Street into London’s newest arrivals halls.
“If you think about those stations, the legibility of the welcome and the space you arrive into—whether you’re a local or a tourist—becomes really important but they should also speak of their place,” insists Publica Associates’ Mansfield. “It should immediately feel like the West End and you should be able to orient yourself in distinctive spaces that look and feel like Mayfair or the Portman Estate.”
Greener Spaces, Broader Vistas
For the landscape architect and London historian Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, who redesigned Hanover Square in collaboration with Publica Associates and engineers WSP, the success of the new scheme lies in the reinstatement of grand views and dramatic gestures that were originally designed in the 18th century.
One of the first open spaces laid out in Mayfair during the Georgian period, the distinct urban composition of Hanover Square was the product of an unprecedented collaboration between two of 18th-century London’s great landowners, who connected Cavendish Square and Hanover Square on a great vista that created a green corridor that effectively brought the countryside into the city. “To me it seemed like a no-brainer to try to revive this incredibly generous and wonderful historical gesture, which was one of the great, large-scale developments at the time in London but which also has wonderful contemporary residences,” says Longstaffe-Gowan. “It’s all about linking green spaces and opening vistas and trying to improve the urban fabric in order to improve the pedestrian right of way at a time when the West End is really evolving.”
For Mansfield, the revitalization of the wider district stands as an example of placemaking at its best, not because of the quality of the design, the money or the richness of the materials deployed, but because of the quality of thought, collaboration and coordination that’s informing the process of urban design and regeneration. “One of the things we’ve always thought about all of these projects is that they’re public realm in the round. Yes, it’s about designing streets and movement is critically important, but it’s multi-strand and you have to bring everyone in the room together,” the architect explains. “It’s also about culture, lighting, families and children. You can’t just do one bit of it, you have to address all of those things if the project is to work because that’s what great cities do. They get all of those elements working together.”
The Aloha State wants to create a new kind of tourism for the islands. It’s regenerative and conscientious, it’ll benefit locals and visitors, but most importantly, it’s designed around the land. And it may be a guide for destinations everywhere.
There’s not a lot about Hawai‘i that hasn’t already been said, or written, or sung, or shown. Beaches, mountains, surfing, sunsets, Spam in nori, shave ice, surfing, ukulele, hula, aloha shirts, poke and poi—touchstones of everyday life in this near-mythic paradise. But those who know Hawai‘i know it’s much more than a living, breathing screensaver; it’s about a harmonious love and respect for nature. It’s real life aloha.
To average travelers, aloha feels like a catchall, a word used to express a gamut of emotions, a cut and paste prelude to receiving a (plastic) lei around their necks. But to a Hawaiian, it’s an ethos, an encouragement, a way of life. The spirit of aloha—being in the presence of and sharing the essence of life—teaches valuable lessons of peace, kindness, compassion and responsibility to future generations; it’s an honor code that focuses on kindness and respect, that binds people and their paradise.
Wrapped within these teachings is the concept of aloha ‘āina, or love of the land, that encompasses the Hawaiian world view of a reciprocal and familial relationship between people and place. Connection to ‘āina is essential to the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of Native Hawaiians, and the health of these places is tied to the health of the communities that live and thrive within them—if you take care of the land, it will take care of you. It’s not just “talk story” that’s passed down through generations; it’s a way of life for those who call Hawai‘i home.
The spirit of aloha has buoyed islanders all through the pandemic, and today, it’s guiding the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority’s strategy.
For the Love of the Land
When destinations around the world began closing their borders, Hawai‘i was the first US state to ask tourists to postpone their vacations. The first flight cancellations happened in February 2020, followed by the CDC’s No Sail Order for cruise ships in early March, with a full shutdown beginning in earnest on March 26, and continuing for the better part of the year. The state also put in place a strictly monitored two-week quarantine on anyone choosing to venture there amid COVID-19.
The measures didn’t halt all mainland tourists at first, but over time, they were effective in chilling tourism and flattening the curve. As a result, total visitor arrivals in 2020 fell to 2.7 million, down 74% compared with 2019, according to the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority. To understand how big a drop that is, consider this: the last time fewer than three million visitors came to Hawai‘i was 1975, according to Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism statistics.
Patrick Fitzgerald, long-time resident of the island, past member of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority board and current CEO of Hualalai Resort, said this was a truly unique scenario. “The people of the islands have lived through, and survived, a lot of tough times—natural disasters, local skirmishes and the like, but this was something no one ever expected. It wasn’t just a drop in tourism numbers, it brought the island’s biggest industry to a grinding halt. It affected everyone, from big resorts to local shops, which meant everyone needed to work together to come out on top.”
It’s an admirable goal. But the reality is that public opinions on the revival of tourism are split—long-time residents (yes, even those who rely on tourism in some way for their livelihood) are reluctant to see the large droves of tourists return, while those directly part of the industry, like owners of hotels, resorts and independent rentals, can’t wait to welcome them back. It’s not just a sentiment; the numbers back it up. A pre-flight testing program eliminated most quarantine requirements in October 2020. And yet, according to a survey conducted by the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority in November 2020, about two-thirds of Hawai‘i’s residents said they still did not want tourists to return to the islands. Why?
The answer is (as many answers often are) both simple and complex.
To Welcome Or Not To Welcome
Hawai‘i’s draw is its jaw-dropping beauty, its beaches and surf, its parks and fresh air—all natural resources, which are finite, and which locals worry are being harmed by overtourism. For these people, who have grown up revering the sacred lands that sustain them, it’s always been unfair and inexcusable that cultural icons and beliefs are carelessly trod upon by visitors; the pandemic just gave them an opportunity to reflect and experience their island home without tourists all over it.
The fact that the pandemic is now transitioning into endemic status isn’t helping either. Conversations about “post-pandemic travel” change daily, with people seeking to escape their homes in search of warmer, sandier pastures. The fragmented global tourism recovery created the perfect storm for Hawai‘i to become one of the most in-demand destinations for American travelers in the summer of 2021.
And storm they did. The Internet is overrun with social media posts showing people touching endangered Hawaiian monk seals, hiking on forbidden trails or going off designated paths—actions that outraged locals and sparked a debate over how to better regulate and protect popular sites.
Perhaps this cavalier “business as usual” consumption of the islands when visitors came back was the last straw for the locals. Case in point—during a recent water shortage in Upcountry Maui, residents could be fined $500 for “using water for irrigation, watering lawns, washing vehicles or other nonessential activities”—all to accommodate post-pandemic visitors in various hotels and resorts, tourists who weren’t particularly mindful of pandemic restrictions or respectful of private property. Why should a local pay for an outsider’s carelessness?
Today, the Aloha State is walking a fine line to manage both tourist and resident expectations. Hawai‘i tourism officials have long been cognizant of the underlying problems and the need to reinvent tourism by pushing for sustainability instead of arrival numbers as a measure of success. In early 2020, the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority instituted a strategic plan with four main pillars intended to put Hawai‘i on a trajectory towards responsible tourism: natural resources, Hawaiian culture, community and brand marketing, the first four of many steps the state would take in its journey towards a reborn visitation.
Unsurprisingly, this concept seems to be the one thing everyone agrees to, whether pro tourism or not: there’s a pressing need for each community to take responsibility for the restoration and preservation of the archipelago’s nature and culture for generations to come. And if anyone knows how to care for locals, the islands and their visitors, it’s John De Fries, who is thriving as president and CEO of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority. The way he sees it, the fundamentals of Hawai‘i’s tourism industry haven’t changed—it remains a relationship-based way of life in which trust still is the major currency. “If you’re a school teacher or construction worker, your view of tourism is one way; if you’re a hotel executive or restaurant owner, you view tourism another way,” he explains. “It’s about bringing that diversity together to the same table.”
While yes, part of Hawai‘i’s overcrowding issue is caused by a lack of management practice or restrictions on visitors, there’s another culprit: social media and GPS technology also have led visitors to places that are remote and fragile just to get “that shot.” Take the Haiku Stairs along the Ko’olau mountain range in Oahu. Security guards, “No Trespassing” signs and the threat of fines have done little to deter hikers from making the 3,922-step ascent— known as the “Stairway to Heaven”—to a former radio relay station used by the Navy during World War II. Social media has only emboldened visitors and endangered them in the process. As a result, in September 2021, the Honolulu City Council voted unanimously to remove the stairs completely—they’re just too much of a liability, and the cost to add in requisite safety measures is too much. But is this a step too far? Is there no other option than to simply scrap heritage icons?
Legacy Renewed, Industry Reborn
The Hawai‘i Tourism Authority thinks there is, which is why the authority is taking steps towards realizing it’s vision of “regenerative tourism,” with more to be unveiled in 2022. Over the next three years, the authority aims to manage the number of tourist accommodations on the islands, seek land use and zoning changes, and review airport policies; the plan also includes a “regenerative tourism” fee that supports environmental resources and allows the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority more oversight of trails and other natural sites.Recently, it also limited crowd access to two popular sites: Hanauma Bay in Oahu caps entries at 720 visitors a day (as opposed to the thousands it saw every day), has hiked fees from $5 to $25 for non-residents and will remain closed two days a week, while Oahu’s Diamond Head State Monument trail will also have reduced days of operation. Visitors to Kauai’s Haena State Park, known to many as the end of the road, as well as to Maui’s Wai’anapanapa State Park will need to make a reservation anywhere from 24 hours to 30 days in advance, depending on the site and season.
All necessary steps to ensure the longevity of the islands and their treasures, says De Fries. “We all have the capacity to love our homes, our places of birth, our families, and what regenerative tourism is based on is this visceral connection that we love Hawai‘i, and we must nurture and protect our Hawai‘i.”
The authority has also launched the Mālama Hawai‘i marketing campaign, inviting travelers to experience the Hawaiian Islands on a deeper level, with a greater emphasis on connecting with culture, giving back to the destination and preserving it for the future, while following safe health practices. (Since its initiation, the program has grown from having 16 hotel and airline partners to more than 110 at the end of 2021, which have all committed to rewarding guests with a free night’s stay if they spend a day helping to clean beaches or reforest land.) “Everyone relates to aloha,” says De Fries, “Mālama is emerging as its sister value.”
Parallel to the authority’s destination management efforts, Hawaiian Airlines launched a new “Travel Pono” in-flight video and campaign in September 2021, which plays on landing, advising visitors on how to act responsibly when exploring Hawai‘i.
Even luxury destinations are joining the movement—the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, in partnership with Lahaina Restoration Foundation, is inviting guests to learn about the history and culture of Maui by documenting and transcribing historic artifacts from all eras of Maui’s past, including the Kingdom of Hawai‘i, Missionary, Whaling and Sugar periods. Further west, the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua is offering guests a fifth night free for participating in a solo beach cleanup, and the Fairmont Orchid is offering a fourth night free when guests participate in volunteer opportunities like a visit to Waikōloa Dry Forest Preserve to help restore the native flora.
Fitzgerald applauds these initiatives, but advises us to take them with a grain of salt. “Hotels and resorts have always respected culture and tried hard to make it a part of the guest experience,” he says. “The Mālama programme helps bring them center stage, but they’re not all new—they just have a chance to come into the spotlight.”
One community that has long championed immersion in Hawaiian culture is Kohanaiki, a private club community on the Big Island. Kohanaiki is built around a rich trove of artefacts and places that the owners have carefully integrated into the experience. “It’s important that our members understand the connection between the Hawaiian culture and this land as part of our commitment to care for this ahupua’a,” says David Reese, Kohanaiki President and CEO. “They see it and live it every day in our landscape and our collections. It’s woven into everyday life.”
That’s all well and good, but are visitors ready to think about cultural immersion as more than an optional feel-good activity? More importantly, are they willing to pay for it? According to a 2020 study by the University of Hawai‘i, the answer is a resounding “yes.” When respondents were asked if they were willing to pay more to experience and support sustainable tourism experiences in Hawai‘i, more than 70% answered in the affirmative, with over 35% of respondents willing to pay more than 10% extra to experience culturally respectful tourism experiences in Hawai‘i, and nearly 20% willing to pay up to 16% more.
9 To 5 In Paradise
As the pandemic ebbs and flows, Hawai‘i is also becoming more than a holiday spot—the increase in the number of jobs being done remotely has led some workers to set up shop across the country or around the world. For affluent remote workers, the new normal presents an opportunity to live somewhere tropical and idyllic—which might explain why demand for real estate in Hawai‘i has escalated dramatically.
According to Hawai‘i Life’s Luxury Market Report published in December 2021, homes valued at $3 million or more saw sales volume rise by 235% compared to 2020, with deal volume peaking at a record-breaking $3.7 billion. That’s not all—sales of homes priced above $10 million have climbed at an even more robust pace, with transactions totaling $1.06 billion closing in the first three quarters of the year. And it’s not just private homes on offer; clubs and communities that previously marketed ideal vacation homes have course-corrected their messaging to include
high-speed Internet and spacious home workspaces as part of the package—creating the ideal “live-work-play” experience augmented by bespoke services and, of course, instant access to the islands’ inimitable outdoor lifestyle.
So will Hawai‘i’s new, perhaps part-time, residents be open to the idea of regenerative tourism? “Of course,” says Fitzgerald. “Owning a place in Hawai‘i means having more of a vested interest in the land, now and in the future. People are more responsible about the things that are theirs, be it a car, an animal or a piece of land. Where tourists have an easy-come, easy-go mentality, owners are here to stay, which means they are more directly affected by the pros and cons of tourism and its effect on resources.”
Regenerative tourism, mindful sustainability, considered land limitations—all these ideas (and more) for making visitation strategies more meaningful and thoughtful—can be rewarding for visitors and effective and profitable provided that authorities, visitors, residents and commu-
nities all work together consistently to achieve it. And Hawai‘i is not just ready for this renaissance; its people are actively working together to make it happen.
Inspired by the tenets of aloha ‘āina and mālama, shaped by the elements and held sacred by everyone living on the island, the Hawaiian way of life may offer answers about our relationship with both nature and humanity in a rapidly changing world.
We can’t wait to hear them all.
From Vancouver to Montreal, New York to London, cities are being transformed by street art that conveys the messages, emotions and zeitgeist of our conflicted times. The Journal digs into the movement toward the city as canvas to better understand how urban places inspire the art on their walls.
The city was never intended as a canvas. Outer city walls were designed and built as semi-sacred spaces—private property—and to mark or mar them in any way has always been a crime. Yet there they’ve tantalizingly stood, city block after city block of smooth, concrete, forbidden canvas.
Human spirit being what it is, creative expression always found a way onto the walls, morphing from petty crime into coveted commission in the space of a generation. Forced to be furtive, often under cover of night and in clandestine locations at first, what we call “urban art” got its start in the underground.
The city first became a canvas for those who were trapped there. Poverty and marginalization stifle the spirit and stoke indignation. Denied the space, tools and acceptance inside city walls and institutions, people took to the spaces around them. A natural response to being shut out, a critique of the established order, writing on walls is not only the oldest creative human expression, but also one of the earliest forms of activism. Graffiti is the genesis of the street art we know today—the expression of a marginalized culture, created to reclaim the very cities and institutions that shut them out.
Graffiti is one of the five fundamental elements of Hiphop culture (along with emceeing, djing, beatboxing and breakdancing). It grew out of America’s melanated community in New York’s inner cities in the 1970s—a creative outlet for those suffering from severe socio-economic disparity and segregation. Founding father of Hiphop KRS-1 famously said, “Hiphop reconnects us to our humanity.” It’s about basic human expression that doesn’t depend on technology; about the common things humans do—rap, dance, draw. When it comes to drawing, the most natural position—what every child will do before being conditioned to sit at a desk—is stand in front of a wall. The first thing a child is inclined to write while standing there, is their name.
Voice of the People
Like any other art form, graffiti is self-expression on a wall. Its use in the fight to reclaim city walls for the canvases they were destined to be is rooted in a matter of principle. Any building paid for with public taxes should belong to the people who pay them; those who live and die in their shadow. That is the philosophy of the underground. Due to the high risk of arrest and imprisonment graffiti writers face, they paint in places the average, non-marginalized city dweller would never go—subterranean spaces, tunnels, abandoned industrial buildings, or on the outskirts of town in places like train yards, where law enforcement is less frequent.
For graffiti writers, the first piece to perfect and share widely is their “tag” (signature) which often is all they have time for. A writer’s tag gets them known within their community, builds their identity and reputation as a street artist, and gives them a voice with which to critique or challenge other artists. When graffiti started popping up it was shocking, both intentionally and by virtue of it’s illegal nature. One had to be well versed in its culture just to be able to read it, let alone appreciate its meaning. In the eyes of mainstream society and municipal representatives, tags are simply vandalism—a constant plague. Natural for the cultural elite to feel offended by such large-scale, impossible to ignore art that is so crystal clearly not created for them.
The Underground Edge
“Graffiti in its purest form is youth culture, done by writers, for writers,” says Melissa Proietti, who has a PhD in Education and is director of Montreal’s Under Pressure graffiti jam/Hiphop festival, now in its 27th year, and the longest running of its kind in the world. “It’s not about attracting an audience, but giving space to artists to indulge their passion,” says Proietti. The illegal nature of graffiti writing prompted rules and codes of conduct within the community. A festival begun in 1996 by two writers as an undercover jam in a vacant parking lot unbeknownst to the city, Under Pressure has always sought to maintain the original rules of the street. No names announced (full respect for anonymity). No guidelines or direction (artists paint what they feel). No security (that’s just asking for trouble).
Until its ninth edition in 2005, Under Pressure was run completely illegally. It fought the city for its legitimacy, which it eventually won, likely because of the deep community involvement of its co-founder. Sterling Downey transitioned from graffiti writer and urban festival promoter to municipal councilor and interim mayor of Montreal in 2013. By then, the city had warmed up to the festival. Perception of writers was beginning to shift from vandals to artists. If not understanding, there was at least a truce.
“Look at the streets of any city,” says Arcadi Poch (pronounced “Pock”)—a sociocultural explorer devoted primarily to the research and development of art projects in public spaces, founder of Barcelona-based Vogelkop Studio, documentarist, and author of three books on the topic of urban creativity—“you can perceive the health of a democracy by the political paintings.” Poch has researched and documented the most provocative, thoughtful, at times disruptive, often damning street art, from LA to Brazil, New York to Kiev, Bethlehem to Hong Kong, by some of the world’s most controversial and talented artists. As with those he represents, Poch’s view of the city as canvas extends far beyond its mere walls. His curation powerfully illustrates the depth of dimension in spirit, intellect and practice street artists share with their communities; they function as both thought leaders and mouthpieces for the people, often anonymously, without uttering a word.
Poch’s work brings us back to the most fundamental and critical question of all surrounding urban art and creativity: Who is it for? The simple answer is, for the community from which it sprung, the corner of the city in which it lives, and the people who call that corner home. Poch deems mural art a success when where it is found is the only place in the world it could make sense to exist. He isn’t interested in decorating cities. He approaches urban art and creativity from a neo-situationist philosophy, founded in theories by Guy Debord (The Society of the Spectacle) and Jean Baudrillard (The System of Objects) that profoundly critique consumer society. Neo-situationism returns creativity to a more pragmatic approach, where three-dimensional micro-hubs of education, inspiration or play are created from the cityscape itself, in a way that improves the lives of people where they are.
The Crossover Complex
As with many cultural movements that begin in the underground, the crossover of street art into mainstream culture is complicated. There’s a certain status associated with risky business. Society glorifies gangsters. The outlaw aesthetic eventually works its way into the mainstream zeitgeist because proximity (albeit safe) to such danger and edginess gives us a thrill. Once sufficiently popularized, appropriation ensues, often to the detriment of the source. One can’t speak of urban art crossover without bringing up Banksy. His intelligent, subversive, stencil-style social commentaries emerged from the Bristol underground. Today, his highly political works sell for millions, even when the surface they’re on must be removed with them. He has become a household name. Yet true to culture, his identity remains unknown.
Gentrification is one of the biggest challenges of street art crossover. In 2008, Banksy threw a street art fest (the Cans Festival) in London’s Leake Street Tunnel, a dark, grimy, 300-metre-long tunnel beneath Kings Cross station that had been a hot spot for graffiti artists for years, and the city took notice. Suddenly, painting in the tunnel was legalized, an agency was hired to professionally light it, tourists began arriving in droves and the area was earmarked for a “regeneration project.” Trendy restaurants and bars now populate the area, which has lost much of it’s street cred and edgy cachet, but at least London street artists have a legitimate space in which to paint unmolested.
Entire neighborhoods in the US owe their transformation to street art, for better or for worse. Wynwood, Miami is the story of a developer who recognized the value of street art and how to leverage it to ensure that a mixed-use development planned in a derelict part of the city would become the next trendy neighborhood. Bushwick, New York, a borough that suffered some of the worst inner-city riots, fires, blackouts, and drug and gang violence, was regenerated to the point of gentrification by a street art movement. Begun by a lifelong resident who found strength and a sense of belonging through its community of artists, murals done for love segued into paid advertisement as developers capitalized on a streetscape that had suddenly skyrocketed in cultural value.
There are tragic stories like New York’s 5 Pointz—a clutch of industrial buildings turned spectacular street art compound, razed to make room for condominium towers (the artists sued and won), and then there are also beautiful stories of regeneration. Following the 2011 earthquake that devastated Christchurch, New Zealand, street art was vital in helping the city heal and move forward.Already a growing movement in the country, urban mural art was able to salvage the community’s self-image and rebuild fresh character for the city quickly after so much was lost so suddenly.
In 2015, the city of Montreal, and by then many other cities around the world, started its own Mural Fest, earmarking high visibility walls all over the city for painting by various high-profile artists. This nascent concept of the ‘city as gallery’—an open museum—is a mistake, according to Poch, “because we are building cities, not museums.” The result can be art created with no knowledge or relevance to the community in which it’s found, unconscious of its own raison d’être, save to generate tourism dollars. In contrast to Under Pressure, which still operates almost exclusively on volunteer energy (writers are unpaid), Mural Fest receives copious funds from a host of sponsors and piggybacks on the Formula One Grand Prix and street market weekend, hailing itself as “a celebration of the international urban art movement.” For UP devotees, there’s only one word for it: wack (Hiphop slang for tasteless).
The Tourism Trap
Spain was once the vanguard of European muralism and Barcelona was its epicenter. The Barcelona graffiti scene, if you could call it that, started around 1985. It wasn’t until Hiphop caught on through the 1988 documentary “Style Wars” that graffiti, b-boys and rap took off within Barcelona’s youth culture. At the time, the city had no rules regarding street art and a highly permissive attitude towards it, and so it flourished. Graffiti artists from around the world came to Barcelona to paint, and people came from all over to photograph it. A municipal representative once called Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada, a Cuban-born, NYC-raised former culture jammer, and one of the city’s most famous urban artists, to offer him a prime city property wall to paint. It was a place and time where artists could take theirs, and work without fear. The level of appreciation was high, and the quality of street art rose to meet it. Barcelona became the street art capital of Europe, and to those who knew it then, 2000 to 2005 were its golden years. Then, tourism happened.
Or rather, in 2005 the city suddenly awoke to the steady increase in tourism and the revenue potential it represented, and began seeing street art as a threat. Speculation scared the municipality into ‘cleaning up’ the city. In 2006, street art in Barcelona was criminalized. Police began warning artists they would be fined, then practically overnight cracked down. Every last wall was painted over. An original Keith Haring mural right next to the contemporary art museum—gone. Countless works from the biggest names in local and international street art unceremoniously vanished. Barcelona went from a city of explosive color, high art and intrigue to an ordinary, beigey-grey, soulless cityscape. The hurt and loss inflicted on the artist community was immeasurable. The tourists changed too. Gone were those who came to appreciate and contribute, replaced by the stereotypical gawkers that locals try to ignore.
Since street art became a crime, Barcelona has been at war with street artists—a regressive scenario similar to so many modern cities. The municipality began spending upwards of €4 million per year to erase tags. Arcadi Poch’s 2015 street art documentary BCN: Rise & Fall tells the cautionary tale of Barcelona’s dismantled street art scene. Rodríguez-Gerada describes it as the Old Guard attempting to re-envision a ‘clean’ city void of dialogue. The connection to the artists and people was severed; profit took precedence over community. Was it worth it? Barcelona now heaves under the weight of oppressive tourism, the type locals flee but can never escape. Fifteen years later, mural art is exploding all over the world, while a former leader of the genre sits on its most talented hands.
Philadelphia is the story of a city that brought its war with graffiti to an end by employing the very ‘vandals’ it had been fighting—to paint murals instead. The very first mural of smart Mayor Wilson Goode’s strategy was a three-story portrait of basketball legend Dr. J in a suit. People were positive it would be defaced by graffiti. It wasn’t. Today, Philadelphia counts well over 3,000 murals in all parts of the city. The city ceded its walls to so-called vandals only to discover they were artists, when given space, time and funds. The key to Philadelphia’s singular success in its street art program is two-fold: community representation, and a combination of private and municipal funding. The latter is what Philly’s Mural Arts program founder and former LA muralist Jane Golden credits for the program’s endurance. Murals do cost money, but when done in concert with the people, the payoff is truly priceless.
On Canada’s West Coast, the city of Vancouver, seeking ways to prioritize reconciliation with First Nations, ceded multiple large public spaces to Native artists and their vision, through a collaboration with the Vancouver Mural Festival (VMF). Founded in 2016 as a grassroots street festival, the VMF has grown into a registered non-profit art consultancy and production agency dedicated to the city’s cultural and artistic development. Co-Founder Andrea Curtis describes part of the VMF mission as helping those who were here before and deserve to be seen to reclaim “visual sovereignty” over the urban landscape that claimed their ancestral territories. None of the murals done in this spirit have been defiled, supporting the claim that meaningful art reduces vandalism by 95%.
For the first time in modern history, colonizers and marginalized worked together to create a public mural art series in collaboration with acclaimed Musqueam weaver and graphic designer Debra Sparrow. Entitled “Blanketing The City,” the project helps magnify the visibility of indigenous people in Vancouver. Three First Nations communities came together to bring the work to life, recognizing how important such efforts are in solidifying their own identity and sense of belonging to the city. It’s also a way for First Nations to share with each other the strength it takes for their communities to survive and hopefully thrive within the cold, concrete walls of city and society.
Beautify Earth is a Californian, grassroots organization based in Santa Monica whose goal is to paint cities with messages of beauty and positivity. After gaining a deeper understanding of the logistical nightmare mural production can be, Beautify used technology to streamline production and normalize a “right way” of doing things that places community and local artists at the heart of each project. Communities reach out to Beautify and vice versa, using storytelling to create consensus around a cause. The result is a unique community flavor with a story that relates to and resonates with residents.
During the pandemic, Vancouver Mural Fest took the opportunity to show how art can lift the mood of a city whose downtown had been boarded up during lockdown. Artists covered the boards with over 60 murals offering messages of empathy, gratitude and hope. For Melissa Proietti of Under Pressure, the pandemic helped highlight the meaning of accessibility and sharing space. It provided an important time to reinvestigate questions around public art, how to do it meaningfully and carefully invest in communications and structure.
A lesson that underground, grassroots and community-focused urban art can teach cities is that doing art strictly for money’s sake may bring in tourism dollars, but ultimately doesn’t contribute to the city’s long-term vitality nor replenish its communal cultural font. Offers Proietti, “Cities need to look, listen and identify with what’s already happening in their communities. Gain perspective, feedback and learn from their constituents. If a city legitimately wants to support street and public art do it because they see the value, don’t simply try to steal the model. Culture can’t be copy-pasted.”
Andrea Curtis of VMF wants cities to explore how they can move from gentrification to urban renewal through art. For this to occur they must first ensure equity in representation—First Nations, residents and the concerns of the community. Lasting, positive impact can happen through art, which Curtis describes as a Trojan Horse effect. One well-placed, meaningful, community-focused mural can push needed conversations to the fore and have a positive economic impact on an area. VMF is working more and more with urban developers, helping with curation in new communities and campaigning for a bylaw shift to make it mandatory for developers to use public art on hoarding.
Evan Meyer of Beautify Earth believes the culture of cities needs to be worked into municipal bureaucracy. Cities must ask themselves if they’re set up to care? To take risks? City culture is at the mercy of a bureaucratic culture. When it comes to being disruptive with art, cities are cautious. To him, the point of beautifying cities is to inspire—places like schools and hospitals, for example, should have color!
According to Arcadi Poch, the biggest enemy of the contemporary city is hegemony. Cities are becoming too similar, the same tropes are everywhere. Each must value what makes it unique, a singularity that is hugely important to a city’s identity. Authentic street art, the kind generated in collaboration with local communities, can create that singularity, almost single-handedly. Knowing which artists are talking about important local realities and staying connected to them is the most critical part of curating, according to Poch.
The modern mural art movement worldwide owes it’s existence to underground culture and those artists who first dared risk their lives and freedom to express themselves on a wall. Their persistence caused the world to realize that high art wasn’t strictly the domain or property of museums and institutions. They proved that street art had enough curbside appeal to generate tourism en masse, while representing and being a voice for the people. They showed us how it’s done at their own expense and watched as the very museums and institutions that ignored them began following suit. Cities owe it to the artists and communities within their walls to cede public spaces, open a dialogue and work together so we might all reconnect to our humanity.
Content. Traffic. Conversion. For Roger Wade, bricks and mortar retail evangelist, founder of Boxpark and 30-year explorer of the ever shifting retail landscape, it’s a mantra.
He’s made it the foundation of three perma-pop-up London locations of the celebrated destinations he created from shipping containers—Shoreditch, Croydon and Wembley which fuse shopping, street food, drinking and partying, often, but not always, against the raucous backdrop of game day. Content, Traffic and Conversion continue to be the watchwords now that Wade’s company has received an influx of cash from LDC, the private equity arm of Lloyds Banking Group.
Content, the stuff within a retail place, is never better experienced than on site, through the senses. Traffic, “cost-efficient on a street, expensive in Google AdWords.” Conversion, the sell-through: “the buyer is right there.” He frets about the future: shops aren’t good at data, they have to learn it to understand what people like and what keeps them coming back.
But what he really really worries about is the sense of community that ebbs away as convenience and COVID take precedence. “I believe that the street holds the community together,” he says. “If we have a breakdown of town centers, we will have a breakdown of community. And we know how that plays out. We’re sleepwalking into major issues.”
Wade’s nightmare is a domestic scene in which everyone is sitting alone on their phones, and drones bring dinner. Which sounds frighteningly familiar to anyone with a phone. Over his 30-year odyssey through retail, Wade has been consistently working to bring the timeless elements of the retail experience ones that have endured for hundreds of years to the 21st-century street. Along with a careful analysis of emotions, Wade takes a hard look at data that tracks his customers’ buying habits and food preferences, and works to enhance loyalty—number crunching that Wade is constantly encouraging small retailers to do in order to compete.
In truth, Wade is creating a cross between a contemporary market stall (“I’d buy Leadenhall Market in a heartbeat,”) he says, and an Italian piazza, something you’d find in Venice or Florence, an ever-changing, always entertaining, mixed-vibe ecosystem of people and environment. For Wade, it’s about a place that can evolve as the day wears on. “We tend to pigeonhole space, but space can transform,” he says. A plaza can be a fish market for locals on Tuesday mornings, full of students sunning themselves and flirting at noon, crisscrossed by pedestrians commuting home on foot in the late afternoon, a languid hub with long shadows for the apéro, and then entirely another world after dark, when live music seeps from a dozen doorways and people and dancing shadows occupy the plaza.
Inspired, The Journal put colored pencils to paper to draw the square—and the community that Wade sees in his mind’s eye. “Fundamentally, people want to get together to eat and drink and shop,” he says. “But it’s not just shops, it’s the coming together. I’m not saying anything new.” Perhaps not, but somehow, it never gets old.
Work is never going to be the same. So where does that leave Midtown Manhattan, capital of the capitalist work ethic?
It’s the place that created and evolved the ubiquitous art of the hustle, the high-speed hub of business, the energy, the pulse. Bristling with enterprises of every description, alive with opportunity, it generates a small country’s GDP weekly and shovels the drama of stories of success and failure into the myth that is New York.
And yet, very few New Yorkers call this place “home”; in early 2020, Midtown was home to only seven percent of the city’s population of 22.6 million but claimed a full 25 percent of its 10.6 million jobs. It was also the best-paying market for “white-collar work.” Finance, media, lawyering, public relations and marketing pay far better than other industries, with an average salary of $131,600 per position.
For context, in the same period, the tri-state region’s 2.8 million office jobs represented 30 percent of private-sector employment but 52 percent of wages. And 41 percent of these jobs were in Manhattan.
But that was the before.
COVID-19: The Harbinger
On March 7, 2020, everything changed. As the global pandemic ripped through the city, former Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency: schools and non-essential businesses were closed, public transportation systems were reduced, parades and events were put on hold indefinitely, masks were mandatory and restrictions were imposed, tightened and re-tightened. The state of New York was on PAUSE (Policies that Assure Uniform Safety for Everyone), and this remained the “new normal” for months.
Then came the after.
The entire city, but especially Midtown, felt unnatural in those first few months of the pandemic, when everything went totally quiet except for the sounds of ambulance sirens and people clapping for essential workers at 7 p.m. Times Square’s neon billboards blinked eerily, hawking glamour and Broadway, products and services to no one.
As one of the world’s largest office districts, Midtown has been hard hit by the sudden shift to working from home. Its retailers and service providers, from salad makers to shoe shiners, which were propped up by the enormous amount of daily foot traffic, are suffering from both the
acceleration of e-commerce and steep decline in tourism. Yes, as of early 2022, things are changing, but the road to recovery is bumpy, and wave after wave of virus variants restart the cycle repeatedly. With the loss of business and leisure travelers, many Midtown hotels decided to keep their doors closed until the end of the crisis, while others have shuttered permanently.
A Real Estate Exodus
The market value of the city’s office building inventory plummeted 16.6 percent over the past year—its first such decline since at least 2000, according to an October 2021 report released by the Office of the New York State Comptroller. According to a report by the Partnership for New York City, 80 percent of Manhattan employers said they expected a permanent change in their remote work policies, while a third anticipated they would need less office space in the next five years. The lustre is off residential space, too. At Extell Development’s Central Park Tower, the Billionaire Row skyscraper, 106 unsold units stay listed at $10 million or more, and 38 condos at $10 million or higher remain available at 53 West 53rd. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Adaptive Reuse: A Beacon?
Is the business district office dead, then—just as dead as those mid-twentieth-century urban factory jobs in the Rust Belt? Not quite yet. Real estate developers, urbanists, market experts and others are now pondering if the pandemic has created an opportunity to reinvent office districts by making them more residential. It’s an idea not without financial and logistical challenges—but if an owner doesn’t see any economic value in investing in a property to keep it marketable and maintained as competitive office space, then transforming it into affordable housing in the most expensive part of the city may just be a viable solution.
Farther downtown, the evolution has been taking place for more than a decade. The Art Deco landmark One Wall Street, once home to the Irving Trust headquarters, has become the largest office-to-residential conversion project in New York City’s history. The 21st-century overhaul is expected to cost around $1.5 billion, transforming the 90-year-old, 564-foot-tall commercial skyscraper into a residential hub with 566 new units—ranging from studios to four-bedroom apartments—anchored by a 44,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market and a Life Time fitness center on the lower levels.
Of course, this project did begin with the interiors being completely gutted and redone from scratch. And this kind of adaptive reuse, where an old building is converted for a new purpose, has been in vogue for decades. In Atlanta, an old Sears building was turned into a mixed-use hub called Ponce City Market in 2014. Philadelphia developer and cofounder of Historic Landmarks for Living Carl Dranoff financed the conversion of over 20 underused factories and warehouses into loft apartments like The Chocolate Works, Wireworks and the Touraine—in Philadelphia, almost 2,000 buildings dating from the 1950s through the 2010s have been converted into apartments. That’s about 11,200 apartments in hotels, office buildings and disused factories. And a growing number of cities, including Los Angeles and Phoenix, have been passing ordinances that make it easier to turn old buildings into Housing.
Older buildings are one thing. Newer offices present a whole other set of challenges. Oftentimes, their floor plates are too big and many don’t have operable windows. This creates a sort of “donut effect” where the exterior of a building, closer to windows, can be converted more easily, while large shares of space toward the core pose a greater challenge. Plus, the conversions themselves—which involve overhauling the plumbing and electrical systems of a building and constructing new bathrooms and kitchens where there are none—come at a significant cost, and uncertain economic and political factors make them practically difficult to pursue.
While adaptive reuse may yet be a glimmer of hope on the distant horizon, other changes are happening now. New York City officials are supporting the move to capitalize on a distressed tourism industry by converting commercial hotels into affordable housing—including creating single room occupancy units known as SROs. This is in addition to the mayor’s focus on transforming distressed hotels into supportive housing for the city’s displaced and homeless population. Developers are starting to consider struggling hotels as potential investments.
In 2021, Emmut Properties purchased the Excelsior Hotel on the Upper West Side, and plans to convert the entire place into apartments. In the same year, Yellowstone Real Estate Investments put down $175 million for the 600-room Watson Hotel in Midtown, and plans to turn one of the hotel’s two towers into market-rate apartments. Elsewhere in midtown, hospitality institutions are adopting entirely new identities. After decades as the Parker, the cheerful West 56th street hotel has been transformed into the Thompson Central Park, a hip hotel that will be topped by condos. It’s designed as a gathering place for eventual leisure and business visitors, to be sure, but also for its owners and nearby residents—perhaps even owners at the Aman, the Mandarin Oriental or the Waldorf, which pitches its residences as the city’s “most glamorous pied à terre.” Slowly, slowly, midtown is telling a story of a neighborhood that’s as much about people as the work they do.
Wealth? Always part of the story.
A Makeover for Midtown?
What if Midtown did a rethink before rushing into reuse?
The pandemic changed people’s relationships to their immediate neighborhoods, bringing the idea of the 15-minute city or 15-minute neighborhood to the fore. Developed by French urbanist Carlos Moreno, the theory considers that all the necessities of daily life—shops, schools, workplaces, doctor’s offices, parks, libraries, restaurants and other amenities—should be located within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from home. In 2020, the 15-minute city was picked up by the C40 Mayors as part of their “Green and Just” recovery plan. Melbourne is proposing self-contained communities within an 800-meter radius of services. Portland’s Climate Action Plan calls for more vibrant neighborhoods in which 90 percent of the residents can walk or bike to fulfill their daily needs. And Sweden is pursuing a hyperlocal variation, a “one-minute city,” on a national scale. But the most vocal proponent of the concept at scale remains Paris, where the concept originated. While it’s not a silver bullet, Moreno, scientific director and professor at Panthéon-Sorbonne University, and Paris City Hall’s special envoy for smart cities, remains optimistic, saying “We must use 15-minute cities to focus on the common good. With
enough funding and support, deployed in the right way, we can guarantee they are for the people.”
So why shouldn’t Midtown Manhattan seriously consider a makeover into a 15-minute neighborhood? Relative to most cities in the US, New York is uniquely well-suited for this approach, since it is made up of urban residential neighborhoods where many already live, shop, and socialize, walk and bike from home to local shops and restaurants and schools, and live without cars.
If people can no longer commute long routes, the city could be bold and intentional about planning its neighborhoods to encourage hyperlocal living and working, where possible. Midtown, in addition to having ample work space, already has the advantage of proximity to Central Park, cultural institutions like Carnegie Hall, MoMa and the Met—and of course, Times Square, Broadway and all of downtown within walking distance. Of course, it’s not enough to transform available spaces into housing; the concept should include high-quality grocery, health facilities, child care, schools and other necessary amenities, and make high-speed, public Wi-Fi ubiquitous.
The long-term effects will be a place that attracts people who truly love city living and are looking to have a true, all-inclusive neighborhood experience—these people don’t want homogeneity, can tolerate a little chaos and aren’t afraid of other human beings (at a socially acceptable distance).
No matter what route Midtown decides to pursue, the road to some semblance of normal is going to be long and bumpy. But let’s not forget: New York survived the late ’70s, when everybody thought the city was over because of rampant crime and the city was near bankruptcy; it survived the market crashes of ’87 and ’89, the dot-com crash of the 2000s, 2001’s terrorist attack; and the aftershocks of the great recession.
So this too shall pass. And Midtown will rise again.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It is said that King Nebuchadnezzar created the gardens in the sixth century BC to please his wife, who missed the countryside of her homeland. If the gardens existed, which is still up for debate, they would have required 8,200 gallons of water each day, a true technical feat.
Green roofs were used in Scandinavia as early as 1,000 BC. Houses were fitted with sod roofs that included substrates and water-retaining membranes made from birch. These roofs survived the harsh winters while also fully insulating the structure from the cold. Reconstructions of Norse sod houses dating from 1,000 AD are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, and commemorate the earliest known European settlement in North America.
The oldest roof garden still in existence, Guinigi Tower, was built in the 14th century. Located in Lucca in the Italian region of Tuscany, it rewards a climb of 230 steps with the sight of seven majestic oak trees, each planted for the seven sons of the Guinigi family.
Clearly, green rooftops are nothing new. Nowadays, Germany is the leader in green roof implementation. During the oil crisis of the 1970s, West Germany explored lightweight adaptations of sod roofs as a way to conserve energy. At the turn of the 21st century, approximately 10 percent of new construction in Germany had a green roof, and the number has since doubled.
In the last decade, attention has turned to rooftop farming—once you’ve greened the rooftop, why not grow vegetables? Also poetically called living rooftops, the farms are sprouting in cities around the world. New York Sun Works, a non-profit organization that promotes sustainable urban farming, estimates that if farms were installed on New York City’s 14,000 acres (!) of unshaded rooftops, harvests could feed 20 million people.
If feeding people is the most obvious purpose, it is far from the only reason for rooftop farms. Research from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future found that aside from supplying food, urban farms can offer uplift, providing not only access to healthier living, but a deeper understanding of nutrition and how food distribution works. Small wonder that most farms have educational programs to initiate schoolchildren as well as university students. Citiponics, a vertical growing system that started on the roof of a parking lot in 2015 and now has infrastructure in Singapore, Malaysia and China, says it’s intention is to “not only grow locally produced vegetables productively within the constraints of urban space, but to also provide education for the future generations of youth leaders on the importance of sustainable farming.”
Rooftops of varying scales around the world are being taken over by this green revolution: the first Danish rooftop farm, ØsterGRO, is located on an old car auction house in the heart of Copenhagen; the largest urban rooftop farm is being created on top of one of the halls at the Porte de Versaille Convention Centre complex in Paris; and the Boston Medical Center Rooftop Farm supplies fresh, local produce to the hospital’s patients and cafeterias. In New York,
Brooklyn Grange operates the world’s largest rooftop soil farms in NYC, a total of 5.6 acres of farms across three locations, with 135,000 square feet of cultivated area that produces more than 100,000 pounds of organically grown produce per year. Asia’s largest urban rooftop farm is on Bangkok’s Thammasat University roofs; its 75,000-square-foot space mimics rice terraces in the north of the country.
The vast majority of these farms are dormant in winter. But that doesn’t mean that local agriculture and short food supply chains are out of reach during these months—that’s where greenhouses come into play. And the best example is Lufa, whose rooftop farms, the largest in the world, are located near Montréal, Quebec, one of the world’s coldest and snowiest major cities.
Life of Lufa
Lufa was co-founded in 2009 by Lauren Rathmell and Mohamed Hage; their ambition was to change the way people eat by growing food where they live and growing it more sustainably. Mohamed, who grew up with locally grown fruits and vegetables in Lebanon, also longed for the taste of freshly picked produce—not the stuff that travelled an entire continent to reach him.
When they started looking for rooftops to set up their farm, people thought they were crazy. Their first farm, in the north end of the city, was the first commercial rooftop greenhouse in the world. And it worked. “We save water and reduce soil contamination,” explains Loïc Philibert-Ayotte, Lufa’s public relations coordinator. Rainwater is captured and irrigation water and nutrients are recirculated in a closed-loop hydroponic system. “Compared to ground greenhouses, our energy costs are 50 percent lower.” In addition, Lufa does not use pesticides, but fends off pests and plant diseases with ladybugs and parasitic wasps.
Twelve years after its founding, Lufa has four greenhouse farms in the Montréal area, for a total of 300,000 square feet. That includes the most recent one, launched in 2020—at 163,800 square feet, it is the world’s largest urban rooftop greenhouse.
Lufa produces approximately 50 vegetable varieties (including tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, herbs and greens of many, many kinds), which amount to 56,000 pounds of vegetables per week—the equivalent in weight to five elephants—or some three million pounds per year. The offer is supplemented with products from selected partners in Canada and the US, along with local farmers and food makers who share Lufa’s values of “proximity, quality, transparency and sustainability.” That includes fruits, meat, fish, dairy products, alcoholic beverages, chocolate and prepared food from meatloaf to za’atar pizza. With some 2,200 products, Lufa has evolved into both a well-curated one-stop grocery store and a thriving ecosystem.
Part of Lufa’s success can be explained through the close—verging on the passionate—relationship it enjoys with its customers, called Lufavores. The community shares the company’s values and engages with the brand through social media channels—which celebrate partners in vivid, inspiring detail—along with visits to the greenhouses, yoga and Pilates classes, and seasonal activities like preserves workshops and pumpkin carving. Lufavores will enthusiastically tell you their favorite products, a list that inevitably includes what the company calls Our Famous Cherry Tomatoes. For those in the northern climes, they are a balm for the February soul.
Lufa also participates in academic research, is involved with educational programs and has a direct giving program, where “Super Lufavores” donate money to help feed families in need. In 2021, the plan raised CDN$310,000.
Greenroof to Table
To get products to customers, Lufa developed a unique distribution system. Instead of selling to grocery stores—the standard solution—Lufa delivers to over 350 drop-off points located anywhere within a three-hour radius of Montréal, or directly on people’s doorstep in the greater Montréal area. Presently, half of the delivery vehicles are electric with plans to increase the number rapidly.
Each week, more than 20,000 baskets are prepared just before being delivered. “This short circuit distribution allows us to only harvest what is needed when it’s needed,” says Philibert-Ayotte. “There is virtually no waste.”
If the pandemic forced some companies to close, Lufa saw it as an opportunity to grow. It launched seven-day service, tripled its home-delivery capacity, launched new software tools, welcomed 200 new team members—between six and 700 employees work at Lufa at varying times of the year—along with 35 new local farmers and food makers and 30,000 new Lufavores.
Many of the new customers, who came for the convenience, stayed for the quality of the local offer. In a 2021 consumer survey about online grocery stores in the province of Québec, Lufa took first place with 89 percent of respondents saying they’d recommend it for the responsible local offer and the quality of its customer service team. The survey pointed out that Lufa did not list nutritional values for its products, so the team immediately built that feature into the website.
Today, with all those rooftops and the seemingly infinite amount of produce and prepared food, Lufa feeds just two percent of the four million people in the greater Montréal region. Hage believes that with 19 commercial mall rooftop farms, the entire city could be fed. The seed that was planted in 2012 is growing fast.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that…
1. Kids and pets are the best part of Zoom meetings.
2. Nobody wears pants until they really have to.
3. You can buy anything without going anywhere.
…so now what?
2020, as everyone with a credit card and the Internet knows, was rough on retail. A record 12,200 stores closed for good in the United States alone, while e-commerce rose 32 percent. Although restrictions to in-person shopping have loosened, e-commerce isn’t suffering.
And yet. While we’ve all discovered the gratification of one-click convenience, we’re missing the intangibles of shopping. There’s its entertainment value—the anticipation and adventure of discovering something new and the sensory stimulation and connection with other humans. Most of us are feeling a bit isolated and joy-deprived. Municipalities, meanwhile, are feeling a bit tax revenue-deprived.
Outside the Retail Box
The combination is giving rise to a new kind of downtown destination and creating new reasons to come to shopping areas: experiential attractions, pop-up or permanent, that fill empty buildings with connection, color, joy and a playfulness that’s been lacking in lives over the past two years. And while some of them started before the pandemic, the offering resonates more
The growing list includes attractions like Color Factory, Museum of Ice Cream, The Museum for Black Girls, 29 Rooms, Egg House, Dream Machine and Madcap Motel, among others. Visitors pay an entrance fee, but they don’t leave with a shopping bag (unless they hit the gift shop on the way out). They do, however, leave replenished, with tons of social-ready photos of them and their friends and many, many smiles (if Instagram can be believed, lol), and warm fuzzies that make you feel, dare we say, hopeful for both downtowns and the post- pandemic mental health of their visitors.
The New Playdate
Experiential destinations aren’t new: The Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia has been encouraging young people to interact with displays since 1976. But that’s the thing: Our culture labels play and joyful expression as “child-like”and until recently, many long-running experiential destinations have been designed solely for the 12-and-under set (like Legoland). But that was in a pre-pandemic world. Today, people crave—and arguably need—experiences that enable them to connect with others, and even more so, those that provide a joyful answer to cabin fever. Better still if they’re Instagrammable and can’t be replicated in virtual spaces (take that, Meta).
The disconnect between the real and the virtual was already evident back in 2016, when Museum of Ice Cream (MOIC to intimates) opened its doors for the first time, and it became exponentially truer during the pandemic. MOIC co-founder Maryellis Bunn (“the Millennial Walt Disney”, according to INC) noted that after almost two years of a global pandemic—and the resulting retreat into the virtual universe—people were starved for something different, an
experience as compelling and addictive as what they were experiencing online, with the added pleasure of human interaction—you know, a “deeper connection”, as they say at MOIC.
The self-proclaimed museum and master of cheesy puns effectively bridges the real/virtual divide, offering, in an intensely pink environment, a pit filled with plastic sprinkles to swim in, a giant piano you can play with your feet, an ice-cream-scoop-shaped slide that takes you between floors, several swing sets, a fuschia subway, a self-affirming rainbow tunnel—confidence-building and self-affirmation are integral—along with lots of dancing and every flavor of ice cream, from Piñata to Churro Churro, Queen Bee, and something called End of the Cone, which looks to be a combo of all of the above and more. There are, of course, vegan options. The founders also developed strategic partnerships with Target and Sephora to create limited-edition ice-cream-inspired fashion and makeup palettes.
Museum of Ice Cream has waxed and waned since its beginnings in both visitation and company value, and now has permanent locations in New York, Austin and Singapore, with an opening planned for Chicago in 2022.
In 1971, Boeing reduced its workforce in Seattle from 80,400 to 37,200. As the volume of activity in its local buildings and streets dwindled, a few provocateurs posted a sign downtown asking, “will the last person leaving Seattle turn off the lights?”
Although that was 50+ years ago, this dampened sense of city resilience was renewed with a global ferver during the pandemic. Photos of an empty Times Square in New York made the rounds on social media, media pundits around the world forecasted the death of the world’s greatest cities including London, Paris, and Amsterdam … But that didn’t (and hasn’t) happened. Instead, urban innovation and bold city-building ambitions are being ignited at an accelerated pace.
Certainly, the challenges facing cities have no doubt become more palpable and more urgent in part due to the pandemic. From addressing social and economic inequities, to climate change, and accelerated advancements in urban tech from AI to drones to the metaverse … the list is long. Combine these with a universal reimagining of values and expectations about work and life, and we stand smack-dab in a moment of tension for cities that also happens to spin-up the perfect conditions for innovation.
But charting the future of our cities will require great creativity and be much more of an art than an exact science. That’s why we created WRLDCTY – a global forum for urban innovation that brings together leaders in design, real estate and technology to share the best ideas about cities from the best cities in the world.
At last year’s WRLDCTY, Richard Florida and Chales Landry dove into the new art of city making in response to the challenges of the last few years, and how cities are ripe for reinvention to address the volatility and complexity of our world.
For two days they joined voices such as Jeanne Gang, Vishaan Chakrabarti and Brent Toderian about the need for innovation with intention; the power of common ambitions to drive cities forward, accelerate experimentation, and radical collaboration in order to not simply respond to forces of transformation – but lead transformation.
“The art of city making is about the forms of creativity needed to accelerate solutions to issues facing cities and humanity.” – Charles Landry at WRLDCTY 2022. This call for innovation with intention hits at the core of why Resonance created WRLDCTY.
We started the forum as a way of gathering provocative urban minds in an online forum to share ideas, challenges, and solutions with one another in a time where streets and buildings were unnaturally quiet worldwide.
And now, after two years online, it’s time to immerse ourselves as a community in one of the world’s best cities – New York. New York is not only bouncing back – it’s a thriving, living laboratory leading in innovation and experimentation in what the city of the future might look like.
As such, New York is the perfect sandbox to gather the WRLDCTY community for our first full-scale in-person event.
We invite you to join us October 4-5, 2022 alongside speakers such as Thomas Heatherwick (Founder, Heatherwick Studios), Helle Søholt (CEO, Gehl), Michael Turner (President, Oxford Properties) as well as Amazon, Google, Doughnut Economics Action Lab, National League of Cities, Zaha Hadid Architects, and so many more.
Together we will discuss and expose pathways to urban ingenuity by digging into applied projects that are solving urban challenges in ambitious, inventive, and collaborative ways around the globe. We will immerse ourselves not only in ideas, but in a community where the power of togetherness enforces action.
To learn more, please visit WRLDCTY.com
A destination dedicated to spotlighting the Middle East’s growing collective of creatives, artists and designers, the Dubai Design District represents the dynamic desert city’s commitment to nurturing human-centric experiences.
To a large part of the world’s population, Dubai is “The Vegas of Arabia,” a place that takes pride in turning every notion previously held about the Middle East on its head. It’s a city that has, in the past 50 years, burst onto the global stage—powered by the oil royalties of the Fateh oilfield discovered in 1966—almost fully formed, ready for anything. Often literally.
In 1966 the Fateh oilfield was discovered off shore from Dubai. Following the discovery, Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai from 1958 to 1990, initiated large-scale development programs.
Over the years, the city has made breaking world records a national pastime—tallest, longest, fastest, largest are just some of the words peppered through any article about the city.
But is that all?
Bold and bling put this city on the map. But balance and broadmindedness keep it there. Like the city itself, the people who live here are ambitious and keen to push the limits. From bespoke boutiques to fusion cafés, from farmers’ markets to local desert festivals, expats in collaboration with Emirati locals continuously invest in what they want Dubai to stand for.
And the ultimate culmination of this ambition? The Dubai Design District.
Now, here’s the multi-million-dollar question. The city already has niche art quarters—Alserkal Avenue and Meem house galleries for budding artists, and Bastakiya and Satwa delight visitors with their nostalgic architecture. So, was there really a need for a district dedicated to design? And a 21.5 million square foot one at that?
The short answer? Yes.
Granted, Dubai is not a city you would typically associate with design. Traditionally Dubai’s cultural offerings have been overshadowed by its financial, tourism and shopping facilities. While there has been culture and art in Dubai for decades, the infrastructure has not always been in place to give artists the best possible platform to make a living from it.
But the 2000s marked a time of intense artistic and cultural development in the UAE as a whole, with a sharp focus on Dubai—as evidenced by the creation of the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice-president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai. Launched more than a decade ago, the authority plays a critical part in achieving the vision in the Dubai Plan 2021 of establishing the city as a “vibrant, global Arabian metropolis that shapes culture and arts in the region and the world.”
This evolution has, over time, become an enabler for the UAE’s young people and a magnet for a cosmopolitan community of over 200 nationalities living together, contributing to the country’s ambitious targets, which have since been articulated in “Vision 2021” for the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the United Arab Emirates. Influenced by the visions of their respective rulers and arts patrons, the UAE’s three largest emirates have embraced the arts in different ways. Abu Dhabi has invested in international, large-scale collaborations (think Louvre and Guggenheim). Sharjah has connected local creators to an international fine arts scene. As for Dubai, it has taken the reins on incubating commercial art and design.
Fashioned after global creative hotspots such as London’s Shoreditch, Miami’s Design District and New York’s Meatpacking District, d3, as it is referred to by locals, is a purpose-built and master-planned community dedicated to promoting and nurturing emerging local talent while also providing a creative hub to established international design, luxury and fashion brands. Over the past five years, it has become the epicentre of design and art for the region, giving design entrepreneurs in the emirate a bona fide address.
As coveted as it is now, the address was, less than a decade ago, an arid, dusty sandlot, with the only thing in its favor being proximity to the mighty Burj Khalifa skyscraper and the Dubai Mall, two spectacular examples of the city’s (and the world’s) superlatives. In the early days, cynics and skeptics still categorized it as “another real estate development,” but slowly and steadily d3 has become an integral part of the artistic movement in the city, the permanent home of innovative events like Sole DXB, Dubai Design Week and more, attracting thousands of people from near and far. Lindsay Miller, who held the position of managing director for d3 until a couple of years ago, says “d3 started with the community and listening to people. They asked for the essence of the country, and this is what d3 is about. Our main ambition is for the place to act as a catalyst for the region’s design community, by creating an environment where local design talent can grow into successful brands.”
Since its opening in 2015, d3 has reinforced Dubai’s new status as a UNESCO “Creative City of Design,” an accolade that has so far celebrated 180 cities that use innovation to promote creative industries, culture and sustainable urban development, and to encourage cooperation between cities that share the title.
Delivered in multiple phases, this district is a “free zone” business park, a special economic area set up with the objective of offering tax concessions and customs duty benefits to expatriate investors. There are about 30 free zones operating in Dubai, and d3 is run by the TECOM Group, an organization that supports the operation and evolution of diverse business communities within sector-focused areas.
d3 is also a pilot for the ambitious Dubai Plan 2021, which established Smart Dubai, an initiative founded following the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, to make Dubai the happiest city on earth. Collaborating with the private sector and government partners, Smart Dubai is a government office charged with facilitating a citywide smart transformation using technology and policies to change the way residents and visitors experience the city. The government chose d3 to “beta test” 21 new initiatives, which are built around Smart Dubai’s pillars of being efficient, seamless, safe and impactful, and span six dimensions including Smart Economy, Smart Living, Smart Environment, Smart Governance, Smart People and Smart Mobility. Some of the new initiatives include electric vehicle charging, smart meters, solar rooftops and energy dashboards that collectively reduce energy consumption, smart wifi systems that allow the monitoring of crowd location and movement for events management, and self-driving cars. They’ll also be introducing an incentivized recycling program, cashless payment, a loyalty program and a d3 augmented reality tour, among other things.
A PHASED, CALCULATED APPROACH
Khadija Al Bastaki, the new executive director of d3, feels that, commercial success of the space notwithstanding, it is the energy and vibe of the people that sets it apart. “The pool of talent, designers and creative minds all around is what makes this venue so iconic,” she says. “Even the product offerings at d3 are unique, from the point of view of established companies, start-ups and students. Ranging from world-class infrastructure to co-working and commercial spaces, as well as plots of land and warehouse facilities, the framework offers everything which businesses need to set-up and grow.”
The first phase of the master plan was focused on brands and established studios—a whopping 220 businesses were signed up to move into the district, from luxury companies like La Perla and Hugo Boss to architects and designers including Viktor Udzenija and Wanders Wagner Architects.
Future phases will be geared toward attracting start-up companies and emerging artists and designers with a thoughtful mix of flexible contemporary offices and communal working facilities around a series of pedestrianized streets and outdoor events spaces. Ultimately, the project will hold workspace for 6,000 designers, artists and fashion designers and other creatives, in addition to commercial spaces, hospitality destinations, residences and social gathering places. All of this to be clustered around the thriving heart of the community, Hai d3.
Initially conceived to be the incubator space for the development of emerging local creative talents, Hai d3 was meant to be a provisional facility with a five-year program of use and an eight-month construction schedule.
Over time, the temporary space took on a more permanent role within d3, resulting in the expansion of the development from a basic space for offices and workshops to a real creative hub capable of becoming a lively event venue, bustling with activity. The project is a contemporary reinterpretation of the traditional Arabic neighborhood, composed as a modular system of 40-foot shipping containers. With 75 containers and six different stacking arrangements, the layout captures the expansion and contraction of streets in a traditional Arabic city, and is punctuated by public plazas for neighborhood interaction, activity and gathering. Annex buildings (really just 20-foot containers) are located in several areas and serve as bathrooms, storage and a multipurpose entrance area that welcomes visitors and hosts gatherings. The space has already been the site of numerous workshops and pop-up exhibitions, including renowned Parisian jewelry school L’Ecole Van Cleef & Arpels.
DUBAI’S GOT TALENT (BUT NEEDS MORE)
So far, d3 has become the space of choice for fashion houses like Amato, Maison Yeya and Montroi and firms like Zaha Hadid Architects, Foster + Partners and Santiago Calatrava, as well as innumerable design studios and start-ups.
But more talent is needed. A recent industry study undertaken by Dubai Design & Fashion Council (DDFC) and d3 estimated that, in addition to the existing residents of the district, at least 30,000 design graduates would be needed to support the growth projected for the sector. Toward this end, d3, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Parsons School of Design, created a platform that is strategically critical for talent development with the establishment of Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (DIDI). The first multidisciplinary design university of its kind in the region, it offers an innovatively flexible bachelor of design course that allows students to combine two design concentrations from four focuses (Product Design, Multimedia Design, Fashion Design and Strategic Design Management) to create a “cross-concentration” study path in place of a single major. Housed within an immersive creative setting inspired by the school’s educational program, the campus design incorporates a “mega studio” spanning a million square feet. Concepted as a “creative community” rather than just an academic facility, the institution will act as a cultural epicenter, with flexible offices, co-working communal facilities, outdoor display venues and pedestrianized, landscaped spaces.
“We have worked with leading global figures as well as local talent from across the spectrum of the creative industries to ensure we can provide the right facilities and infrastructure suitable for both international brands and emerging regional designers. The fashion community is growing in a significant way and the interest in design, even of the wider society, is growing, so it is now the matter of keeping pace with the potential that we have here,” says Dr. Amina Al Rustamani, group CEO of TECOM and one of the key champions of this project.
The success of d3 positions Dubai’s creative class—which, apart from a handful of cases, still struggles to be taken seriously—as a consistent player on the world stage. Its collective growth stems from the fact that most of the businesses in d3 feed into each other, with a strong collaboration initiative among design companies and suppliers.
The Swarovski Creative Center is a great example of this collaborative spirit in action, an inspiring and educational co-working platform where both professionals and students can experiment with a wide variety of crystal cuts, colors and application techniques, connect with other designers, manufacturers, buyers and patrons for creative partnerships—even to host independent exhibitions.
Of course, the event that has become synonymous with d3 is Sole DXB, an annual footwear, music, art and lifestyle festival that is part street party, part design celebration. Over the years, it has become the most anticipated event in the district, a platform where brands like Nike and Puma debut new offerings, as well as unveil special limited- edition lines.
THE FUTURE IS COLLABORATION
But what truly sets d3 apart is its ability to unite the design community at large for the greater good—like with its 2018 initiative Design for Good, created as a series of events and competitions to connect the design community through creative collaborations. One project invited designers from across the country to create a piece of furniture or a functional object. The winning design was then mass-produced, with all proceeds of sales allocated to Dubai Cares to benefit Syrian refugees.
The second project, called the Mesh, was a collaboration between Emirati designer Roudha Alshamsi and the Fatima Bint Mohamed Bin Zayed Initiative (FBMI), spearheaded by the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, to provide almost 3,000 Afghans with a source of income and access to health care. d3 commissioned Alshamsi to design three shading structures for the community, which were produced by women from Afghanistan through FBMI and purchased by d3, with all proceeds going to the education of the women to further develop their skills.
To date, a number of brands have made d3 their permanent home, showcasing innovative ideas driven by design and culture in an urban setting. Among them are Closet Case, a multi-brand menswear concept store; Lighthouse, a restaurant and boutique featuring both an eclectic menu and a curated selection of gifts; and Espresso Lab, an artisan roastery that celebrates the Emiratis’ love of coffee.
“Our objective is to bridge our business partners by creating a platform for them to engage with each other and international firms,” says d3 executive director Bastaki, adding that a large part of this initiative is to provide support to homegrown SMEs and boutique practices. One of the companies that follows through on this mandate is the Re: Urban Studio, a business incubator that gives a boost to the small and medium enterprises sector. It will provide a full program for developing business ideas as well as new companies in the field of design and innovation, in addition to complementary services such as licensing support and an open workspace.
For a development that’s been around for a few years, d3 has already carved out a unique identity. Inspired by its core values of unity, inspiration and creation, it is well on its way to becoming the cultural and design capital of the Middle East, providing a framework to grow and sustain a new design ecosystem. More importantly, it positions Dubai, a city up until now known for its skyscrapers, sandy beaches and shopping malls, as a global hub for diverse knowledge-based sectors, an incubator for creative ideas and professionals.
In a world increasingly blind to the celestial bounty of a night sky, it’s comforting to know that there are still places where we can connect to our ancestral fascination with looking up in the dark of night.
Darkness is getting harder to see. Think of the last time darkness engulfed you so completely that you could look up and see thousands of stars with your naked eye. For some of us—billions of us—the answer is probably never. Scientists estimate that, due to drastically increasing light pollution—the excess of electric light during night hours—about a third of humanity cannot see the Milky Way.
“A young person today probably has no idea how good the night sky can be,” says Chad Moore, who in 2006 was responsible for launching the National Park Services’ Night Sky Program. “It’s one thing to see a few stars in the sky, quite another to see the Milky Way, comets and a band of light. Just to be able to see thousands of stars with your naked eye is a high bar.”
Moore currently chairs the technical committee for the International Dark-Sky Association, a Tucson-based nonprofit organization that aims to preserve and protect the nighttime environment and our heritage of dark skies through environmentally responsible outdoor lighting.
Light researchers estimate that a child born today in the United States or Europe has a one-in-10 chance of seeing a truly dark sky. “You have to drive farther and farther from even a small city to see these really dark skies,” says Moore.
If Van Gogh were alive today in Saint-Rémy, France, he would look up and instead of the Milky Way he’d see… nothing. Would he still be inspired to paint his famous Starry Night? His contribution is not the only one we might never know. For all of human history, our ancestors experienced a sky teeming with stars—a night sky that inspired scientists, theologists, philosophers, artists and writers.
Seeing the pristine night skies speckled with stars is an experience worthy of journeying to the farthest reaches of the globe for. In the United States, national parks preserve some of the darkest skies, and in some places up to 15,000 stars could be visible throughout the night—about 30 times what can be seen in a typical city. In fact, standing in the deepest of night in New York City’s Times Square, you could see perhaps a dozen stars, maybe.
The greatest concentration of national parks and national monuments in the U.S. is in the Grand Circle, an area that includes the Four Corners—the point where Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico touch right angles.
Close to this Euclidean point rises Utah’s Natural Bridges National Monument, the first park to receive the designation of “International Dark Sky Park.” Look up and you see the marbled formation of the Milky Way and the whitish glow of the zodiacal light, an eerie elongated cone of millions of light particles that extends from the horizon along the ecliptic—the path of the sun across the celestial sphere over the course of the year. The scenery on the ground is just as spectacular: a dazzling land of eroded rock formations—towering monoliths, pinnacles and benches, mesas and hoodoos (mushroom-hooded rock towers) that date back millions of years. Tucked away between this ancient land and celestial spectacle, at about 4,000 feet above sea level, sits Amangiri. The resort, which is the second North American property from luxury brand Aman, is a deluxe perch on 600 acres of the Four Corners and is designed to fuse into—rather than upstage—what some consider to be the most dramatic landscape on Earth.
“Amangiri has the advantage of being in the middle of nowhere—a beautiful nowhere,” says Jeremy Byrom, who leads the stargazing program at the desert resort. Constructed of concrete geometric planes, Amangiri—“peaceful mountain” in Sanskrit—is built right up against the swerving shoulders of rock, at once oddly foreign yet perfectly at home in the surreal landscape.
In a design that takes cues from its environs, textural elements like stone, leather and raw and polished woods pepper the hotel’s interior. Even a graceful tumbleweed on the lounge floor serves as a decorative statement. This pared-down aesthetic continues in the monumental guest suites, where wool throws, rawhide furniture and natural timber stand out against concrete floors and stone walls. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors open to private terraces that look out across an ocean of sand waves to Studhorse Mesa. Further in the distance (one of at least some 50 million years, geologically speaking) is Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument.
Amangiri offers a long menu of immersive adventure. With so much land out the front door, you don’t ever need to leave the property to experience the landscape. If you can think of it, Amangiri can arrange it: private slot-canyon journeys with a Navajo guide, off-road tours, horseback riding or hot air balloon flights with views of Lake Powell, Navajo Mountain, the Vermilion Cliffs and Grand Staircase–Escalante. Closer to your king bed: a fitness center, a yoga pavilion and a stunning 25,000-square-foot spa complete with steam room, sauna, water pavilion, watsu pool and outdoor treatment terraces.
But the night sky is the thing.
There is a reason why many observatories are located in high-altitude places like this: darker and fewer atmospheric conditions to view through.
“There is nearly zero light pollution here because there are no large cities around,” says Byrom, who grew up in nearby Page, Arizona, and started gazing up at a young age. He recalls spending many summer nights with his brothers, lying on their backs on a trampoline in the backyard.
“We would look for shooting stars and satellites until we fell asleep,” he says. While Byrom’s love and appreciation for the celestial bodies continues to grow, the night skies have become an endangered habitat, at least according to the International Dark-Sky Association.
But here, enveloped by darkness with the silhouette of the bold mesa walls and golden sandstone domes, the Milky Way glows above. Time stands still and you don’t blink for fear of missing out.
Amangiri is located 25 minutes from Page Municipal Airport. The resort is approximately a 4.5-hour drive from Las Vegas and Phoenix International Airports.