Key Sound Bites from the Global Cities Conference

(Chicago)–April 19, 2016–When dozens of visionaries and innovators gather in one place to present a look into the expansive future growth of world cities–some pretty amazing insights are conveyed.

The Counselors of Real Estate (CRE), a global professional association for leading commercial real estate advisors, captured key comments from speakers at the Global Cities in an Era of Change 2016 Symposium held recently at Silicon Valley’s Stanford University–a conference the organization co-hosted with Stanford SPIRE and RICS real estate organizations.

Predictions and perspectives from visionaries offered a rare glimpse into how cities, their businesses and their citizens will survive, and thrive, when two-thirds of the world’s population (6.3 billion people) will live in densely-populated urban areas–a number the United Nations expects to be reality by 2050.

Some of the speakers were blunt in their assessment of world cities, particularly those in the U.S., citing four major impediments to sustained growth and viability: vulnerability to catastrophe; eroding infrastructure; economic inequality of citizens; and gridlocked, underfunded government.

Noting that we are only beginning to experience truly transformational times, experts predicted that rapid disruptive technology will continue to strongly impact how people live as well as how urban real estate will evolve. For example, people of all ages–not just millennials–are already relocating to more walkable communities within cities. Soon driverless cars will allow greater and safer mobility, especially for seniors, and will lead to more shared car use and new forms of mass transit. As personal auto ownership declines, commercial parking garages and residential garages alike will change from today’s essentials into obsolete structures.

Statistics from real estate icons including Sam Zell, chairman of Equity Group Investments, were enlightening — If 30% of urban infrastructure today is dedicated to parking, and yet 50% of apartment dwellers in the U.S. currently don’t own a car (with that number expected to further decrease), there are already behavior changes underway–and bigger changes ahead. Could parking facilities be repurposed into much- needed new housing, parks, gardens and even new communities? Could residential garages become housing for extended families or provide homeowners a rental apartment income stream?

Chip Conley, Head of Global Hospitality and Strategy at Airbnb, said the short-term rental business is on a fast growth trajectory – with currently 2.2 million properties in 191 countries on Airbnb. He said technology will next allow customized itineraries that connect travelers’ interests with the community in which they have secured Airbnb lodging. Driving this new convenience, “People need to feel they belong,” he said, then further noting that Airbnb’s challenge is to teach hospitality to millions of hosts across the globe.

As urbanization increases, innovators believe traditional housing and work space must be fully reimagined–single family homes, multifamily buildings, hotels, retail, office and industrial–nothing will be off limits or immune from change. Discussion focused on commercial real estate obsolescence–buildings constructed in the 1980s are already proving to be outdated; experts say new buildings must be designed with flexibility and adaptability as a basic construct. And think vertical—the “city” of the future could be vertical, entirely housed within skyscrapers, including homes, retail, corporate offices, medical facilities, and even green space.

Additional sound bites from the Global Cities event:

  • On immigration, “The United States was built with immigrants’ entrepreneurship. The U.S. should attract the best and the brightest people in the world who can have a positive impact, who can make a difference and make things better–regardless of nationality.” –Sam Zell, founder and chairman , Equity Group Investments
  • On repurposing parking facilities: “Approximately 200 square miles in the county of L.A. are dedicated to parking. Shared mobility and autonomous vehicles offer the potential to completely rethink our urban center land use.” –Ashley Z. Hand, transportation technology strategist, City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation
  • On technology and transportation: “The most important transportation innovation of the decade is the smartphone. We’ve learned that transformative solutions are often more about information than hardware: Cities and transit agencies need to pay more attention to such possibilities.” –Luis Bettencourt, Ph.D., professor of complex systems, Santa Fe Institute
  • On development: “Affordability is not just about housing; it’s also the cost of the commute, schooling, groceries, etc. We need to build more flexible buildings. Why build single use buildings that will be obsolete in 10 years?” –Vishaan Chakrabarti, founder, Partnership for Architecture and Urbanism
  • On the potential of green building: “Can an eco-district (of buildings) generate more energy than it uses…consume more waste than it creates? Yes!” –Steven Straus, president, Glumac
  • On personal privacy: “People want a sense that data being collected is used to improve quality of life, that communities will be better served. That builds trust around the collected data.” –Nicole Neditch, senior director of community engagement, Code for America
  • On big data: “Using data can lead to making policy decisions; it can influence urban design (and) I find studying traffic jam data fascinating.” –Andrew Eland, director of the social impact engineering team, Google
    On the challenges of urban security: “How do we create cities that are harder to blow up?” –Graeme Wood, author, writer, The Atlantic magazine

Additional innovators and thought leaders who spoke during the program were The Honorable Michael Chertoff, former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security and executive chairman, The Chertoff Group; Heather Roiter Damiano, director of hazard mitigation, New York City Emergency Management; Andy Cohen, Co-CEO, Gensler; and Colin Shepherd, CEO, investment management, Hines.


The Counselors of Real Estate®, established in 1953, is an international group of high profile professionals including members of prominent real estate, financial, legal and accounting firms as well as leaders of government and academia who provide expert, objective advice on complex real property situations and land-related matters. Membership is selective, extended by invitation only. The organization’s CRE® (Counselor of Real Estate) credential is granted to all members in recognition of superior problem solving ability in various areas of real estate counseling. Only 1,100 people in the world hold the CRE credential. For more information, contact The Counselors of Real Estate, 430 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611; 312/329.8427;