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Digital And Technology At The Heart Of Developing Tomorrow’s City

By 2050,

  • 68% of the population will live in urban areas compared to just over 1 in 2 today.
  • there will be 2.5 billion additional city dwellers, or 6.7 billion people, compared to the 4.2 billion today.
  • the urban population will be concentrated within 2% of the territory.

This growth will be all the more remarkable in Luxembourg as the population is expected to double by 2050 to cross the symbolic threshold of one million inhabitants.

Real estate is a sector that has become increasingly digitalized in the recent years and attracts a large number of investors. As this graph from CB INSIGHTS shows, investments are growing exponentially and PropTech has become a very promising sector where in the number of players is multiplying.

Through this chronicle, we propose to better understand the ins and outs of innovation in this sector by interviewing different actors of the value chain.


The first to do so is Olivier Bastin, CEO of Immobel Luxembourg. Immobel is a Belgian developer present in six markets and mainly focused on residential projects in core locations.

Innovation: a question of survival

Immobel was the first listed company in Belgium. In a way, this is its first innovation! Anchored in the DNA of the company, this approach has been beneficial to it since it has become a major player in the real estate sector since 1856. Its Luxembourg branch, headed by Olivier Bastin, currently has 13 projects for a volume of 1,400 units and an estimated market value of 1.5 billion euros.

As a manager, Olivier has cultivated innovation since his arrival and applies it both in the management of his projects and in the values he disseminates within his teams. For him, it’s about “never leaving a stone unturned”. And if things don’t go as planned, “you move on. » You learn. He has a very American view of business and for him failure is a form of learning.

Innovation is therefore present in his way of managing, but also in each of his projects. Innovation is certainly not easy to master and it is important to surround yourself with the best experts. This allows the group to count on very good achievements. Let’s mention as examples the Infinity projects in Luxembourg or the Eden project in Frankfurt.

  • The Infinity project, designed by the architect Bernardo Fort-Brescia of the Arquitectonica firm and carried out in collaboration with the Luxembourgish firm m3 architects, completely rethinks urban planning in Luxembourg since it is the first high-rise residential tower in the country. This tower innovates not only by its size but also by its premium positioning and the range of services offered by its concierge service.
  • The Eden project, located in the European district of Frankfurt in Germany, has the particularity of having a green façade covered with 185,000 plants in order to limit the environmental impact. This facade of approximately 2,000 m² represents 2.5 times the footprint of the tower initially occupied by parking lots.

What about the long-term vision? Olivier has been talking a lot with the think tank Urban Land Institute (ULI), of which Marnix Galle, Executive Chairman of the Board of Immobel Group, is the European President. They exchange best practices and help define the city of tomorrow.

The city of tomorrow

Mixity

Although his portfolio is oriented towards residential, Olivier is aware that the city of tomorrow will have to rhyme with diversity.

The more we talk about limiting our impact on the environment; today’s real estate programs are no exception and integrate ecological aspects.

New ways of thinking about the city are appearing and it is possible to find, for example, areas dedicated to rooftop agriculture. The human being is put back at the center of concerns and professionals in the sector have understood that a link must be created between the inhabitants through the development of places of exchange and meetings. Improving their quality of life also depends on the proximity of services and limiting car travel.

What is more, and even more so in this context of Covid-19, the urban mix seeks to reduce the boundary between personal and professional life. More and more programs are now integrating coworking and coliving spaces, which favours diversity and intergenerational links: in such programs, senior citizens can rub shoulders with young entrepreneurs or students.

Verticality

The second aspect that Olivier believes to be essential in the development of the city of tomorrow is verticality. Large buildings are the symbol of a dense, intense and futuristic city. However, the story is somewhat different in Luxembourg and across Europe.

On the one hand, the development of ever-faster transportation accompanied by the increase in network density and connections between cities has favored horizontal urban growth with more low-rise housing. Suburban development is often synonymous with quality of life. On the other hand, high-rise buildings have a bad image and often rhyme with promiscuity. This urban sprawl has a significant cost, especially from an environmental point of view, where every year a lot of land is concreted and the air is increasingly polluted by the commuting to and from work of people living in the suburbs.

In other words, horizontality is not a model of sustainable urban development and urban planning should encourage the densification of spaces to leave room for greenery and biodiversity within the city itself.

New modes of habitat

Verticality would therefore make it possible to move towards a dense, sustainable city that would limit commuting, allow economies of scale, and promote accessibility to services and facilities. The challenge lies in changing the point of view that we may have on verticality and making urban planning fit in with new lifestyles. On the same wave as the transportation market with Uber, the hotel industry with Airbnb, or the various marketplaces, residential and office real estates are changing.

Co-location, cooperative housing, shared offices… Habits are changing and we consume differently. From New York to Tokyo, the trend of coliving and coworking is taking hold and Luxembourg is no exception. New buildings must therefore be designed to meet the needs of their occupants, and like eco-neighborhoods, new services and uses should be made available at the scale of the building or neighborhood. Today’s city residents want all-inclusive, flexible service offers with limited administrative constraints. However, they will not make any concessions on the quality of services. The community aspect is also important, especially when we are addressing people who arrive in a new city to start a new professional challenge.

Although the term “smart city” is being used more frequently, the city of tomorrow will first have to be rethought from an urban planning point of view. It will have to improve the lives of its inhabitants while being more responsible. To achieve this, even though technology will undoubtedly be increasingly present in construction, sales and building management techniques, other low-tech initiatives such as urban vegetable gardens and recycling could also create links between citizens to improve their daily lives.

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